Updated: 2 days ago
Engaging students in STEM education is crucial for developing the next generation of innovators and problem solvers. However, it can sometimes be challenging to capture the interest and attention of young learners. We know that time is a major barrier for many professionals wanting to engage with young people, so it’s imperative that any time is spent effectively - leaving students interested and motivated to learn more.
Here are our top five tips for effectively engaging young people in STEM:
1. Get down to their level
One of the most effective ways to engage students is to meet them where they are, figuratively and literally. Where possible, talk to small groups of no more than 30 young people and sit on the ground (or at desks) with them. Meeting them at their eye level helps to create a more relaxed, informal environment which will go a long way to encouraging students to open up and engage in conversations.
2. Find points of connection
Connecting STEM concepts to students' everyday experiences helps to make the subject matter more relevant and relatable. Start with getting to know the student’s interests and look for opportunities to relate STEM to their personal lives or what is happening around them.
Taking time to get to know students also helps to foster an ongoing relationship and enables you to use their feedback effectively to inform and refine your communication approach.
3. Share relatable stories
Stories have a unique power to captivate and inspire young minds. When talking about your STEM journey, start from when you were the same age as the audience. Throw in humanising factors, like what hobbies you had, what subjects you enjoyed/disliked, and how hard you had to work to get to where you are today. Talk about what you love about your job/STEM and students will naturally feed off your passion and energy.
4. Use simple language
STEM subjects can be filled with terminology, which may overwhelm and discourage (or simply bore) some people. It's important to work with teachers to understand what level students are at currently, and that will guide what language/terminology will be appropriate. Break down complex concepts into smaller, digestible parts. Use real-life examples, drawings, or physical models to help boost understanding. Allow plenty of time and opportunities for students to ask questions and seek feedback.
Another tip is to be mindful of the casual phrases we use. Even simple things like “this should be an easy task” can have unintended consequences for students that may struggle with numeracy or literacy. Remaining supportive and positive throughout will reduce the chances of students feeling discouraged and switching off.
5. Be prepared
Young people have very short attention spans, so preparation is key to delivering engaging STEM activities. Ensure that you have a well-structured plan, clear objectives, and all the necessary materials ready.
Anticipate potential challenges and have contingency plans in place if possible. But, also don’t be afraid of things not going to plan – this can prove to be a valuable lesson for students, especially when it comes to experimental science and engineering activities!
Engaging students in STEM requires a thoughtful and tailored approach. By following these top five tips, you can create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that fosters curiosity, creativity, and a passion for STEM.
For more comprehensive guidance and resources, check out STEM Alliance’s Practical Guide to STEM Community Engagement in Aotearoa New Zealand. Or, contact our team for bespoke training and advice.