Engaging students to the STEM Education field
The STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field can intimidate most parents. In fact, I never enjoyed science myself, until I became the Director of Family Science at Iridescent in Los Angeles. My experiences at Iridescent and as the mother to a self-proclaimed ‘science kid’ have instilled in me a passion for engaging other families with children across the age and ability spectrum into the STEM field.
1) A hands-on, inquiry-based approach to STEM Education
Below is a list of unique programming opportunities for children of different age groups:
- Tinkerlab: The motto of this wonderful site is imagine * experiment * create. If it’s your first time visiting, start here.
- PBS parent science portal: There are many wonderful features of this site, specifically the ‘one-pager’ on the landing page of the Exploring Science page. Science is in our everyday experience and this page will break it down for you.
- Pretend City: This is a great children’s space in Irvine, CA that is laid out like a city. It’s great for simply exploring the STEM field.
- Critter Club at L.A. County NHM: The theme of this seasonal program changes annually. It’s a wonderful way to learn from the experts in a child-centered classroom in the museum. Be sure to check out the Junior Scientist program for older children.
- Young Makers Group: Part of Meetup.com, this Los Angeles-based group offers in-person opportunities for children to explore STEM. Even if you are not ready to participate in-person you can be an observer and learn about new resources. Not in LA? No problem. Register for free on Meetup.com to find something in your area.
- ReDiscover Center: Excellent offerings for a spectrum of ages with an emphasis on re-usable materials such as those from a partner organization, Trash For Teaching.
- Maker Faires: Official Maker Faires are supported by Make Magazine and originated in California in 2006. These incredible events take place across the country. Next weekend, Orange County will have its first Maker Faire.
- Kids Building Things offerings: The leader of this group, Deb, has quarterly, unique offerings. The all-volunteer organization is comprised of professional engineers who design and facilitate the programs throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Reach out to Deb directly for the latest events.
- Choose a STEM school for your child: In large metro areas, there are many public schools (charter and traditional) that offer a learning environment focused on math and science. Use Great Schools to search for options in your area.
- Check University offerings/programming: Most universities have outreach programs or partner with other organizations. It’s also worthwhile to search out programs by department.
- Choose STEM-focused summer camps/institutes: Be sure to review these options carefully. Usually, a program with moniker such as ‘mad science’ may not be an authentic STEM experience. Check out this summer Institute as an example of a high-caliber opportunity.
- Choose a STEM school for your child: One small, charter school network has an excellent track record of incorporating technology and infusing science and math into a comprehensive, engaging curriculum across all grade levels. Check out Synergy Academies.
- Identify after-school enrichment programs: Stand-alone programs are not easy to find. Do a search and even if the program is not convenient, reach out and ask the director if they know of others.
- Identify a mentor in the field: Recently, a high school student reached out to me and asked how she would learn more about engineering before going to college. I suggested that she identify the department she is most interested in at a local college and reach out directly to the professors. I once met a student named Jeremy who did this and the the result was interning at a lab at the California Institute of Technology.
- Iridescent’s Curiosity Machine: This site contains unique projects and experiments you can attempt at home. Registration is free and ultimately you will build your online engineering portfolio and earn badges along the way.
- Family science experience books such as Iridescent’s Making Machines out of Paper and Sticks. Also available in Spanish.
2) Extend the STEM experience through conversation
Expertise in the STEM field is not a prerequisite to experiencing the field. You do not have to actually know why the sky is blue to convince your child you’re an everyday scientist. By simply extending their thinking when they pose questions about their observations, you are developing a scientific mind. Critical thinking skills and persistence are two key qualities of the science and engineering field. Here’s how:
- Ask open-ended, specific questions: What did you do while you playing in the science center in class today?
- Ask the child to elaborate on their question to you: Oh, I see. What made you think of that?
- Think aloud: Hmmm…how could we find the answer to that?
3) Remember STEM engagement is an arc
It begins by furthering a child’s natural curiosity and simply participating in an experience at the museum, science center, etc. As children grow older, their participation in the STEM field becomes more independent, but the guardian’s co-investment is still significant. Continue the conversation at home and look for opportunities to reinforce what they learn. It can be as simple as browsing Netflix for shows and TED talks that are interesting and aligned to what the child is learning. Consistency will ensure that the child grows with confidence to tackle their math and science classes at school. With a solid foundation, they will elect to take advanced courses in high school. This decision increases their opportunity to pursue STEM as a major in college.
Today’s guest blogger is Vanessa Garza, who is an Administrator in Residence with Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, CA. Vanessa is a Teach for America alumna, who taught in the two largest school districts in the country: Los Angeles and New York City. Vanessa pursued school leadership and in her first year as an assistant principal / Instructional Leader for Excel Charter Academy, she raised the Academic Performance Index by seventy points. Before returning to the school leadership path with Green Dot, Vanessa served as the Director of Family Science at Iridescent in Los Angeles. For questions or comments, you can email Vanessa Garza at email@example.com, or reach out to her on LinkedIn.