Dr. Darlyne de Haan is a STEM curriculum director who seamlessly blends the seemingly oppositional schools of scientific thought and sociological principles. Dr. d’s journey throughout her life and career is a true tour de force. Her narrative is characterized by moments of perseverance, compassion, and grit, all coupled with a wicked dose of intellect. She focuses on equipping teachers with cultural sensitivity in hopes to alleviate the burden that minority students face when entering the fields of science and math. She navigates these incredibly sensitive and complex issues with grace and ease all with an infectious smile plastered to her face.
An Unlikely Fusion
Dr. d’s blended approach towards her work within STEM was born more out of necessity rather than her strong interest-it was a means of survival within a discipline that consistently and relentlessly aimed to exclude her. “From the time I was 13, I was experiencing full-blown prejudice. Throughout my educational journey, I was kept out of classes, graded harshly, told I wouldn’t make it. Everything was a roadblock.” This is the sad truth for the majority of minority students in education, and it is only exacerbated further within STEM.
We are failing minority STEM students. Point blank period. This failure is largely due to feelings of exclusion and experiences of discrimination. After graduating with a triple degree in biochemistry, chemistry, and math, Dr. d set out to empower minority students to believe in their ability to accomplish their dreams within STEM, and to equip teachers with the proper training to allow this to happen. “It was my desire….no-it was my obligation to make sure that other kids who grew up like me had opportunities, and NO ONE could(would) shut them down like people had tried to shut me down.”
Fresh out of university, Dr. d created a nonprofit organization called “Mad About Science, Inc.” “Neighborhood Science” is a subsidiary of the umbrella organization, Mad About Science, Inc., that has the goal of creating engaging and stimulating content to ensure minority stem students feel valued, safe, and capable of achieving great things in STEM. At the core of Mad About Science, Inc. is the idea that science should be accessible to all! “The world is your STEM lab. The importance of showing kids that science is all around us is paramount. It doesn’t need to be done in big fancy laboratories.” Dr. d creates videos and blogs aimed to help students learn problem-solving skills and STEM principles in simple and accessible ways!
Encouraging students to get involved in STEM also means redefining and understanding what STEM really is. When the average person thinks of different STEM careers, they most likely think of scientists, doctors, and engineers; however, STEM is so much more. It is a way of thinking and perceiving the world, and so many more types of careers can be categorized underneath STEM. “People forget that electricians and plumbers are STEM careers. I want to kill the thought process that trade jobs are comprised of people who ‘couldn’t make it’. They must use so much technology and solve problems on the spot.” These are difficult and necessary careers and they require a heavy dose of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Reimagining STEM opens up these courses and topics which allows more access to all students, no matter their background.
The Shared Mission of OKIOLABS and Dr. d
Dr. d encapsulates the core of our mission here at OKIOLABS; OKIOLABS was founded with the goal of democratizing ed-tech tools to all individuals no matter their socioeconomic status. We believe that every student and educator deserves access to high quality education and ed-tech tools. In a time when our education system is becoming increasingly dependent on technology, we believe that this only raises the importance of offering OKIOCAMs to all students and teachers at affordable prices.
“From a science aspect, the OKIOCAM is so exciting! Kids can create and work with stop motion all the time. I have done a plant growing demonstration over time as a science experiment.” She notes that the OKIOCAM dramatically boosts creativity and engagement within students and promotes out-of-the-box thinking. Dr. d loves to use OKIOCAM for both science and math specifically because of the wide range of uses! “I also use the OKIOCAM Time Lapse software to explicate difficult math problems and identify where students may be making mistakes!” She has decided that she wants to give her students more creative control with the OKIOCAM to allow them to think of ways to track science processes with both the Stop Motion and Time Lapse software! The possibilities are endless with OKIOCAM!
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Dr. d firmly believes that if we are to create a space within the STEM community where minority students have a seat at the table, we cannot simply focus on students; we must pay attention and offer resources to those educating them as well. Both her dissertation and much of the professional development that she offers to teachers center around the concept of culturally responsive teaching. “There’s this idea in education that there is no culture within teaching. It couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s the teacher’s culture, and they are teaching through their culture. 70% of the teaching population are middle-class white females, so this is why culturally responsive teaching is so important.”
The conception that culturally responsive teaching is a black and white issue is not totally factual. Race may play a part in cultural disconnection, but it isn’t the basis. Dr. d gives me an example: “There are students in line waiting to sharpen their pencils. The teacher is ready to start the class and says, ‘Darlyne, can you sit down?’ To which the child responds ‘No’. The teacher gets angry and sends the student to the principal’s office. In the teacher’s culture, the question is inherently understood to be a statement. In the student’s culture, a question was asked and answered. The student did not understand that the question was a directive in the teacher’s culture.”
Brain-Based Science and Cultural Awareness
While this may be a small example, it can have lasting effects on the student-teacher relationship and the student’s subsequent academic success! Dr. d studies brain science, and specifically how our primitive brain naturally reacts to different situations in education. “The brain looks for two things: safety and pleasure.” If a student perceives that they are not welcome or safe in a classroom environment it can trigger what is known as an amygdala hijack. This can be because of student-student interaction, a teacher’s body language, or even microaggressions. The amygdala determines whether information goes to the prefrontal cortex which is the thinking brain, or the lower part of the brain, which triggers our flight, fright, or freeze response. Essentially, if the student feels as if they are not safe or welcome in your classroom, they will not digest any information that is presented because that information is going straight to the lower part of their brain. “Cultural Awareness should be taken so seriously. This is a huge reason that minority students are struggling in our education system. Arming teachers with culturally responsive teaching allows them to make all students feel welcome and safe, which in turn allows them to REALLY learn.” If the amygdala hijacks, there is virtually nothing that you can do for that student to help them learn at that time. You must allow for the release and this can be done through brain breaks.
Dr. d’s dissertation largely focused on improving teacher self-efficacy so that they can help these struggling students to succeed academically. Self-efficacy is a teacher’s belief in their own ability to handle the tasks, obligations, and challenges related to their profession. When you have a teacher from the suburbs interacting with a low-income student from the inner city, there is a large cultural difference that must be addressed! “I wanted to research what it would take to increase teacher efficacy so that they could better serve this population. So that they could be more productive in the classroom and give these kids an education that was achievable.” From her research, she found that embedded, genuine professional development is what really helps raise self-efficacy among teachers, and results in academic success for the students.
Creating spaces where all students have a seat at the table is essential to progress within education, and specifically STEM. “There are so many different cultural backgrounds in this world and they each bring a unique perspective to whatever discipline they are in. We need every type of student to be a part of STEM.” It is entirely essential that we equip teachers with cultural awareness in order for minority students to succeed within STEM and their subsequent careers. Dr. d is an incredible asset to this community, and her tireless work for her students does not go unnoticed. There is no doubt that your students appreciate you, and so does OKIOLABS!
Dr. Darlyne de Haan is a STEM curriculum director at Bridgeton Public Schools in Bridgeton, New Jersey where she offers professional development to her teachers. She has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Central Michigan University. In 2019 she received her Ph.D. from Stockton University with a focus in Organizational Leadership. Dr. d is also a participant of the Fullbright Administrator Program which helps US educators create empowering connections with other countries’ higher education systems. She has spoken at numerous universities around the world presenting her findings and research on brain-based science and culturally responsive teaching. She has created a nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Science where she aims to democratize access to STEM learning through educational videos, and blog posts. She also has an amazing website, Brain Based Science, where she gives weekly videos and tips to understand both the brain and the student. If you want to know more about the leaky STEM pipeline and culturally responsive teaching, check out an interview she did with Something to Say Media. Make sure you follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her Youtube channel!
This story is a series where we honor extraordinary educators who are making a difference in their communities with OKIOCAM. This story is written by Ben Jones.
According to research conducted by researchers and professor Riegle-Crumb, King, and Irizarry, more than a third of Black and Latino STEM students will switch majors before earning a degree, while another quarter of Black and Latino STEM students drop out of college altogether. (Riegle-Crumb, King, Irizarry, 2019) The leaky STEM pipeline is a metaphor to explain how minority students disproportionately exit STEM content throughout their educational journey. Dr. d has written many blogs and articles discussing this and ways to mitigate its effects.
Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., & Irizarry, Y. (2019). Does STEM Stand Out? Examining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Persistence Across Postsecondary Fields. Educational Researcher, 48(3), 133–144. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X19831006