Encouraging an interest in STEM is important regardless of your child’s age, but it is particularly crucial during middle school years. Sadly, many middle school teachers are often ill-equipped to provide your child with relevant and informative STEM learning opportunities. However, as a parent, there are many ways you can provide vital input.
Why are the middle school years so crucial for STEM?
Middle school is a particularly important time in general, with many students beginning to consider possible career options. The opinions they have about STEM subjects at this age will be taken through to further years, with previous experiences or perceptions dramatically impacting their future choices. Despite being such a key time, middle school teachers often have limited resources, with school protocol invariably dictating that other subjects take precedence over STEM.
Why do middle school students find STEM irrelevant and unappealing?
By nature, young children are curious. They question everything around them, looking for clues and answers to why the world is the way it is. Yet, as kids hit middle school, their interest in STEM subjects seriously wanes, particularly in girls. So what happens to that natural explorer and budding scientist as they progress to middle school and beyond?
One explanation is that at this age, STEM subjects hold little appeal. They are often taught by teachers who do not have relevant expertise, and classes are usually text-book led, with nominal interaction, and where, as in the case of math, repetition is considered the key to understanding. No wonder they find it boring. Throw in the fact that success in math and science are largely considered geeky at this age, and a perception that scientists are strange, white-coated individuals working laboriously on some wacky or irrelevant study, means that few middle school kids seriously consider STEM occupations.
How you can encourage STEM as a parent
Sometimes, even the most well-meaning of parents fall into the trap of dismissing the importance of math and science, especially if they know their child finds the concepts particularly tricky. Unfortunately, this is not only doing a disservice to your kids, but it is reinforcing ideas they may already about the irrelevance of STEM subjects.
They key to success is finding ways to encourage and excite your child about STEM, and this has to start with you. Enjoyment is contagious, so be a role model and foster their intrigue and wonder by letting them see how much it fascinates you. In the same token, if you personally find math difficult or boring, work on that. How you respond or think about a situation can have a lasting impact on your child.
Help kids see how STEM is relevant
It helps if you can get children to see how STEM in relevant to them. So many middle school kids fail to understand how it fits in with their own goals or world; at this age, they are often unable to see the connection between what they are learning and their own life. Foster a link between STEM and their own experiences, such as explaining how technology enhances their life, and how STEM is literally all around them but often gets taken for granted, such as electricity and cars. Regularly talk about science news, and the amazing discoveries and strides that are being made.
Make STEM fun!
You are more likely to ignite enthusiasm by making STEM learning interactive and fun. Help set up experiments, asking your child to predict what will happen, and why. Buy a telescope and explore the skies. Even building Lego or playing Minecraft can help with their logical and engineering skills. If you need a little inspiration, Science Buddies makes science fun, with a multitude of activities and explorations to help kindle their interest.
A great deal of research has been undertaken regarding the positive influence of afterschool STEM learning, as highlighted in the report Examining the Impact of Afterschool Stem Programs, so why not sign them up? Additionally, organizations like the Scouts pay a huge amount of attention to STEM, offering resources and interactive learning for both boys and girls.
Although it is crucial to discuss STEM, try not to sermon. You know why it’s imperative they get a solid STEM education, but if you go overboard and start to lecture about how important it is for their future; most of it will just fly right over their head, could evoke increased disinterest, or even lead to discouragement, particularly if they find STEM difficult.