According to The Hechinger Report, children are capable of understanding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts at a very young age. However, skills in these disciplines “must be developed intentionally” early in life to nurture students’ curiosity and develop their critical thinking skills.
STEM skills are vital to our nation’s future, as STEM workers solve problems by working together and thinking creatively. Educators can increase student engagement, build confidence, and close gender gaps in math and science careers by incorporating STEM principles into elementary education.
Mississippi College’s online Master of Education in Elementary Education program can equip students to lead elementary classrooms and use effective STEM learning strategies.
Increasing Student Engagement
By incorporating STEM thinking into learning activities, elementary educators can increase student engagement with coursework. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), teachers who promote STEM skills by asking questions and incorporate STEM concepts into lessons ultimately benefit the students. By using this approach, students’ “learning is enriched and their curiosity grows, fueling yet more inquiries.”
In other words, when students are encouraged to ask questions and solve problems of the world around them, they are motivated to keep doing so. Young children find joy in learning, and STEM projects can produce that joy while motivating students to seek out more projects.
Some children struggle in math classes as they move through their educational journey. According to Edutopia, this struggle often results in a loss of confidence in their abilities because “they bought into the idea that they’re not ‘math people.'” This belief that one is either a “math person” or not is detrimental to the development of STEM skills in young students, because they often give up learning STEM skills, such as math.
Supporting a growth mindset in students early in their educational journey is key to addressing such crises of confidence. Elementary teachers must help students understand that mistakes and struggles can be opportunities for growth and understanding.
Elementary school is the perfect place to start building confidence in science, technology, engineering, and math, because much of the learning that takes place in elementary school is play-based. Helping students identify mathematical patterns in baking, music, nature and art can build their confidence in their mathematical abilities as they come to see math as a method of problem-solving rather than a task of memorization.
Closing the Gender Gap in STEM fields
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women make up only 28% of today’s STEM workforce. Furthermore, women do not enroll in STEM fields in college at the same rate as men; therefore, women sometimes miss out on some of the most lucrative, impactful and fast-growing careers available.
Myths surrounding boys’ and girls’ capabilities to excel in math and science — coupled with early losses of confidence — can keep young women and girls from joining STEM fields where they are needed most. The AAUW reports that girls tend to lose faith in their math skills earlier than boys, suggesting it is vital to build confidence in girls early to address the gender gap.
Resources like Netflix’s Ada Twist, Scientist seek to boost the confidence and engagement of young children in STEM outside of school settings, particularly for girls. First, however, teachers must work toward intentionally establishing trust in STEM concepts in elementary schools, paying careful attention to the mindsets they encourage surrounding differences in ability.
Elementary teachers who incorporate STEM education in the classroom should prepare to identify creative and fun ways to engage students and build their confidence. Courses like Project-Based Science Curriculum present various strategies for educators to support STEM learning in young students and prepare them to succeed as problem-solvers and creative thinkers for tomorrow’s workforce. The Master of Education in Elementary Education online program at Mississippi College prepares elementary teachers to design and implement curricula and lesson plans that set the foundations of STEM thinking.