Published : Monday, November 5, 2018 | 10:20 AM
Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, can capture imaginations and engage curious minds of young and old alike. Yet, it can also be perceived as difficult, boring, or worst of all, irrelevant. So, how can we inspire young people to follow this path and discover the fun and fascination? How can we help them avoid those negative concepts of science and technical fields before they set in? The answer may well be in helping them find the connections and relevance to their own lives and everyday experiences.
Providing a constant stream of engaging, hands-on activities in the science classroom is a challenge, and that is where the STEM approach comes in. At its core, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is about providing a real-world context for learning. That means making links with the students’ own experience and finding where the subject matter relates to their own interests. While a traditional science class may concentrate on teaching the theoretical, abstract concepts, students in a STEM program would be more likely to face a real-world challenge or application, through which they could discover those principles but with an understanding of how they relate to something tangible. For example, a STEM class or workshop may present a challenge to build something – let’s say, a catapult – and the students would then research and try out different ideas, learning about the physical principles that help them accomplish the task in the process. The key is that learning starts from the real-world context, and builds up the theoretical concepts from there, once the brain has something concrete onto which to hook those abstract ideas.
There is much evidence that linking learning to children’s everyday experiences and interests leads to better, deeper, and longer-lasting learning. We more readily take in information if we are already interested and wanting to know more. Our brains are then primed to try to understand and retain new knowledge. Therefore, a key part of a good science or STEM class is the initial “attention-grabber” – the demo, activity, or other experience that gives that wow factor and invokes the curiosity and imaginations of the learners. This also enables students to see just how the topic relates to them.
Topics can be wide-ranging. Young people’s minds are lively, and their interests can be diverse, so finding a way into an area of science or technology should be possible – even if sometimes it takes a little more imagination to find that perfect “hook” or way in. It needn’t be something complex or glamorous to grab the attention. For example, they may get stuck into a hands-on practical experiment that relates to an everyday experience, such as food or cooking, which can provide a surprising amount of fascination. With these familiar topics which are already established in the mind, the memory has hooks on which to hang newly acquired information. This means it is easier to take in and remember. The repetition of this everyday activity also means more opportunities for the new learning to be “rehearsed” or revised, making it more likely to be retained in the long-term memory.
Presenting an activity as a real-world challenge can both fire students’ engagement and empower them as they discover they have the ability to find solutions and help where help really is needed. For example, they might construct a machine or robot to help clean up pollution, addressing an important issue of concern and a real-world need. These types of project can also help inspire future career choices, and have been shown to be particularly effective in encouraging girls into STEM fields.
Holiday times can provide an excellent context to capture students’ interest and take a look at science and technology from a different angle. Some Thanksgiving-themed science and engineering activities could be just the thing to keep children’s minds active, as well as keeping them entertained, during the school break. This month at STEM World in Pasadena they will be holding a special Thanksgiving STEM Camp. As always, the STEM World approach will be focusing on the real-world connections and there will be some Thanksgiving too!
The three-day camp is split into two sessions each day – sign up for morning/afternoon slots, a full day, or the whole thing! STEM Robotics will take place every morning from 9am – 12pm. Each afternoon from 1-4pm will feature a different science: Biology & Chemistry, Astro-Physics, and the Inventor Lab for budding engineers.
STEM World is conveniently located on Colorado Blvd, Pasadena. See their website for directions and further details.
Check out the fun and educational after-school options at STEM World here.