3 Ways to Get Kids Excited About STEM

students in a stem competition at the white houseIT and technology infrastructure company Cognizant has an interesting theory when it comes to STEM education. Their principles of education emphasize the maker approach, operating from the assumption that when it comes to getting kids to pursue STEM careers, being good at science is much less important than being interested in science.

So, they see the maker movement as the best way to “get kids excited about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math…maker culture emphasizes hands-on, immersive projects that spark kids’ interest as they work toward a final product using robotics, 3D printing, wearable technology, and more,” reports Inside Philanthropy. Emphasizing fun and excitement rather than sheer natural skill may very well be the key to funneling more students into STEM careers.

The only question is, how exactly does one do that? What if kids don’t have access to maker spaces? How can educators and parents reinforce the joy and excitement in science for kids who might not know that they’re interested in it?

Here are a few different ways to get kids and teens excited about STEM. Remember, the key is to find ways to engage them with STEM, not test aptitude or emphasize perfection. The more we can do to bring science, technology, engineering, and math to life, the more children will eventually continue to choose careers that the world vitally needs. As Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S.A. explains to Time Magazine, “Parents need to know that they face extraordinary anti-tech and anti-STEM bias around them and they need to overcome that on behalf of their kids.”

Flip Classrooms to Collaborative Learning: Smith says that teachers who implement effective collaboration projects in science or math can help increase STEM test scores and encourage active learning: “One of my favorites at the elementary level is, when they’re talking about a particular subject area—let’s say dinosaurs or birds—instead of lecturing on each animal, they assign one to each kid. Then the kids do projects where they become an expert on that particular dinosaur or bird. Because of the social nature of kids, they will not only know everything about their projects, they’ll have bothered to learn everything about everyone else’s, too.”

When the teacher becomes more of a coach, allowing students to explore on their own, their natural curiosity will do more for their learning than simply hearing the information. While this may not fit into every teacher’s pedagogy, it can refresh a lesson about a traditionally “boring” subject.

StemBox: A lifestyle blogger, La Jolla Mom, actually posted about ways that she tries to keep her daughter’s interest in science alive in ways that aren’t just at-home-science projects. So, she shared that she follows a monthly subscription service called StemBox, which is aimed at young girls aged 7-13.

The box arrives each month with safety gear, the necessary components to create a science experiment in electrical engineering, computer programming, math, spatial awareness, and biology, as well as some fun STEM accessories. This month’s box features owl pellet dissection. What a fantastic activity for kids to do either on their own, or even during a play date with their friends.

Join a competition: Organizations like For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) aim to inspire kids in science and engineering by hosting tech challenges and competitions. Founder Dean Kamen says that with this type of team, every kid on a FIRST team can “turn pro,” unlike a sports team.

Kids who have participated in FIRST competitions are 50% more likely to go to college and twice as likely to major in science or engineering, which are pretty exciting statistics. Learn more about the tech challenges and robotics competitions here (and there are many, many other awesome organizations besides FIRST out there, too!).

No matter how we do it, the key is to make STEM fun and joyful, not boring and mundane. Do you have any ideas that we missed? Leave them in the section below!

photo credit: Local middle-school students participate in a demonstration on pollinators during the White House Day at the Lab. via photopin (license)