Perhaps even more than any other field, STEM sectors have a bright future ahead. While the US job market is projected to grow by 3.7% between 2019 and 2029, this rate is nearly double for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
With the world being constantly shaped by innovation, students have naturally gravitated towards STEM, and the notorious, timeless classroom question of “Where are we ever going to use it?” is slowly losing its relevance. Technological advances that once only existed in the realm of science fiction are now more tangible than ever before, drawing interest from students across ethnicities, genders, and income levels.
As young people witness how much science can impact the world, with our reliance on diverse technologies and the miracle of the vaccine, STEM’s popularity is further growing. Yet, the way educators and parents can cultivate this interest in the remote setting is different than in the classroom.
Engaging young people in today’s world can be done by tapping into the way they interact with the world around them. Gen Z, often nicknamed the TikTok generation, enjoys snappy, short-form content, so designing lesson elements around bite-sized, graphical, and dynamic content is fundamental.
Rather than presenting heavy-weight knowledge through long workshops, encouraging young people to develop the habit of consuming daily educational bits is particularly important for STEM: Without overwhelming the students, they can absorb the learnings in an organic, accessible way.
Most people know what it’s like to have a great teacher that ignites their students’ passion for a certain subject, but there’s no guarantee that it will happen with STEM. Exposure to high-quality educators is thus critical: Before students write off STEM for life, they should have a chance to hear someone passionate speak about it.
To some extent, the pandemic has taken away the highlights of most STEM classes – the hands-on ability to participate in group projects, experiments, and direct interaction with the teacher. In the remote setting, these can be partially replaced with videos by popular scientists and creators such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, David Attenborough, or Bill Nye. With the help of such content, it’s possible to shake off the notion that STEM is vague, inapplicable to everyday life, or even boring.
The more native a student is in understanding technology and a related concept, the better equipped they are to navigate today’s world. With STEM becoming more applicable, teachers should be delighted to find greater opportunities for students to explore the subjects even outside of a classroom setting. Today, it’s possible to follow big teach leaders on Twitter, attend live streaming of a rocket launch, or watch a doctor perform live surgery.
Resources on any subject and of any level of complexity are now freely available online, so educators and parents should focus on giving students the tools and knowledge they need to access those resources effectively. Cultivating this interest and independence in a safe environment can eventually snowball into something greater, such as a student signing up for an online science fair or a beginner coding class.
Undoubtedly, STEM is one of the most challenging fields, and negative learning experiences could close the doors to students’ appetite for exploring it fully. Educators and parents should give students the ability to progress without the pressure to achieve excellent results.
Apart from establishing a safe environment where failure and additional questions are only a means of progress, it’s vital to give each student the opportunity to learn at their own pace. Asynchronous content, in particular, allows young learners to revisit more complex lessons and further advance in topics of their interest.
Whenever students get stuck on a problem or need additional clarification, it’s key that they have someone to turn to. Having an experienced tutor goes a long way; however, having private time with one is not something everyone can afford. To effectively engage students from diverse backgrounds, there need to be more inclusive solutions. Today, it’s possible to connect with tutors online or take advantage of various online forums. If a student receives a bad grade, they might assume they are bad at the subject – a challenge that can often be easily overcome with some after-school help.
Mentorship is also key, and receiving advice from someone knowledgeable in STEM or working in a related career is invaluable for students – perhaps even more so for traditionally underrepresented groups in terms of ethnicity, gender, disability, or economic status.
Within the remote setting, keeping students engaged has proven increasingly challenging – a reality shaping STEM teaching as well. Cultivating interest is particularly important: The main priority educators and parents need to focus on is equipping the online-learning generation with the tools to enjoy STEM worry-free and explore the subjects at their own pace.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.