During the first days of school, elementary school students all across Valparaiso were being asked, “What does STEM stand for?” Some knew right away, while others had no idea. Once every student learned that STEM stood for Science Technology Engineering and Math, they were asked what kinds of STEM jobs a person could have. Students at Central Elementary’s answers ranged from nurses to neuroscientists.
While STEM education in Valparaiso certainly isn’t a new concept (teachers across the district have been teaching STEM activities in their classrooms for years), it is now being intentionally taught to every elementary student through a weekly class using the Project Lead the Way Curriculum (projectleadtheway.org).
Introducing young students to this curriculum promises to address many Indiana State Academic Standards, but as importantly, will teach students the value of working together, problem solving, and critical thinking. Through the Project Lead the Way curriculum, students are challenged to think outside the box, analyze which way is best to attack and solve a problem when there may be more than one route to get there, and compromise with classmates when disagreements arise.
As parents working with students at home, there are many ways to foster a “STEM Mindset.” When your child is struggling with a problem (how to make all of her shoes fit neatly in the closet, or how to fill up a flat bike tire with air), start by asking about the problem and how might that problem be solved? Instead of giving children the answer right away, give them time to come up with possible solutions on their own.
“I’m bored!” Seems to be a staple phrase for kids. Have a STEM bag of tricks ready to go. Challenge your child to make the tallest tower possible out of a stack of 10 cups. Have a box of Q-Tips ready to make a challenge maze for a small action figure to navigate, or build a structure with marshmallows and pretzels. Search “STEM activities for kids” online and watch the pages of ideas start to appear.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, by 2018 STEM jobs will have increased by 17 percent since 2008. While there’s little doubt that STEM-related jobs are on the rise, it would be hard to find any employer who doesn’t appreciate an employee with excellent critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork skills.
Spending time in a STEM Education class like Project Lead the Way at school, and practicing these same skills at home will not only help to prepare your child for a successful future in education and career, but is also extremely fun and hands on.
Grab some random household items today, stick them in a paper bag, and send your kids off to create something. You’ll be amazed with what they can do.