Teachers and educators can be instrumental in a student’s decision to pursue the academic disciplines they end up studying. Evidence from this the ICM-S survey shows that the decision taken by a student to study STEM in college can be directly influenced by classroom instruction and the advice given directly by a teacher. It can, however, be challenging for teachers to engage their students in certain subject areas. Here are some of our top tips to tackle the challenges that arise in encouraging students to pursue STEM.
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Teach them Young
Student engagement can be a huge challenge for teachers. Between the pervasive use of smartphones and gadgets, common misconceptions about STEM subjects being hard and unaccessible, and boring learning materials, it can be incredibly hard to hold the attention of students for long.
A preventative method that tackles this issue is ensuring that a love for scientific exploration and discovery is instilled at an early age. Early educators can integrate STEM lessons into a daily curriculum, helping children to cultivate a foundational understanding and curiosity about the world around them.
Research tells us that most students tend to lose interest in Science between the ages of 12 and 13—which is the same age where their perceived self-efficacy starts to change. Implementing robust science education from an early age would help to combat this change at this impressionable age where they begin to lose confidence and doubt their abilities.
In fact, young children often already engage with science without realising. For example, when children stack building blocks together, they are essentially learning fundamental laws in physics. Similarly, when they run off on nature walks to explore a fallen nest or flower, they are observing the biological world. Teachers can use this curiosity to direct their students in a more intentional manner, without making their play feel like work.
Science can seem boring when it isn’t contextualized in the real world. Concepts, when they’re not illustrated effectively, can seem abstract and pointless. According to a study undertaken by the Institute of Engineering and Technology: “Most students see the curriculum as boring and irrelevant to life outside school.” When concepts are explained in hands-on activities, students are more easily able to establish a link between their observations and theories. Practical project work also enables group discussions, teamwork, communication and peer-to-peer interaction, all of which are considered important 21st-century skills .
Most children struggle to understand the importance of science because they cannot see the connection between what they learn in the classroom and the happenings of the real world. Students also have a perception of science subjects being either too difficult or too boring. Introducing topical science in class can help students understand the relevance of science in everyday life. A typical STEM lessons usually involves four basic steps:
- 1. Identifying a real-world problem.
- 2. Asking questions to explore the problem (and hopefully solving it)
- 3. Developing potential solutions
- 4. Exploring a hands-on activity
Most teachers and educators have an unpredictable and heavy workload, which doesn’t always allow for much time to plan intricate and engaging STEM lessons. This is where technology comes in. The EPI found that teachers who make their pupils use technology for class projects in all or most lessons have four to five more hours free each week than those who only occasionally use educational films and quizzes.
Educational films are a quick and fun way to capture students’ attention and can often be used to initiate teaching techniques like flipping the classroom.
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Erasing the Gender Divide
The ratio of men and women working in STEM remains largely disproportionate, with men significantly outnumbering women. While things have improved significantly since the days of the male-breadwinner model, there are still greater barriers to entry for any young girls hoping to study in STEM. While we have more women in STEM than ever before—and thus a plethora of fantastic role-models—inequality still exists in the opportunities offered to those who do successfully break into STEM careers and academia.
For young girls and women in STEM, dominated classrooms and labs can lead to isolation, ostracisation, and even outright marginalisation. If you were the only girl in a science classroom full of boys, would you be intimidated? Do you think everyone would treat you the same as every other member of the class?
This is where groups like girlswhocode, blackgirlscode and the National Girls Collaborative Project come in. Offering education, promoting science education to girls and other under-represented groups, and a support network for those who might need it, these organisations are at the forefront of making STEM an equitable industry.
According to a National Science Report, “The gap in educational attainment separating underrepresented minorities remains wide.” This, of course, is largely due to educational and resource inequalities, but we can still do more to engage under-represented demographics. An intersectional approach that targets all areas of under-representation and marginalisation is, of course, the best path forward for the sake of equality, inclusion, and the future of innovation.
So What Can Educators Do to Help?
Educators can’t fix systemic barriers and marginalisation overnight, but we know how vital they are in supporting students that might be at a disadvantage. We can always act as a liaison for our students, ensuring that they are aware of every single opportunity and outreach program that might be available to them.
Educators play a vital role in shaping future generations and can have far reaching effects on a student’s life. Often it can be the difference between extinguishing a child’s dream of becoming a leading scientist, or nurturing it.