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Challenge: Walking the Talk

3 Ways To Help Kids Get Involved in STEM

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My son volunteering at the SAE Foundation "A World in Motion" JetToy class

As a parent and someone who is excited about all things science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)—I knew in my heart that it was something I wanted to instill in my children’s lives. They are our future. With our society and economy growing into an ever-evolving world of STEM activities such as using computers or phones to communicate, or driving increasingly complex cars, it is vital to expose and enlighten our youth with the tools and resources needed to become the next Mae Jemison, Bill Nye or Steve Jobs.

Did you know…

  • According to Pew Research, did you know that employment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations has grown 79% since 1990, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth?
  • In my home state of Arizona, between 2017 and 2027, STEM jobs will grow by 21% compared to non-STEM jobs by 15%.
  • Additionally, 77.4% of high school students graduate in AZ; of those who graduate high school, 53.7% will graduate from 4-year degree program and of 4-degree graduates, 23.8% will graduate with a degree in STEM fields.

It is understandable that parents are trying to find ways to spark curiosity in their children and fuel their minds in STEM. When students are exposed to STEM, especially at a young age, they are more likely to have higher math and reading scores, as well as improved problem-solving skills. As parents, we must feed their curiosity and challenge and support their academic pursuits.

Here are three simple ways to get your children exposed in STEM:

Activate STEM at your child’s school.

It is important that every child gets the chance to learn about STEM-related subjects in the classroom. While after-school STEM programs are on the rise, in-school STEM programs such as SAE International’s “A World in Motion” (AWIM) can put children on this path at the earliest age possible, providing a great first impression of math and science.

I remember bringing the AWIM program to my child’s school. My wife and I met with the school principal and pitched it to her, and it has been a consistent program at the school for the past 10 years. This ‘in the classroom’ approach exposes all students to STEM knowledge, gives the school supplies for free or at a reduced price, provides professional development for the teachers and incorporates volunteers in the classroom.

922a71b1e955bdb86b9fa9f81e755c51c743a2b3.pngStudents touring Nissan proving ground and test tracks

Give kids hands-on experience.

Look for STEM programs that have project-based learning that give kids the hands-on experiences they love. Enhance your children’s curriculum with fun and creative activities to literally get their hands dirty! When I volunteer in the classroom, one of my favorite AWIM challenges is JetToy. In this activity, students design and build balloon-powered toy cars using nozzles, cardboard structures, straws and plastic wheels. Students craft their toy cars to meet specific performance criteria such as; how far it travels, how it carries weight, or how fast it goes.

Make career connections.

Students need mentors that can help guide and introduce them to STEM through practical learning experiences. They also need to be aware of these experiences to make them envision how tangible a STEM career can be. STEM isn’t just an acronym representing a person working in a laboratory, or a mathematician solving equations. Children need to understand that it’s the integration of all of those things. Try taking your kids on a field trip. For instance, I brought more than 100 3rd and 5th grade AWIM students to visit my workplace. We took them to tour the Nissan proving ground and test tracks in their school buses, which includes a 6-mile oval track. Students had the chance to test equipment, and watch our vehicles perform dynamic maneuvers on our skid pad. To show them what I do and where I work fascinated them and also helped remove some stigmas on what a job in the STEM field can really be.

I hope this gives you some insight as to how to get your kids involved in STEM at school. It’s never too early! You will be amazed at their increased interest in the classroom once they understand that math and science are fun. How do you get your kids involved in STEM?

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