How to Foster a Passion for STEM in Kids

Modis Posted 01 June 2019
Parents and teachers are always looking for methods to inspire and encourage a child's interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), which are the foundational skills for the jobs of the future. With the recent heavy emphasis on standardized testing, many schools put less emphasis on these subjects, making extra-curricular STEM activities even more important.

Here are six ways to foster a passion for STEM that will help you nurture lifelong science lovers:

Construction toys

“Building blocks are a really good way to promote early STEM and math skills," said psychologist Sarah Roseberry Lytle, director of outreach and education at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. However, construction toys such as Legos, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs, traditionally are not marketed to girls, which may contribute to the fact that girls lag behind boys in spatial skills. As one of very few women in a sea of male engineering students at Stanford University, Debbie Sterling struggled in her engineering drawing class. It wasn't until later she learned that kids who grow up playing with construction toys learn these essential skills, which are so important for many engineering tasks.

Now the founder of the wildly successful, award-winning Goldie Blox construction toys for young girls, Sterling used her knowledge of product manufacturing to make an engineering toy for girls, so that they, too could discover a passion for engineering. To keep the girls' interest in playing with “boring" construction pieces, she came up with the idea of creating story books about a girl engineer character who goes on adventures and solves problems by building simple machines, such as lever or a belt drive, to spark their imaginations.

As Sterling points out in her TEDxPSU talk, “Engineering is such a creative thing, and … it's so fun for me to get to use my creative voice and my artistic skills as a part of engineering."

Learning to Code

Coding is fast becoming a priority STEM objective in schools, with the help of organizations like Code.org, which provides a K-12 computer science curriculum to large school districts and hosts the Hour of Code campaign around the world.

In addition to coding classes put on by local parks & recreation organizations, as well as private groups and after-school clubs, parents can give their children a head start in elementary coding with tech toys that teach the basics of logic and programming.

One examples of a toy that excites the imagination while instilling fundamental engineering and computer concepts is the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit, a programmable electronic building block set, which allows kids to create fun working machines using magnetic snap-together blocks.

group of children gathered around a robotic car

Robotics and FIRST Inspires

The original “Lego League" has evolved into FIRST Inspires, a non-profit organization aimed at all ages, from Kindergarten through Grade 12. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

According to research on the impact of FIRST, kids who participate are significantly more likely to show interest in STEM and STEM careers. The organization brings together students, parents, educators, and community volunteers to give kids their first experience in robotics, while providing an exciting team competition that could lead them all the way to the world's largest global youth robotics competition, the FIRST Championship.

Many schools offer a FIRST club as an after-school program or even part of the regular curriculum. This school year the theme will be FIRST Launch 2019, with different contests designed specifically for each of the four levels, from “Mission Moon" for grades K-4 to “Destination: Deep Space" for grades 9-12. Visit your school's website to find out more.

Manufacturing Day

Not sure what an engineer does for a living? Never considered a career in manufacturing? Every fall, manufacturing businesses around the country invite students, teachers, counselors and parents to visit open houses around the country on Manufacturing Day to experience what it's like to work in modern manufacturing, one of the highest-paying, most satisfying STEM jobs around.

Today's manufacturing jobs are not the dirty, dark jobs of our imagination. Instead, they require innovative, highly skilled professionals often working in clean, climate-controlled work environments. Manufacturing Day is an opportunity to watch metalworkers, welders, and fabricators demonstrate what they make on some of coolest machines imaginable.

Founded by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA), Manufacturing Day occurs on or around the first Friday in October, which this year is Oct. 5, 2018. Visit http://www.mfgday.com/events for a list of registered events near you.

Attend a STEM Camp

For middle and high-school students interested in getting a hands-on feel for a future STEM career, try attending one of the many STEM camps held privately or through local parks, trade schools and colleges across the country.

FMA sponsors STEM camps for youth ages 12-16 through its charitable foundation, Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs. By introducing middle and high school students to the many aspects of today's automated manufacturing industry, the organization hopes to influence them to choose manufacturing careers.

One such camp is held by Anoka Technical College in Anoka, Minnesota. During the week-long camp, students tour manufacturing facilities and learn how to do computer-aided design (CAD), operate a range of machinery, and design and build a product from start to finish.

STEM Scout Badges

With its recent pledge to bring 2.5 million girls into the STEM pipeline by 2025, the Girl Scouts USA seeks to “transform the lives of millions of girls across the country, in virtually every residential zip code, preparing the next generation of female leaders."

According to the organization's research, “girls in our STEM programs are significantly more interested after the programs in having a STEM career than they were when they entered the programs." GSUSA has already devoted extensive effort to expanding opportunities in STEM for girls. Now, in addition to its badges covering nature and the environment, digital art, and science & technology, the organization will launch new cybersecurity badges and a series of space science badges.

To find a Girl Scout troop near you, visit https://www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/join.html.

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