Starting Kids Out On STEM Education

Many parents in the U.S. feel as though they’ve received a good education and they think their children are getting the same. But many don’t know that the U.S has been gradually falling behind the rest of the world in the so-called STEM areas — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. American students ranked only 17th in a 2009 study by the program for International Students Assessment. Moreover, since 1960 the percentage of bachelor or graduate degrees in the STEM areas has dropped to 8% from 17%, indicating that the problem is serious in higher education as well.This is a tragic turn of events considering that the STEM areas are the foundation of progress and innovation and were prevalent in our country throughout the twentieth century. American innovations transformed our nation with strides in manufacturing, transportation, communication, electronics and space exploration, at the same time that American computer technology was transforming the world.These same fields will be the foundation of jobs and careers of the future. Computers are proliferating as tools in every field of human endeavor. Science and mathematics are now widely used in planning and statistical analysis giving us new answers in medicine, ecology, energy and commerce where none existed before. World dependence on digital technology is growing exponentially, and with it is the need for competent science and technology professionals.

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There are initiatives underway within educational circles to help correct the situation, and there is a growing consensus among business and corporate leadership that funding and incentives must be provided to move things along faster. There are determined efforts within the government to rapidly locate and train teachers and educators in the STEM fields using incentives like scholarships and loan forgiveness. There are also initiatives to improve teaching and learning techniques to help increase the quality and reduce the time involved in the uptake of STEM knowledge.But initiatives aren’t enough by themselves. Parents also play a critical role.As a parent, you can help your child get prepared for the careers and jobs of the future, all of which will require knowledge and skills in science, technology engineering or mathematics. Children today are so inundated with technology that they take it for granted. Technology, to a kid, is commonplace, as prevalent as the clothes they wear and the chairs they sit in, as ordinary as the plastic or cardboard in which electronic devices are delivered. To them, everything is “awesome”, and when everything is “awesome”, nothing is truly extraordinary.You can help them gain an appreciation for science and technology. – not by relating stories of your childhood when such marvels were non-existent, or when you actually had to turn a dial on a telephone and wait for it to click through the numbers – but by presenting them with thought problems. What would they do if their smartphone suddenly stopped working? How would they find out how to get to a friend’s house if Google maps didn’t exist? How would they find out about the life of Thomas Jefferson if there was no internet? Ask them to accomplish a variety of intellectual task without using a computer or smartphone. If you need to, help them research the answers.Encourage them to think about how computer games are made, how motion pictures are written, planned and produced, how various products are designed and how the tools and machines to produce them are developed.Provide them with an enriched environment. Surround them with books that explain their world in words and pictures. Encourage them to watch documentaries of interest – videos that demonstrate the making of various toys and products or exploration of faraway places. Provide them with toys that are designed to encourage curiosity, imagination and creativity.

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Play with them. Engage them in conversation and encourage them to “think up” things to do, games to play and things to build. The more you can get them to use their brains actively rather than passively, the more likely they are to become independent, productive adults with knowledge and skills that will carry them through a successful career.And finally, help them by setting the example. Let them see you reading, writing, sketching solutions, making calculations, and approaching technology fearlessly and with curiosity and amazement. Express appreciation for the engineering and imagination that goes into games and other products. Talk with them about the role of scientists, engineers and mathematicians in society.Help them to understand that these are fascinating fields of study that can turn into lucrative careers. Help them understand that these are easier and more promising ways to be successful than to become a movie star, musician, or a major league ball player.