Getting Children and Students Involved with STEM

November 8th was National STEM Day – how will you get your children and students involved?

According to NYMetro Parents, the U.S. is currently suffering from a severe lack of science- and math-inclined students and this lack bears some serious consequences. Melanie Baker, an editor at NYMetro Parents, writes, “We’re falling behind the rest of the world in terms of innovation, and the U.S. is losing jobs as companies are being forced to hire overseas workers for STEM projects.”

The issue at hand is large: our economic growth is suffering and rates of unemployment for recent college grads are rising.

The solution, however, is pretty simple. We must alter our children’s and students’ perceptions of math and science, preferably starting at a young age, and encourage them to see the STEM subjects as an extension of their day-to-day lives; that is to say, the false barrier we erect between math and science, commonly regarded as difficult subjects placed into a school curriculum solely to bore and aggravate stressed-out students, and time spent outside of the classroom must be demolished. Here’s how to operate the wrecking ball:

First, understand the benefits learning STEM subjects will have on your children/students and the world: Engineering For Kids, a franchise dedicated to creating engineering-centered programs around the country, explains that “STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators.” And innovators, the franchise points out, create “new products and processes that sustain our economy.”

Extend science beyond the classroom by:

Turning your kitchen into a science lab: Yes, there is a thing called “edible science” and it happens every time you cook a meal! Get children interested in science simply by involving them in the preparation of a meal or dessert. Explain the chemical processes occurring when chocolate chip cookies bake, or skip the Ben and Jerry’s and make your own ice cream in a zip lock bag. For more edible science ideas, check out this list of 10 Science Experiments You Can Eat with Your Kids.

Infusing game night with science: There are a myriad of math- and science-focused games that are both fun and educational. Something as simple as a round of Monopoly, with your child operating the bank, can encourage an awareness of money management and can allow your child to practice simple algebraic calculations in their head. For a more “non-traditional” game night, try these games that promote a rethinking of gender roles in the world of math and science, or allow your child to engineer an amusement park or learn structural engineering by building bridges and skyscrapers.

Introduce your children and students to “rock stars”: Katherine Beard, staff writer at U.S. News, quotes Myth Busters’ host and electrical engineer Grant Imahara in saying that children need STEM role models. In the 1960s, Imahara said, “astronauts were rock stars. Everyone wanted to be an astronaut.” Perhaps it’s time to redirect our children’s attention away from super models, Hollywood actors, and athletes, and toward figures like Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Jeanette Epps, an astronaut at NASA scheduled for her first spaceflight in May 2018, or use this STEM Role Model Directory to pair your child up with someone who works in a STEM field!

Advocate: If you want to promote STEM education on a larger scale, beyond both the classroom and the home, join advocacy efforts to create and fund STEM-related afterschool programs. Use this toolkit to engage elected officials, funders, and community partners in the conversation about STEM programs.

While the STEM-crisis seems large, the solutions are accessible and possible. Parents, caretakers, and educators have the power to foster in their children and students an enthusiasm and fervent interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.