3 ways to make STEM education more engaging

With Millennials still experiencing unemployment levels as high as 15 percent, it is perplexing that more young people aren’t pursuing majors in STEM subjects, with projections saying there will be over 2.4 million STEM job openings in five years. According to a survey of more than a million American high school students, almost 90 percent said they aren’t interested in a career or a college major involving STEM.
This is supported by the fact that only 13 percent of college freshman declare STEM majors. Students are becoming less interested in STEM because the curriculum hasn’t been updated and students aren’t being exposed to technological advancements like virtual labs to make these subjects more interesting. Here are three ways students and teachers alike can make STEM subject come alive in and out of the classroom.

  1. Link students with STEM employers. Students are commonly told that there are plenty STEM jobs out there, but schools need to go a step further and show students what kinds of opportunities are out there by partnering with companies looking for STEM graduates. A collaboration between New York City public schools, City University of New York, and IBM has produced P-Tech, a high school in Brooklyn that pairs students with IBM mentors. Raisbeck Aviation High School in Seattle has paired with Boeing to mentor students in their engineering curriculum for the purpose of getting them excited about their STEM courses. With these partnerships, students are able to see not only how their education helps solve real-world problems, but also lays out a clear path to getting a good job after graduation.
  2. Start following celebrity scientists. STEM subjects can instantly become more interesting by following scientists that make STEM entertaining and have crossed over into pop culture. In fact, a study last year found that 37 percent of the student participants became more interested in STEM subjects after watching programs presented physicist Bryan Cox. The University of Nebraska has started Sci Pop Talks!, which is a speakers series the centers around the intersection of science and pop culture. This month they have a talk entitled, “Chemistry to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”, which is more interesting than any chemistry lecture I can think of. Students can also look to science celebs like Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop, or Exploration Nation.
  3. Use technology that makes STEM fun and relevant.  A common question for students that are taking calculus or chemistry is, “When will this matter in my life?” By using resources that show students how to solve real world problems today, the value of STEM becomes instantly clear. For example, Catherine  L. Drennan, a professor of biology and chemistry at MIT, partnered with Howard Hughes Medical Institute to create a series of short videos with modern day chemists explaining the problems they are solving in their careers. Drennan says of the video series, “We’re finding that these videos have a huge impact on developing interest in a chemistry career. In particular, there’s a very dramatic impact on the women — they are more able to see themselves as chemists.”

Students that are bored with STEM textbooks and lectures can now check out new content created by popular scientists or complete a virtual lab whenever they want. There are more interesting resources online for STEM students than ever before, so there’s no need to wait for their classroom curriculum to catch up.

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