When it comes to technological innovation, the United States remains number one. Yet, among 15-year-olds worldwide, the US ranks 29th in math literacy, falling behind Finland, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Liechtenstein. This means that the US delivers a less-than-excellent education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM education). Due to the declining quality of public primary and secondary education as well as an overall lack of financial and societal support (only 10 percent of children’s TV characters are scientists or engineers), fewer young American students are showing an interest in STEM education.
Given that so many US students have shied away from STEM studies, American industry has been forced to continue its practice of outsourcing overseas. This business strategy will not change unless a sufficient number of American students pursue college and graduate degrees in the sciences. As of late, there has been renewed attention to STEM education as well initiatives and funding from the White House on its behalf. To contribute to this new momentum, parents and caregivers can play a significant role in exciting their children about STEM education and its professional possibilities. What are the steps in taking this proactive approach? This article will help you to get your children more involved in STEM education and loving it, too.
<font=1>Note: While this article relates in particular to the US situation, the need to boost STEM education is similar in many Anglo countries, and the methods outlined here are of great benefit to children in these countries too.
1. Discover your child’s natural affinity and academic aptitude. Every child’s constitution is different, and even though the theory of neuroplasticity tells us that the human brain can adapt to almost anything, some children are able to learn about the sciences more easily than others. Since it’s clear that different forms of knowledge exercise different parts of the brain, some students will probably require a little more time and effort than others to learn the same academic subject. As a parent or caregiver, it is most important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your child, support him or her through the process, and to try to alleviate unnecessary stress.
2. Provide an environment that will instill a healthy balance among your child’s IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and PQ (Physical and Physiological quotient). Fundamental for your child is the PQ; a child will not be able to learn if he or she is hungry, tired, or indisposed. EQ also plays a very important role in a child’s academic success. If a child feels emotionally deprived, he or she will not be able to learn. IQ blooms only when PQ and EQ are supported to be their best.
3. Teach children about the ways in which science and technology add value to the quality of human lives. If children understand all of the wonderful things technology has done and can do, (for example, the cell phone, the Internet, video games, cures for diseases, for example), then they are much more likely to get excited about what they can achieve by pursuing an education in science and technology.
- Make sure children can relate to the examples you pick. Talk about curing illnesses rather than relating technological progress to something like cancer stem cell research. Young children will not understand highly technical language. If you can base your discussion of scientific progress in a story about someone or something a child is already familiar with (such as a family member or friend who has been ill), your message will be much more effective.
4. Create a science and technology environment outside of school. This can be accomplished in many ways:
- View science and technology TV channels with your child. Engage in discussions about what you viewed afterward. Try an experiment that you saw demonstrated on TV or in a video. Part of the fun can be gathering the items needed to perform it as well as setting up the “experimental lab.” Conduct Internet searches on performing fun experiments. There are many sites dedicated to science projects for kids. Make home experiments fun occasions. Organize groups of kids to participate at your home, in your backyard, garage, or another safe place. Join or organize science and technology (S&T) related groups on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn in order to brainstorm with other parents and caregivers. You might even be in contact with teachers in S&T through these online communities. Find or start a supplementary school like the Saturday math school in a Boston suburb established by Russian immigrants. Become a member of the local science museum and keep a watch on activities for kids. Incorporate regular visits into your family’s activities. Use building blocks, puzzles, and games for family activities. Leave these in obvious places so that kids pick them up, play with them, and view them as part of their everyday surroundings. Most importantly, engage in conversation about science-related topics with children in way that pertains to everyday life experiences.
5. Bring science and technology closer to life by pointing out its daily applications. Help children understand how science and technology have led to such things as running water, electricity, and cars. Create a before-and-after scenario in order for your child to realize that people did not always have running water, electricity, or cars. By explaining the history of technology, your child will begin to comprehend that technology is related to progress and serves a very important purpose in day-to-day living.
6. On a regular basis, conduct a task analysis in relation to metacognition standards. This way you can help teachers correctly evaluate the cognitive abilities of your child and match the mode of instruction to his or her skill level.
7. Explain that science and technology can lead to fame and monetary gain. Appeal to children’s fantasies and tempt them! Provide examples of great scientists and achievers. You can easily find examples by conducting an online search.
- Consider making a home project out of researching the lives of famous scientists and innovators. Show your child how to find age-appropriate resources on the Web or in books and magazines to find interesting facts. Have him or her report back with findings! Work with your child to create a poster, Powerpoint, video, or interactive presentation. Why not use technological media to display knowledge about science and technology?
8. Teach critical inquiry skills to your child in the early stages of his or her life. Start by demonstrating how to observe, ask questions, create hypotheses, and test those hypotheses. Inquiry is the basis of science, math, and technological activity. When one is interested in how something works, inquires into it, and then makes discoveries, the desire to learn more ignites! Curiosity leading to inquiry provides the best foundation for perpetual self-improvement through study and experimentation.
- Encourage children to ask questions. Try not to brush aside their queries, even if they don’t make sense or are not good questions. Turn the bad question into an interesting and relevant question and then engage in discussion. You don’t necessarily need to know all of the answers. An important part of the process is helping your children learn how to find answers themselves through your guidance.