Krista Gauthier – The Dyslexic Edge: Alternative Pathways to STEM Excellence

October 26, 2018 @ 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Exploratory Hall, Room 3301

Krista Gauthier

The Dyslexic Edge: Alternative Pathways to STEM Excellence

Do these phrases sound familiar?  Our media bombards us with these messages almost daily.  In fact we have heard them so often, many times without solutions, that we have begun to tune them out or have become paralyzed by the overwhelming scope of the problem. Whatever the reason for our inaction, these crises are not any less real to those affected by them, especially for those students who everyday are faced with limited prospects simply because of the way their brain works.  Every day our educational system is contributing to the widening achievement gap and denying access to the STEM pipeline for millions of our students, those students who have the learning difficulty known as dyslexia.
Currently in the United States, 15-20% of our students have dyslexia, yet our elementary school reading curriculum is not appropriate for these learners due to the fact that they, “…simply are not able to categorize the sounds of language or connect sound to meaning in the same way as other students.” (Marshall, 2013) In the early grades especially, the curriculum takes up the majority of learning time, The average elementary school spends 520 minutes per week on Language Arts, and only 352 minutes per week on math instruction. (McMurrer, 2008). This leaves students with dyslexia feeling isolated and unintelligent, ultimately losing confidence and the joy of learning.  Faced with less than ideal prospects, these students are denied access to so many pathways to success and in some cases turn to a life of crime evident in the fact that 48% of our current prison population is dyslexic. 
Simultaneously, these students are not exposed to subjects that many of them would excel in, namely science, math, engineering and technology, or STEM. Moskal (2014) states, “some researchers speculate that these brain differences, which result in challenges to language development, may provide dyslexic students with an advantage in STEM.” Referencing Davis and Braun (2010) in “The Gift of Dyslexia”, Moskal explains the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional reasoning, the latter used by many dyslexic students in problem solving. Dyslexic students are more flexible in their ability to look at problems from different angles without changing their own position, a skill which is helpful in physical science but creates reading challenges in that a change in angles quickly turns a “b” into a number of other letters.
So, what if instead of shuttling these students through the door leading to poverty, limited opportunity, and in some cases prison, we slid that door closed and opened one leading to a life filled with following their passion?  Come learn how we can change the tide for these students not only so they can reach their full potential but also so that all of us can benefit.  We will discuss briefly what dyslexia is before moving onto how we can better teach students from K to Workforce and do our part here in Northern Virginia to create alternative pathways to STEM excellence.
About the speaker:

Krista K. Gauthier is the founder and Executive Director of Sliding Doors STEM & Dyslexia Learning Center, an innovative after-school program for children with dyslexia in grades 1-5. Krista first conceived of Sliding Doors (or SDSquared for short) when, as a parent of a child with dyslexia, she noticed that the access she was able to provide her daughter in both remediation and STEM enrichment was denied to so many for a variety of reasons. Also, in taking this journey with her daughter, Krista realized that people with dyslexia are uniquely suited to excel in STEM fields. She knew that helping ALL children with dyslexia reach their full potential could help us all by funneling them onto STEM pathways and encouraging them to take their place as our future innovators.

Krista has over 10 years of experience in education, both as a teacher and as a researcher in educational theory and curriculum.  Krista holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature from Boston College and a Master’s Degree in Literature from Northeastern University.  Krista used those degrees in her role as a high school English teacher in Denver Colorado and then began a PhD in Educational Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder with a focus on gender issues in education.  At Boulder, Krista was the lead researcher on a National Science Foundation grant to help middle and high school girls pursue engineering.  After taking time to raise her two daughters, Krista served as a development director for a NOVA Catholic School and most recently worked as the STEM Programs Director for a non-profit called RoboNation.  Krista has taken this myriad of experiences to found and build Sliding Doors.