As a parent I’ve asked myself many times if i am doing enough to get my daughter excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and I do admit that there have been times when i feel i haven’t tried hard enough. As a dad my endeavor has always been to ignite her curiosity about the world around her, get her to ask questions about the world around her and more importantly find opportunities to challenge the status quo.
“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.” (National Science Foundation)
But before we dive into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and look at approaches to getting our kids excited about STEM let’s start out of defining STEM and see how it might apply to our lives in general.
So what is STEM – STEM is a buzzword that gets tossed around a fair bit these days and it’s likely that a lot of parents and kids may not fully understand what it means. STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Your child might might be studying math and science at school and they might even have an occasional technology class at the elementary level. But STEM isn’t necessarily about a single subject, degree or education program. A lot of the general STEM concepts are often included in the elementary curriculum, although technology and engineering are often severely lacking in the regular school day.
According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while other occupations are growing at 9.8%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and are a critical component to helping the U.S. win the future. STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators. Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy. This innovation and science literacy depends on a solid knowledge base in the STEM areas. It is clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. Despite these compelling facts, mathematics and science scores on average among U.S. students are lagging behind other developing countries.
What can we as parents do – Getting your child interested and involved with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) does not have to be an expensive or elaborate affair. You can start small, focus on short conversations or activities and start off early in life. It’s a lot easier to get a young child interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) than to get an older child focused on a particular STEM activity or conversation when they have already developed advanced interests and hobbies. Here’s some of the ways I have chosen to get my little girl into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and you’ll note that none of them requires you to break the bank or spend your entire day on a field track away from civilization.
- Get them interested in the world around them – One of the best ways I’ve found to get my daughter interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is to get her to notice and see the world around her. You’ll be amazed at how talking about simple innovations around the home can spark off creative discussions. Take for example the microwave oven and the principle of how it works. We all use microwave ovens multiple times in a day but never really stop to ask ourselves how it works. Take the opportunity to slide that into a conversation in a nice way and get your child interested in it’s workings. Possible look up videos on youtube and explore the inner workings of the device.
- Encourage asking of questions – When i was young my father would say, half knowledge is dangerous so make sure you ask as many questions as you need to. I think i quite took that too seriously and today i tend to sometimes ask too many questions. Anyways, one of the best ways to get your child interested in the world around them is to get then inquisitive and asking questions. Talk about the silly questions they might have, go over them, answer them in a polite way and thank them for having asked the question. Encouraging them to ask more questions about the world around them will go a long way to getting them curious about the world they live in.
- Encourage trips to the library – Where else can you find books on diverse subjects for free. Make trips to your local council library, explore the different activities on offer and pick up books on different subjects. When my daughter was really small we would pick books on science, engineering, machines and go over them talking about how things worked and be mesmerized with the inventions that man has come up with.
- Go for short walks and take time to smell the roses – Nature is a great teacher and there’s so much you can learn outdoors. Go for a walk in the park, look at the things you would have not noticed earlier i.e. talk about the species of plants being grown, discuss the different birds that are having a drink at the water fountain or look at the different bugs that are crawling around the ground. Every park will offer multiple ecosystems for their inhabitants i.e. birds, animals, insects, etc. to live and thrive. Slow down, look around and you’ll find a million things to explore with your little child. Believe me, when you look at it from the lens of a child everything becomes so much more interesting. It turns into an awesome learning opportunity.
- Build and break things together – Have a gadget that is being chucked out, how about you take the opportunity to break it down and see what’s inside. Take old discarded clocks or computers, open them up and see what’s inside. We throw out so many things these days and loose the opportunity to explore and learn. Try this out next time you have a gadget that has run its course and needs to be put into the bin. Open it, break it, peek inside and learn what it’s made of. Look at youtube videos to see how it was built in the first place. It can be a truly enriching experience doing that with your little child.
- Watch documentaries on youtube and netflix – I should admit, i find a lot more interesting content on youtube that is a lot more relevant to my interests that on netflix. Netflix has some really quality documentaries and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) content but you cannot beat youtube. So go for it, check out documentaries, howto videos and STEM channels. My daughter and i are big fans of Megafactories, How did they do it, Megacities, Big builds, Largest machines, etc. all thanks to youtube.
- Plan trips to your local museum a few times every year – Museums can offer a great opportunity to explore different facets of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Plan a trip to your local museum, walk around the different exhibits, ask questions, read information about the exhibit and talk to your child about it. Find common ground and seek the exhibits that you both love and dive into the detail, attend shows and explore what’s on offer.
- Seek out free STEM activities on Eventbrite – You will be amazed at the type of free learning events local councils, industry and government offer around the year. Signup to a few of these platforms that are local to your area e.g. Eventbrite and grab a suitable opportunity when it presents itself.
- Look at situations in life and ask what if – One of the best ways I’ve found works for me and my daughter is to visualize a situations differently. If you are driving past a particular situation that you aren’t completely happy about e.g. waste being dumped on the sidewalk, talk about what opportunities could we create for people to recycle material rather than chuck them out. This is a great opportunity to ignite curiosity, encourage your child to ask questions and also challenge the status quo.
- Get your child to help out with some of your projects – Everyone has to fix things around the house once in a while. Involving your child might slow you down or complicate simple fixes but getting them involved will go a long way to build their understanding of simple engineering concepts and possibly ignite the maker bug in them. So next time you are needing to fix that broken down pipe, remember to take your junior engineer along with you for the big fix!!!!
Hopefully I’ve given you enough ideas to get your child engaged with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities. The earlier you start the better chances you have to get your child interested in some aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). The process of diving into STEM can help build many different life skills (analytical, reasoning, problem solving, etc.) which will be immensely useful to both you and your child for years to come.
Hopefully you have enjoyed the post. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for future tutorials drop us a note at – learning at hack2 dot live.
FREE STEM learning at KidzCanCode – At KidzCanCode.com we offer FREE access to various STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Math) development courses at KidzCanCode.com. At KidzCanCode.com you will find courses on Scratch, BBC Micro:Bit, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, 3D modelling, Robotics and Electronics.
If you are looking for a BBC micro:bit, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, starter kits, electronics kits, robotics kits including other STEM learning kits we would recommend you drop by our online store here – <OzToyLib>.