Many Students with the Potential to Excel in STEM Fields Struggle in School

Writing for the Fordham Institute, Joni Lakin and Jonathan Wai review the struggles that visual learners encounter in traditional schooling and outline the loss to the STEM field when these students decide STEM is not for them. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Students who have the kinds of talent scientists and engineers need to solve problems by visualizing how objects could be rotated, combined or changed in three dimensions often struggle at school. These students, whose strong spatial talents allow them to imagine new technological innovations, generally fare worse than their classmates who excel at English and math. In addition, as observed in an article recently published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, there’s some evidence that spatially gifted and talented people are less likely to go to college. And, if they do enroll, they’re less likely to get their degrees.

After looking at three major databases that are representative of the U.S. population and that span six decades, researchers estimate that between 2 million and 3 million K-12 U.S. students may have spatial talents and are not be getting the specialized support they need to flourish between kindergarten and high school. They found that these students were more likely to dislike school and to have trouble paying attention in class. Compared to other gifted and talented students, spatially talented kids tend to be less organized and less likely to turn in their homework on time.Researchers also found that spatially talented children and teens were more likely to be suspended from school or get in trouble with the law compared to students with math or verbal talents. Our findings suggest that students whose strengths in spatial reasoning could make them especially adept in science, technology, engineering and math as well as many hands-on vocational fields and the visual arts are missing out on making the most of their potential.

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