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Four Tips on Introducing STEM to Young Learners

Young Learner and Father Tinkering with STEM Related Tools During At-Home Learning

In this article, a former high school educator shares four tips to help introduce your young learners to the fields of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Think back to your career dream as a six-year-old. Chances are the choices were rather straightforward: a firefighter, maybe a veterinarian, or even a sports star.

The reason you were drawn to those careers probably has to do with early direct, or indirect, exposure to those career pathways. For example, maybe your love for your family pet opened your eyes to the veterinarian field. Or perhaps you excelled in a certain sport, sprouting hopes to become a professional athlete.

However you were introduced, it’s probable something, or someone, played a role in your initial desire to explore that career.

While the idea of youthful career exploration sounds good in theory, what about the jobs not being introduced at an early age? It’s likely those career paths are being overlooked and under-explored, resulting in lower student success and interest.

Currently in the United States, those effects are being felt in the field of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. According to the most recent study by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranks No. 24 in both science and reading worldwide, slightly above average. In mathematics, though, the US finds itself in the bottom-half of the rankings.

So as resourceful as the United States touts itself, why is it struggling in these core areas of learning?

Some will blame the schools, or teachers. Others might point a finger at more standardized testing, less real-life learning.

While all of those may be contributions to the struggles, the reality may lie in students not being introduced to some of these skills at an early enough age. Studies prove the earlier a child is exposed to different ways of thinking in the fields of science and mathematics – two of the core pieces behind STEM – the better prepared they will be in the future for those daunting subjects.

Unfortunately, 29-percent of K-5 educators reported teaching science two days or less per week, according to a Norwich University study. So for most students, if they’re not being exposed to the creative process of various fields of study at home, chances are slim they’re receiving it at all.

But with STEM jobs growing 79-percent, or roughly 17.3 million, since 1990, introducing potential occupations could not only better equip your child for the future, but will also eventually close the skills gap currently being experienced in various STEM-related sectors. (Not to mention eventually earning, on average, 26-percent more in salary than non-STEM sectors.)

So how can you help pique your children or students’ interest? We’ve listed four tips on how to introduce STEM seamlessly into your daily lives.

1 – Feed Their Curiosity Daily

Like with all subjects, learning should happen every single day. At an early age, a child’s mind is like sponge, wanting to absorb as much of our wonderful world as possible. By presenting new, interesting ideas and ways of thinking to them, you’re allowing that sponge to expand and hold more knowledge.

By introducing STEM, learners focus on linear thinking, problem-solving, inventiveness and collaboration. So how can you incorporate these on a daily basis? Think simply. On your way to school or the grocery, have your child count two different-colored cars, determining which color car is on the road more. If you have multiple children, have them time how long it takes to clean their room or set the table, tracking the results over time for (hopeful) improvement.

By incorporating these small tasks into your daily life, children will eventually get into the habit of learning every day, a solid first step in becoming a life-long learner.

2 – Encourage Questions and Feedback

When teaching STEM, no matter the level, students are typically asked to do the following:

1. Identify a real-world problem

2. Ask questions to explore the problem

3. Formulate solution(s)

4. Explore with hands-on, open-ended exploration

While these concepts may be difficult for an elementary-aged student to grasp at first, encourage them to ask questions. In fact, one of the fundamental aspects of math and science is to investigate everything. When children ask questions, they are using critical, processed thinking, which increases the probability for retention. Follow up with inquires of your own to push their thinking even more.

Young children are curious. They are in awe of their surroundings, yearning to smell and touch what they haven’t before. That also means questioning what they don’t understand. So while it may be overwhelming at first, don’t discourage them from asking. Once they do, provide them with encouraging responses that go beyond a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Hopefully one day, their curiosity might be the catalyst for real change.

3 – Get Involved With OthersStem tips: Feed Curiosity Daily, Encourage Questions and Feedback, Get Involved With Others, Fun Games Can Do the Trick

As mentioned earlier, with all of the other standards elementary school teachers must implement daily, sometimes STEM-related projects go by the wayside. So it’s imperative that parents take charge, and introduce these critical subjects to their children. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourself.

Makerspaces are collaborative work spaces for making, learning, exploring and sharing, and have been popping up in cities around the nation. The spaces are typically open to kids and adults, and include equipment ranging from 3D printers, to laser cutters, to sewing machines. Occasionally classes are offered; other times, you can learn on your own accord. But seeing other children interested in the same thing as your child may help show them they’re not alone in seeking out learning.

It’s also the perfect introduction to teamwork, which is a key skill for STEM classes. By collaborating with other parents and children, students are exposed to group collaboration at an early age, which can help make them more accepting of others’ ideas and philosophies in the future. Seek out local companies or schools that may offer camps, or workshops, throughout the year in your area.

Finally, don’t be afraid to get involved yourself. If you have a background in a STEM field, volunteer your time and skills at a local school or after-school program. Sometimes, all a student needs to get interested in a field is a mentor who shares their love and enthusiasm for their career. It only takes a couple of hours each month, but could be the launching pad to a lifelong love of STEM.

4 – Fun, Simple Games and Activities Can Do the Trick!

When you were an elementary-aged student, what was your class subject of choice? Reading? Art? While you might have enjoyed most of your classes, almost every kid looked forward to on in particular: recess. It was an opportunity, even for a few minutes, to let go of inhibitions and just play. Plain and simple, it was a reminder that it was fun to be a kid.

So why should learning be any different?

With more school districts around the country moving to project-based learning, the older “frontal” model of teaching – lecture-based instruction – is going by the wayside. Challengers questioned its higher-order critical thinking, instead turning to a more hands-on learning approach.

In 2018, unique ways of introducing STEM are everywhere. There are drones that use coding education to get airborne and fly. For video game enthusiasts, build-your-own game kits allow kids to create rooms, characters and art. There are even kits to perform fun experiments in the kitchen. The reality is when you make learning fun, kids will be more enthusiastic to grasp these concepts in the future. And as a parent, you will be setting your child up for success later in life.

About Wes Scott

Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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