Smart is the new cool, and that’s the message behind this year’s National STEAM Day on November 8.

The impending STEAM worker shortage is no secret, and districts are working hard to ensure their students have early and frequent exposure to STEAM learning.

In fact, early exposure is key to keeping students engaged in progressively challenging material. And even if students don’t pursue a STEAM field in college, that’s OK–the skills they learn in K-12, such as collaboration and critical thinking, will serve them well in whatever career path they take.

Keeping girls engaged in STEAM seems an uphill battle at times. Once they enter middle school, STEAM becomes “uncool,” and that unfortunate social classification, coupled with tougher concepts and lower self-confidence in STEAM classes, leads many girls to opt out altogether.

You may have noticed Project Mc² products in stores; the STEAM line for girls features experiment sets and dolls that focus on skills and smarts. The products have a companion Emmy-nominated Netflix show featuring a team of girls working for a government organization called NOV8. (See what they did there? November 8 is National STEAM Day, and NOV8 sounds like “innovate.”)

And while STEAM doesn’t necessarily need a girly hook to capture girls’ attention (not all science kits need to be pink or involve makeup creation), it does show that companies and organizations are thinking more about how to snag girls’ attention and get them involved in the science behind their hobbies.

STEAM learning can–and should–be engaging, exciting, and relevant for students.

“Whatever we do has a STEAM ramification,” says Joann DiGennaro, co-founder and president of the Center for Excellence in Education, which offers free programs to help outstanding high school students achieve successful careers in science, tech and fulfill leadership roles.

“Laboratory experiments for middle and high school students haven’t changed in 40 years. We need better teacher training. Students are looking for excitement, and visual learning is very important,” she says.

More opportunities for STEAM are necessary outside of the school day, too.

“Kids need more after-school activities and more interplay with corporations and scientists visiting classrooms,” DiGennaro says. STEAM competitions are important, too, and shouldn’t be cut out just because they are competitions. “Competition is being attacked, which is really a disservice to students and innovation. Students must learn to be elegant winners and elegant losers, and competitions and science projects are great ways for them to work in groups and see what others are doing.”

These groups are doing their part to advance STEAM learning for students, including girls and underserved students. And if you’ve got other plans on November 8, don’t worry–these resources and activities can be used year-round to engage your students.

1. Amazon’s Amazon Future Engineer is a comprehensive childhood-to-career program to inspire, educate, and train children and young adults from underserved and low-income communities to pursue careers in computer science. Amazon aims to inspire more than 10 million kids each year to explore computer science.

2. Through its after-school clubs and specialized summer programs, Girls Who Code offers learning opportunities and paves pathways for students to excel in computing.

3. GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) has been working since 1994 to increase interest in STEM for girls in elementary and middle school and to expose girls to the fun and wonder of these fields.

4. Discovery Education has a range of important and engaging activities that give students a glimpse of what a career in STEAM might be like.

5. Siemens STEM Day provides tools and activities for educators with every level of STEM expertise. The goal is to take the guesswork out of finding low-cost, high-engagement activities that will fit easily into a 45 minute-1 hour lesson.

6. Challenger Center and its global network of Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed simulated learning and role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate skills needed for future success, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork. Challenger Center’s free, hands-on STEM lessons and activities are aligned to current national education standards.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura