Improving their future career prospects is only one reason to get kids interested in STEM. There are many others. First, kids with a strong grasp of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics grow up to be critical thinkers. They make their decisions based upon evidence and proven science, not suppositions or wive’s tales (for example).
Society as a whole benefits from a population full of intelligent, educated people. We certainly have many crises to face in the near and distant future that will require people in the fields of science and technology to solve.
Unfortunately, getting kids to be passionate about STEM can be a challenge. Some kids just perceive STEM interests as boring. Others believe they aren’t talented in these areas. There are also kids who simply aren’t given much opportunity to explore these interests.
The good news is that it’s possible to get nearly every kid interested in STEM. However, it takes effort from both parents and schools. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
Make it Easy to Consume STEM Related Content
There is a plethora of STEM related content, and much of it is designed to be interesting to kids. What schools and parents need to do is ensure that kids can access that information easily. They can begin by finding kid friendly websites featuring STEM topics. Parents can encourage kids to watch TED talks and science documentaries in addition to the usual shows they watch.
Schools and parents both can subscribe to STEM periodicals and encourage kids to read them as well. They can also create theme weeks where a specific math, science, and engineering topic is woven into the curriculum that week.
Make Science Fairs More Accessible
Many students don’t participate in school science fairs because they don’t believe their ideas or knowledge are good enough, and they don’t want to be judged or criticized. While schools should certainly encourage the best and brightest students to be competitive with one another, they should also explore ways to make school science fairs more inclusive.
This can be done by adding a non competitive, demonstration category to science fairs. This could open these events up to students who may wish to give presentations, demonstrate things they have built, or otherwise show off their emerging passion for science in a safe space.
Encourage Age Appropriate Exploration
- Playing With Food
- Emptying Shampoo Bottles Into The Sink And Running Fingers Through The Liquid
- Taking Apart Toys And Electronics
- Hurling Items Over The Bannister
- Mixing Incompatible Foods Together
- Playing in Mud
- Touching Bugs
These are just a few behaviors that kids engage in that can be messy and frustrating. Parents should keep in mind that these are also exploring behaviors. They are the result of kids asking questions such as, ‘what would happen if I?’ or ‘If I do this, will it work like I think it will?’
Obviously there needs to be some controls and limitations here. However, as much as possible parents should give kids free reign when it comes to exploring the world around them. This will encourage the kind of curiosity that
Replace School Carnivals With STEM Fairs
Fall festivals and spring flings, most elementary schools have at least one fair or carnival each year. These events usually feature carnival games and cake walks. The prizes are usually plastic trinkets or fast food gift coupons. None of which are good for health or the environment.
Schools can offer kids a fun time without all of that junk food and plastic waste by holding STEM fairs instead. This is also a great way to get older kids with a passion for science and technology working with younger kids. They can create games, demos, and challenges for the kids to enjoy. There’s also potential to bring in members of the community to get involved as well.
Use Community Resources to Boost STEM Enthusiasm
Many communities have science museums with exhibits designed especially for children. In addition to this, local colleges and universities offer STEM programs to kids. These include cooperative programs with schools, after school programs, and even camps like this Berkley summer camp.
Don’t discount area businesses either. If there are companies that are involved in STEM, they may offer tours, or have educational materials that they are willing to give away for free. Even industries you may not think of as being on the cutting edge of technology can have something to bring to the table. For example, there’s a light of science, math, engineering, and technology that goes into farming.
Point Out STEM in Unexpected Places
Painters blend primary colors together in varying ratios in order to create new colors. Musical scales are based on mathematical principles. Roller coasters are designed using physics. Many kids find STEM boring because they don’t recognize how it intersects with the things that are interesting to them. Parents who take the time to point out the science behind things can truly pique young minds.
Schools can do the same by blending science into other curriculum. For example, a unit on an ancient civilization could include an exploration of the tools, engineering feats, and scientific advancements credited to that civilization.
Buy Toys That Encourage Thinking And Creativity
It’s natural for kids to be drawn towards toys that feature their favorite characters. The problem is that many of these toys don’t offer kids much flexibility. Instead, the play experience is heavily guided. Parents may have better luck by purchasing toys that can be used in as many ways as kids can come up with.
Blocks, legos, erector sets, Lincoln logs, and other similar toys encourage kids to create and make their own fun. Puppets are another option. They may not be scientific per se, but they do encourage imaginative, thoughtful play.
Check Out Homeschooling Science Resources (Even if You Don’t Home School)
Every parent should be on the lookout for ways to get kids excited about STEM. This shouldn’t be left to the schools alone. What many people don’t realize is that there are a huge number of STEM resources for kids that have been designed for homeschooling families, and these resources are usually available to everyone. Even better, many of these sources are free.
These resources include formal curricula, games, software, project kits, worksheets, and more. Even better, many of these resources are free, or can be purchased at nominal cost. This is a great way for parents to supplement what schools are doing, and encourage exploration outside of what is being offered in the classroom.
Keep Plenty of Raw Materials Around For Projects
Many parents keep a bin of paper, pipe cleaners, crayons, markers, googly, eyes, and other items on hand. This gives kids something to do, and encourages them to use their artistic skills. This is wonderful, as it builds creativity and assures that art plays an important role in kids’ lives.
Unfortunately, many parents miss the opportunity to do the same thing when it comes to get kids interested in STEM. Why not create a similar project box for kids to experiment with engineering, measuring, physics, etc. A collection of age appropriate tools, scrap wood, old wheels, pulleys, fasteners of various sorts, circuit board kits, batteries, and other items can be an absolute treasure trove for kids.
While they’re building forts, trebuchets, go carts, solar powered fans, and other nifty things, the kids will also be applying scientific principles. Even better, they’ll get to experience the cycle of failing and then trying again that STEM professionals all experience.
Use Augmented And Virtual Reality in The Classroom to Make STEM Stand Out
Imagine studying cellular models using three dimensional holograms. Think about paging through a science book, scanning an image, and then watching a three minute video from a world famous scientist. What would it be like to dissect an animal heart using nothing but a tablet? What would it be like for a child in a rural school district to walk through the Museum of Science And Industry a thousand miles away?
School districts can accomplish all of these things and more, right now. They just have to employ augmented and virtual reality technology. The good news is that these technologies are become less expensive and easier to access all the time. The better news is that there are AR and VR apps designed specifically for the classroom.
Don’t Type Kids
It’s tempting for adults to put kids into categories based on the things we observe. The kid who has an affinity and interest in sports may affectionately be referred to as ‘our star athlete’. The kid who likes art and music is the ‘creative one’. The one who likes writing and literature is the ‘bookworm’.
There’s nothing wrong with taking note of each child’s passions and talents. The problem comes when the language used to describe the child is so wrapped up in one thing, that it becomes limiting. The danger is that kids won’t explore STEM because they don’t see it as being their thing.
It’s important that kids understand that STEM is for everyone. It isn’t only for the people who want to work these fields when they grow up. It certainly isn’t only for those who have a natural affinity for these topics. Learning about STEM is good for everyone.
It might help to encourage kids to view STEM the same way they do art or music. Some people are really great at those things, but art and music can be fun for everyone. The same thing is true for STEM.
Finally, parents and teachers should be very aware of messages they may be unintentionally sending kids, especially girls, about STEM. Interest in STEM subjects significantly decreases among young women after the early primary school grades. Part of this could be due to the fact that many still see these fields as being for men only. Even when their are subconscious, these attitudes can have a negative impact. Parents and schools should avoid typing things by gender wherever it is possible.
The world is going to need people who have an understanding of science, math, engineering, and technology. Not only do we need people to go into these fields, we need to increase the general population’s understanding of these topics. Getting kids interested is a great place to start.