It’s never been more important to get kids excited about STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math) from an early age. These days, new job growth is more often than not concentrated in these fields, and skills like coding and problem-solving are crucial for all of today’s students.
Because many teachers and parents have the belief that STEM subjects are very challenging, many students grow up with the idea that you can only learn these important skills if you have the “right” mind for it. This simply isn’t true, and getting kids excited about STEM subjects early is the first step in changing stereotypes around these subjects.
So what can you do to encourage STEM exploration if you’re involved in a young student’s education, whether you’re a teacher or a parent? Here are 4 great ideas.
1. Create Potential Opportunities Through STEM
Many students aren’t motivated to learn subjects like math because they can’t see the opportunities that learning these skills will open up—it can all feel very abstract. Educating students (especially girls) about the potential for exciting careers and opportunities they may have through learning basic STEM skills can help encourage exploration and persistence in learning these subjects. If you can go beyond education and create opportunities, like pointing out camps and scholarships that require STEM, you’ll give students a concrete goal to work toward.
2. Use Fun Games Like Real Life Simulators
Gamification is always a great way to get students involved in STEM subjects. When educational materials are presented in game form, it accomplishes two important goals: it helps students have fun while they’re learning, and it takes some of the pressure off of the process. They’re not being tested on STEM subjects; they’re playing a game!
Some of the best gamification tools are real life simulators. Some older students might enjoy fintech games that emulate cryptocurrency stock markets. It’s a fun way to get to know how markets work and help them to adjust to the adult world for their financial future with no risk. Younger children might enjoy coding games or math puzzles that teach the basics of essential STEM skills.
3. Demonstrate Real Life Application
Taking STEM subjects from theoretical and abstract to the real world can be a big jump for students, and it makes them less likely to work hard on learning these subjects. Unless they see how science and engineering affect their everyday lives, they’re unlikely to get excited about studying STEM. Word problems in math don’t cut it—students want to see with their own eyes how these subjects affect the world around them.
Applying STEM skills and thinking to real-life problems is where the magic and creativity happen. One example of this could be demonstrating how engineering is crucial to building theme parks or how coding can create a creative application.
4. Leverage Online Resources
Thanks to advances in technology, it’s never been easier to teach students about technology and other STEM subjects! Online resources are plentiful and available for every age group, from pre-K to high school. Because of the wide range of options, it’s easy to personalize for not only grade level, but also for learning style, interests, number of students, and level of complexity.
Videos, templates, and instructions for hands-on projects in the classroom or at home—there’s something for everyone. These resources are especially helpful for parents and teachers who may not feel confident in their own abilities and knowledge in these subjects. Many of these resources require no prior knowledge and are designed to encourage, not intimidate students.
Prepare for the Future, Now
It’s impossible to know where technology will be when kids today are graduating from high school and college. The best we can do is prepare them for a tech-heavy future of jobs that will require at least the basics of a STEM education. After all, in the 10 years between 2012 and 2022, STEM jobs are projected to reach 9 million, up by 1 million jobs overall. If students graduate without the necessary skills, they will have fewer opportunities for stable and satisfying work, and the economy will suffer.
Start preparing for the future now. Don’t make STEM subjects scary, intimidating, or boring for the kids in your life. Yes, they need these skills—but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the ride.