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Scientific marvels. Impossible innovations. What could be cooler than a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)? Yet, a dearth of interest in STEM among our young people means we risk losing out on many of America's greatest innovators and their breakthroughs.
It will take a coordinated effort by the government, schools, and companies to solve the STEM skills gap. But the critical work starts at home, and at an early age. Below, read our top ten tips on getting kids into STEM.
Why is the sky blue? Where does the sea end? Kids are born scientists. The human brain is particularly receptive to learning logic and math between ages 1 and 4. Luckily, opportunities to get them into STEM are all around us. We use science for baking cupcakes, math at the grocery store, and engineering to assemble an IKEA flat pack. When kids start young, they develop a positive outlook that can help them stick with STEM learning later, even when it gets challenging. By instilling a problem-solving mindset early on, you help your child frame challenging situations as puzzles to be solved.
STEM workers are the superheroes working on finding solutions to the planet's most pressing problems, from climate change to pandemics to tangled global supply chains. STEM workers are our storm trackers, gaming programmers, and cybersecurity warriors. Yet, all too often, kids see STEM learning as numbers to be memorized, formulas on a wall. They don't know how much fun a STEM career can be. Make sure that when you talk about STEM, you make it exciting. Use stories about real-world STEM stars, from Neil deGrasse Tyson to Marie Curie, to Elon Musk. Bring STEM to life.
How much tension can a Jenga tower take? What wind force will the treehouse withstand? How much weight will that Erector Set bridge support? It's all engineering. But, traditionally, these activities were thought of as boys' pursuits. No surprise then that girls lag boys in participation in many STEM disciplines. And when you only have one gender involved, you're missing out on a bunch of innovations. California recently passed a law requiring gender-neutral isles for toys in large retailers. Do the same for your kids. Make a point of giving girls the same STEM toys as boys, and you'll reap the benefits down the road.
Learning to code is learning how to communicate with computers. Scratch, MIT's free, visual, drag-and-drop coding platform is tremendous fun and built for kids. And a growing number of tech toys teach kids the basics of logic and programming, like the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit that lets kids create fun working machines with magnetic blocks. Or Osmo's coding game for the iPad teaches kids to code. Consider a coding summer camp or an extra-curricular course or competition. They'll learn to team up with other kids to create anything from apps to robots to cybersecurity solutions.
Learning robotics promotes curiosity and creativity and develops crucial problem-solving skills. First Lego League is all about fun, exciting hands-on learning. Participants gain real-world problem-solving experience, critical thinking, coding, and design skills through its guided robotics program. Kids who participate are significantly more likely to show interest in STEM careers. The program culminates in the world's largest global youth robotics competition. Many schools offer FIRST club as an after-school program or even part of the regular curriculum.
Every fall, manufacturing businesses around the country open their doors on Manufacturing Day. Founded by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, this open house day gives kids and grownups the chance to see what metalworkers, welders, and fabricators make on some of the most astonishing machines imaginable. The same association sponsors STEM camps through its charitable foundation, Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs.
Women comprise nearly half the US workforce but only 27% of STEM workers. For a variety of reasons, girls start getting turned off STEM as early as elementary school. But organizations like the Girl Scouts USA are doing something about it. They pledged to bring 2.5 million girls into the STEM pipeline by 2025, transforming lives across the country. They also launched cybersecurity and space science badges. Find a Girl Scout troop near you.
Unfortunately, when many children look in the mirror, they don't see an engineer or scientist looking back. Minorities are America's fastest-growing demographic but the least likely to obtain an engineering degree. Hispanic/Latinx and Black Americans make up just 6% and 5% of physicians (but 18% and 13% of the population). When children were asked to draw a mathematician or scientist, girls were twice as likely to draw men as women, while boys almost universally drew men. The Harvard project "I Am A Scientist" breaks down barriers like race and gender by showcasing scientists from different backgrounds. Make sure the little one in your life has suitable role models, too.
The pandemic caused many kids to fall behind at school. But while new digital and blended learning methods can be tricky to navigate, they are also an opportunity. Now, teachers can invite real-life scientists into the virtual classroom and transform STEM learning from dry, textbook-heavy subjects to something engaging, human, and lively. Make inquiries at your school as to whether they're employing project-based learning and group work to stir kids' interest.
STEM learning at its best is messy, loud, and hands-on. It might not even look like 'proper learning.' It might feel counterintuitive, but by just stepping back and letting those seeds of curiosity grow, you could be nurturing America’s next great inventor, scientist, or innovator. Let kids make a mess, break stuff, explore freely. And make sure screen time bans are doing what they're supposed to do and not curtailing a little Bill Gates in the making.
From gaping skills gaps to semiconductor shortages to dwindling manufacturing employment, America's worsening structural problems have laid bare the urgent need for nurturing STEM skills right here in America. The US currently has millions of unfilled STEM jobs, and Industry 4.0 will automate millions more. At Modis, we believe instilling STEM skills – and passion – in our kids should be a priority for everyone. STEM jobs are foundational to building the workforce of the future and a more innovative, more competitive, and more resilient America, post-pandemic.