STEM education opportunities are not spread equally across the wide spectrum of young learners in America. Oftentimes access to quality STEM education is determined by zip codes and gender. Girls are underrepresented in STEM programs, partially due to a bias we – specifically here in the United States – ingrain in them by the time they reach four years old; girls don’t “do” science, they are led to believe. Black and Latino kids lag behind white and Asian students. Cognizant of these facts, the South Shore YMCA opens its STEM education programs to all, encouraging broad outreach and participation.
But there’s more. According to “Advancing participation of blind students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” by Bernhard Beck-Winchatz and Mark A. Riccobono in Volume 42, Issue 11 of Advances in Space Research, “Like their sighted peers, many blind students in elementary, middle, and high school are naturally interested in space. This interest can motivate them to learn fundamental scientific, quantitative, and critical thinking skills, and sometimes even lead to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines. However, these students are often at a disadvantage in science because of the ubiquity of important graphical information that is generally not available in accessible formats, the unfamiliarity of teachers with non-visual teaching methods, lack of access to blind role models, and the low expectations of their teachers and parents.”
Thanks to grants from Battelle, the Sarah K. deCoizart Article TENTH Perpetual Charitable Trust and the Captain Planet Foundation, the Y’s South Shore Natural Science Center is taking steps to expand opportunities for students with blindness and low vision.
For decades, Science Center environmental educators have taken elementary school kids “ponding” on the edges of Jacobs Pond in Norwell, studying and identifying the many macroinvertebrate species and other critters to be found in the water. For the past few years, they’ve expanded their program to include more sophisticated water quality testing routines at several sites on the South Shore, empowering middle schoolers with new skills and exposing them to environmental stewardship advocacy opportunities with local conservation commissions.
This year, empowered by the grant mentioned above, the Science Center is bringing this opportunity to students with blindness and low vision. Working with the North River Collaborative and the Perkins School for the Blind, the Science Center is teaching the students about the ecology of Jacobs Pond through the use of 3-D printed models of the macroinvertebrates typically seen through microscopes by their sighted peers. They’re using digital magnifiers to view small organisms, and are using the revolutionary Vernier Talking LabQuest 2 data logger with a variety of probes that can help them track the temperature, salinity, conductivity, turbidity, pH, and dissolved oxygen of water, and even the level of moisture in the soil.
The program is now available as an off-the-shelf offering for any groups wishing to bring their students. The Science Center is also adding public programs for families who would like to engage their kids in the program outside of a group field trip, open to all kids from 1st to 12th grade.
The proof of the success of all such programs can be measured through highly researched evaluation processes, but sometimes the quick answer comes from the mouths of the participants themselves. As one North River Collaborative student recently said, “That was awesome, when do we get to come back and do it again?”
For more information about the South Shore Natural Science Center and its programs, contact Chris Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-659-2559.
About the South Shore YMCA
The South Shore YMCA is a not-for-profit association of individuals dedicated to improving the quality of life for all through programs that promote healthy spirit, mind, and body. Serving the communities of Quincy, Randolph, Holbrook, Weymouth, Braintree, Milton, Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, Scituate, Norwell, Hanover and beyond, the South Shore Y provides the opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive through its services and programs. Financial Assistance is a Y community benefit available to all families in need, applicable to all Y programs and services. To learn more about the South Shore YMCA, visit www.ssymca.org. The South Shore YMCA. The Better You Belongs Here.