How a Student-Run STEAM School Adapted to the Pandemic
Teachers of all stripes have had their traditional teaching approaches upended with the safety measures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Many have transitioned to online or hybrid environments, while others have made major modifications to their in-person instruction.
The same is true for the group of incredible high school students who run Spectrum Robotics, a nonprofit organization located primarily in New Jersey that exposes children on the autism spectrum to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) concepts through structured classes and presents them with an opportunity to develop stronger social skills.
Founder and CEO Dhruv Balaji explains:
Before COVID-19, Spectrum Robotics focused on teaching robotics classes in person. With the arrival of the pandemic, we obviously had to readjust our plan so that we were able to proceed in a virtual setting. While brainstorming, we kept in mind not only how convenient it would be for us, but also how convenient it would need to be for our students. With our pivot to online learning, our primary focus was that students with autism already had trouble focusing in a physical learning environment. Forcing these students to sit in front of a screen for too long without being engaged would cause a lot of problems learning and socializing.
We realized that this could be an opportunity to increase the number of courses we would teach, and immediately began developing curricula for four different classes designed to function virtually.
After our team discussed the possible implications of virtual classes, we decided to look at the positives of moving classes to a virtual environment. We could reach more children and make a bigger impact with social media presence, and we could connect with people through a simple video call. We realized that this could be an opportunity to increase the number of courses we would teach, and immediately began developing curricula for four different classes designed to function virtually.
It was very challenging to move things online, and communication was one of the most prominent challenges. As we expanded our reach, I needed to communicate with more people than I was used to, and it was getting pretty tough to keep up with everyone’s requests. I also faced a lot of challenges leading my team virtually, since meetings were more disconnected and discussions were more challenging to facilitate.
For the actual classes, we were fortunate enough to be able to get started pretty quickly, and we learned a lot about virtual autistic learning. The main thing I learned from our virtual move is that engagement is essential. If children are not engaged, they will not be able to focus or learn. I learned that students appreciate interactive activities like a game or quiz as opposed to lessons with too much information and not enough discussion. Above all, I learned how to effectively communicate virtually to children with autism, as well as how to ask insightful questions and teach through conversation.
Despite the negative impact the pandemic has had on our country as a whole, our team remains committed to providing classes for children with autism to explore their interest in science.
The pandemic brought with it many unforeseen impacts on the traditional classroom environment. With their eagerness to help despite the setbacks, the crew at Spectrum Robotics adapted and improved upon their course offerings for continue serving their students. Check out their course offerings in robotics, science, programming and more.
More Articles By Niche
Beyond Test Scores, What Really Makes a “Good” School?
Some parents are beginning to push back against the narrow view of test scores and rankings and are seeking to broaden the definition of a “good” school.
Pros and Cons of Your Child Being Classified as a Special Education Student
Having your child classified as a special education student isn’t an easy decision, and you may feel confused as to which way to proceed. As with all big decisions in parenting (and in life) it’s important to make an informed decision, and the one that is right for your child
The Best High School for STEM in Every Metro Area
Here’s a look at the best high school for STEM in or near every major city in the U.S.