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How Can STEM Education Benefit Kids with ADHD?

k-12

Often as educators and parents, we focus on ADHD students struggling in the classroom. Particularly in how they may struggle in a traditional, direct instruction oriented classroom. However, children with ADHD may have many gifts that make STEM education beneficial for them and the way their brain learns.

Channeling the Gifts of Children with ADHD

In a traditional classroom, children with ADHD probably stick out like a sore thumb. They may be the ones fidgeting in their seats while the teacher is using direct instruction in front of the class. In some cases, they may struggle just to stay in their seats during class. Students with ADHD may be easily distracted by odd noises in your room, such as the hum of a heating vent or the grinding of a pencil sharpener. Most often, students with this condition will struggle with following directions and focusing in the classroom. However, often the traits that may make children with ADHD struggle in a traditional classroom, makes them successful in STEM Education.

STEM, ADHD, and Creativity

Students with ADHD have many talents that can be positive in the context of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. For example, students with ADHD are energetic. When working on STEM tasks such as programming or robotics, these tasks can be time-consuming and cause physical and mental fatigue.

Students with ADHD possess the gift to sustain their energy through long, laborious tasks that would wear out the typical person. Students with ADHD tend to be creative and inventive, particularly in a stimulating learning environment. Creativity happens when many areas of the brain interact. These areas govern different types of thought, as well as emotion. Creativity is an important skill for students to succeed in STEM classrooms and STEM-related careers.

robot

Most STEM activities revolve around using technology to address real-world problems. For example, in STEM robotics classes or clubs, students are often given a problem that they need to build and program a robot to address. Students then have to think through the problem, and actually build a robot to test. Finally, they have to go through the process of programming and testing their robot to be sure it works correctly. This requires both a great deal of creativity and mental energy to persist to the end of the task.

Intuition, ADHD, and Real World Problem Solving

Students with ADHD tend to be able to reason problems out intuitively, without having to practice a conscious reasoning process. For people with ADHD, the region of the brain where intuition happens tends to be more fully developed than in people who don't have ADHD. Intuition allows the child to look at problems on a deeper level, and real-world problems are the foundation of STEM education.

For example, let's say as part of a STEM challenge students are presented with a real-world problem such as trash ending up in a watershed. Their intuition will give them an edge over a typical student. Whereas another student may have to work consciously through the reasoning process to analyze the situation, a child with ADHD will approach it differently. They will be able to analyze and reason the problem perhaps more quickly because their enhanced sense of intuition will draw the brain to the most important aspects more quickly. Engineers need this skill to be successful in working on complex programs they face in their careers.

Benefits of STEM Education for ADHD Students

The creative and intuitive nature of children with ADHD lend itself well to pedagogical models often used in STEM education. For example, the 'flipped classroom' often used in STEM education classes works well for children with ADHD. In this model, the direct instruction component, such as reading and taking notes, is completed outside of the classroom at home.

When students come to class, they are engaged in hands-on STEM activities that focus on real-world problem solving. In this model, the direct instruction is done in a self-paced atmosphere. The flipped model takes the pressure off children with ADHD who may need to take more breaks during the direct instruction to refocus themselves by getting up and moving. Therefore, during the actual class time, it is easier for children with ADHD to manage their symptoms because they are engaged in STEM activities that align with their strengths: creativity, intuitiveness, and often kinesthetic learning.

Tablet

STEM education also engages ADHD students, who suffer short attention spans, in technology which appears to be naturally designed for those with what is often referred to as the 'two-minute attention span.' When students engage in STEM and technology they are engaged in a world of fast 'shifting images'. This rapidly shifting sounds and images associated with using the technology of all sorts appeals to the ADHD learner, who is naturally a non-linear thinker. Whereas a conventional learner might need the teacher to walk them slowly from A to D, an ADHD student doesn't learn that way. Their minds naturally jump from point to point and then assimilates all of that input into the actual learning.

Students with ADHD benefit from STEM education because:

  • technology incorporates bright colors and a variety of sounds
  • technology gives students with ADHD more rapid feedback
  • students can modify the technology and pace to control the rate at which they are stimulated
  • STEM education is interactive
By Rachel Tustin
January 2020
k-12 learning with adhd

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