STEM 101: Use Real-World Connections to Help Tweens
Learning| By Fran Molloy; Additional Research by Amy Vagne | March 23, 2020
Make connections between STEM learning and everyday life and you’ll set your children up for a lifetime of creativity, curiosity and critical thinking.
At school, tweens explore more complex science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts. They are becoming more influenced by their peers (and are often desperate to impress them!), but they haven’t lost their interest in learning, especially not when it’s done creatively.
The later primary years and early years of high school are the ideal time to make strong links between STEM education and everyday life. It’s around the tween years – and certainly into their later teens – that kids want to know the real-world relevance of the things they’re learning. That’s where parents can really help.
Make Their STEM Learning Real and Relevant By Tapping Into Existing Passions
Kids in this age range will no doubt have several areas of interest already and it pays to nurture those passions. By the time they are teenagers, school students will question the relevance of all of their studies and projects; get in front of that malaise now by ensuring activities are focused on the world they live in. Real-world STEM application should be a huge focus for pre-teens.
But What Do Real-World STEM Applications Look Like?
In short, real-world applications are any STEM activity that’s used in everyday life. Tweens who love being in the kitchen could try baking experiments: get them to create the perfect chocolate brownie recipe by experimenting with ingredients and cooking temperatures. You’ll still need to supervise children with the oven but, at this age, kids can engage in longer-term projects. They have the necessary patience and understanding for projects that last longer than one afternoon. And who knows, they may go on to be food scientists or technologists.
If they love movies, encourage children to create their own stop-motion animations. Budding builders might try more advanced robot kits or building cars, boats and aircraft. Game-loving tweens could learn to code their own video games, while young critical thinkers will enjoy solving puzzles, cracking codes or even survival games. Climate warriors might collect and compare data for average daily temperatures in your town over a month and then compare that data to records from a year ago, or even 50 years ago.
Encourage Students to Develop Budgeting and Entrepreneurial Skills
Entrepreneurs develop innovative ideas into products and services, which requires skills also integral to STEM learning, such as critical and creative thinking and problem solving, and budgeting uses maths skills. Try putting the two together in practical ways.
It’s likely your child has at least one device of their own at this stage – but we’re betting they want an upgrade. Get tweens involved in the mathematical decisions – and encourage them to think of entrepreneurial ways to save for their upgrade. It’s likely they’ll come up with more diverse ideas than a lemonade stand, and thinking more broadly about their own budget is great for problem solving and creative thinking skills, both of which will be highly prized by future employers.
Give Tweens Space to Think Creatively and Problem Solve
Getting kids to enjoy science, technology and engineering at this age might seem like an uphill battle but, historically, tweenagers have come up with some amazing inventions. ‘Popsicles’, or iceblocks on a stick, were invented by an 11-year-old boy, Frank Epperson, from San Francisco, and Benjamin Franklin’s early inventions included flippers for swimming, dreamed up at the age of 11.
We’re not suggesting your 10- or 12-year-old will invent the next Tesla but most tweens are spurred to better learning when they can open their minds and consider ways to begin problem solving with creativity. Give kids the opportunity to invent and develop things they need by encouraging any interest they may show in cooking, gardening or construction. And give them the space to try things out and make mistakes.
Give Kids Bigger Challenges to Develop Difficult STEM Skills
Some tweens find their feet as the STEM subjects become more complex and engage their attention. Extra opportunities like robotics challenges, coding clubs and even gaming groups are all excellent opportunities to foster their love of STEM.
Encourage STEM Subjects Among GirlsSTEM is particularly important for girls. In Australia, only 16% of STEM graduates are women, and 27% of the total STEM workforce is female. The dearth of girls in senior STEM subjects has prompted a number of support strategies and groups, such as Tech Girls, Code Like a Girl, L’Oréal Australia’s Girls in Science Forum and the Geek Girl Academy, and inspired books like Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code, part of the Rebel Girls book series. Specially designed kits for creating perfumes and fairy gardens make great STEM gifts for girls and will help nurture an interest in these areas.
Most Important of All: Make STEM Education FunThe aim is to always spark a love of learning. Tweens and teens may be turned off projects that are too academic; they’re bombarded with tests and assignments so there’s a need for STEM activities in the home to be extra fun and appealing.
Most Important of All: Make STEM Education Fun
- Buy an inexpensive telescope and stare at the night sky. A visit to an observatory can help kids work out what to look for at home. Astronomy marries science and technology, starting with simple observation and progressing to sophisticated technologies, involving science and computing.
- Build a solar cooker with a cardboard box, cling wrap and aluminium foil.. You can make a simple solar oven that will cook toast or even nachos – and demonstrate how the sun’s thermal energy is transferred.
- Share processing power, find aliens and fight climate change.. Join millions of others on Berkeley’s BOINC, an open-source platform that uses volunteer resources to help solve scientific and mathematical problems.
- Sign up for a citizen science project. From Reef Watch to Seal Spotter and bat monitoring, there are several volunteer monitoring programs that help to contribute to communal knowledge.
- Join a coding for tweens class. There are plenty of websites tailored to this age group, or if you’d rather have a more hands-on experience, coding robotics toys are also a great option.