Kim Mitton: Workshop leader, Scientists in School

I work with Scientists in School as a.

I work with Scientists in School as a presenter doing classroom workshops on microscopy for Grades 1 to 3, and part-time at a veterinary clinic.

I went to the University of Toronto out of high school and got my four-year bachelor of science, then to Centennial College, where I completed an educational support worker degree in June 2015. 

I made a whirlwind decision to go to Centennial in order to gain experience working with the special-needs kids I was encountering in volunteer positions in the classroom. I looked into taking courses on autism and special needs and discovered I could get a degree faster and for the same amount of money as taking random courses.

I was already working part-time and have a family at home, so it was way easier to study online than to attend classes. I started slowly with two courses, because I had no idea what the workload would be like. You have to be a little bit of a self-learner. There is no teacher constantly reminding you of deadlines, but most of the courses have discussion groups, so you don’t miss out on interacting with classmates.

I had been out of school for a long time and am not a computer person, but it wasn’t difficult as far as the logistics, and there was always tech help. I often called the college to ask, “Am I doing this right?” There was a lot of support as far as that goes. In self-learning situations you have to be motivated and organized.

Most of the students were from Hamilton and didn’t necessarily have the same experiences I had in big-city Toronto with lots of diversity. It was a little surprising. One said there was only one black child in her class, so for her, hearing different experiences was valuable. Some had been working in the field for 20 years and were going back to get official credentials. We were in contact with a variety of people and experiences.

A course on autism gave me a lot of strategies to use in the classroom with kids with special needs. A course called learning strategies helped me adjust to the learning styles of children who are visual or who learn kinetically and can’t sit still. In the workshop, we did a lot of hands-on stuff. Any material to do with why kids act the way they do helped me a lot.

Seeing kids engaged in the class is exciting. The idea of the Scientists in the School workshop is to help kids look at things differently a butterfly looks totally different under the microscope. It’s exciting to watch that “click” when they discover that. 

In my line of work – coming in from outside to do classes – I go to different schools and often don’t know what I’ll get until I get there. Special-needs kids can be unpredictable, so being one step ahead of them is always a good plan. The courses helped me with strategies in that regard. You need a go-with-the-flow attitude, and if you have a bad day you move on and try something new the next time. Things don’t always go as you planned. Being patient is big. 

Primary kids have an amazing sense of wonder – they can spend all day looking at a dandelion. Today we’re too busy to sit back and look at things. The kids bring you back to that idea of wonder and, honestly, they’re really funny.

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