The greatest gift we can give our students is to drive their curiosity and instill a love of learning. Building STEM awareness and practicing STEM skills are the foundation for student success throughout their life, no matter what career field they pursue.
STEM provides young learners opportunities to explore their creativity, be innovative, communicate their ideas, and work alongside other students. As teachers, we want our students to have a solid intellectual foundation and be able to think for themselves. We also want lessons, like STEM lessons, which are engaging and lead to a greater understanding of concepts
We should start building STEM awareness as early as elementary school, and for all students, in all subject areas. Even in the elementary grades, students can participate in scientific practices. For example, students can make observations and predictions about a character in a story and be asked to justify their ideas.
Elementary teachers have the ability to scaffold young students critical thinking skills by creating opportunities that encourage their natural scientific inquiry. Elementary teachers can also expose students to STEM through the use of guest speakers, developing appropriate story-book based challenges, and setting up a science or engineering center in the classroom. In upper elementary, teachers can incorporate intermediate design challenges, establish after school clubs, and host STEM camps.
Elementary educators can also encourage STEM learning through STEM focused field trips, career day, and family events. When planning these informal education experiences and family nights think outside the box. Local manufacturing plants, museums, nature centers, and organizations such as stock show and rodeo have tours available.
Local companies are also willing to send representatives to participate in these events by presenting to students about their careers. Many organizations will be inspired upon hearing the STEM education mission and will want to get involved. Try contacting your local high school too. For example, students participating in their veterinary assistant program can visit your elementary classroom to share what they’re learning.
The goal isn’t to shift your classroom into a STEM classroom overnight. All it takes to build STEM awareness in your students is small tweaks to your already existing curriculum. By regularly using these practices in your classroom, your students will get exposure to the many benefits of STEM.
Kimberly Galloway is an education specialist working for the STEM, curriculum, and advanced academics teams here at the Education Service Center Region 13.