Many educators are familiar with the research suggesting the demand for employees in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For instance, the nonpartisan New American Economy notes that for every unemployed STEM worker in the United States, there were 13 job openings in 2016. That’s up from five job openings for every unemployed STEM worker in 2010.
Filling the STEM pipeline is critical for our nation’s competitiveness in the global economy. On a more personal level, engaging students in STEM subjects opens their eyes to new career pathways they might not have considered before—and to jobs with a promising future.
Here are three things that K-12 educators should do in their classrooms to encourage more students to consider STEM-related careers.
1. Provide engaging, hands-on learning experiences that show students how STEM concepts are used in the real world.
One of the questions that teachers often hear from their students is: “How will I ever use this when I graduate?” Engaging students in hands-on activities that solve real-world problems help answer this question. It shows them the relevance of what they are learning in STEM classes, and it makes these subjects come alive.
Tying STEM education to real-world problem solving can be very motivating to students. If students can see that STEM careers often involve tackling global and local challenges and improving peoples’ lives, they might be more inclined to explore a career in STEM.
2. Expose students to STEM career options.
Many students never consider careers in STEM fields because they simply aren’t aware of the possibilities that exist. The more students can learn of these possibilities, the more likely they are to discover something that sparks their passion.
It’s important for students to be exposed not only to STEM careers, but also the professionals who serve in them. Students often have very narrow ideas of what a scientist or a computer engineer looks like. Seeing STEM professionals who look like they do—who are the same race or gender, or who come from similar backgrounds—breaks these stereotypes and gives students powerful role models to aspire to.
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