Imagine your students coming together to invent something groundbreaking that can change the world. Take a group of four middle school students from Miami, Florida, who this year invented a solar-powered water filtration system for rural schools that do not have access to running water. These students went on to compete in a global competition to have their invention patented – all with guidance from their teachers and community members.
It’s no secret that students require real-world, hands-on learning to prepare for today’s modern and competitive workforce, and that skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are in high demand. Nurturing these interests at a young age is critical – studies show that student interest in these areas decreases in middle school and the decline continues through high school. While student interest has not kept up to fill the growing STEM demand, the good news is there’s something we can do about it.
Here’s how bringing hands-on STEM learning into your classroom can help you lead your students down exciting pathways to success.
Inspire kids to explore: As teachers, you hold the key to unlocking the next generation of problem-solvers and change-makers. While students and their parents get into the swing of another year at school, they are likely thinking about what sports or after-school programs will be the most rewarding and engaging. Organizations like FIRST® are at the forefront of using hands-on STEM learning experiences to spark interest in fun and engaging ways, recognizing that inspiring kids to explore science and technology begins in the early years.
Help students understand real-world challenges: Getting students excited about how science can solve real-world problems (like waste management or clean drinking water) is not always easy – that is, until you make it fun! FIRST® LEGO® League is one example of reaching kids in an engaging way. Using robotics competitions as the vehicle, FIRST LEGO League helps students channel their raw curiosity to think critically and seek ways to improve the world around them. Designed for students in grades 4 through 8, FIRST LEGO League enables students to build solutions around a real-world problem, and in the process, learn about product design, marketing, innovation and development.
Expose new and exciting opportunities: While parents and teachers are aware that digital literacy is important in today’s society, they may be unsure of the career possibilities that exist for kids. STEM intersects all aspects of life and work – be it careers in engineering or marketing, middle-skill or white-collar jobs – leading to many exciting, out-of-the-box professions. Plus, it’s likely that many of the jobs the next generation will hold haven’t even been invented yet. Adding hands-on, project-based learning to the classroom gives kids a valuable perspective on what’s possible for the future and helps them build self-confidence. And you don’t have to be a subject matter expert – bring in an outside resource or parent in a STEM field to teach a lesson!
Build skills for the future: Regardless of what career path students choose to take, STEM learning cultivates critical thinking: 98 percent of students who participate in FIRST programs show gains in problem-solving skills. Kids also learn how to resolve conflicts and manage their time. Through exploration and discovery projects, kids are empowered to learn new skills, discover new interests and uncover hidden talents.
Spark creativity, collaboration and community: When you introduce STEM projects in the classroom, you empower students to take charge of their own learning and, ultimately, learn from one another. This helps them develop key building blocks of the professional world: how to think creatively, collaborate and communicate to solve complex challenges. Students discover how working together makes us stronger, how our differences lead to better ideas, and how we can apply what we learn to improve our world.
We all benefit as a society when we empower our young people to grow into strong citizens who have the skills and passion to advance our society through innovation. Materials are available to help you inspire this in your students. Check out these hands-on STEM resources to integrate into your classroom from FIRST. To learn more about how you can inspire discovery and teamwork through STEM, visit the FIRST blog.