November 8th is National STEM day, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines are more a part of daily life than ever before! As parents and educators, we know that developing competence with STEM will help our students in all aspects of life - from making medical decisions to balancing a checkbook. On a practical level, STEM savvy will set our children up for a future with many opportunities and job prospects (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

 

Children today are growing up as digital natives, comfortable using many forms of technology and immersed in a wide range of media from the time they are very young. However, comfort with technology isn’t all it takes to think like a scientist or engineer. Including science, technology, engineering, and math in our everyday home life builds childrens’ confidence in their ability to understand and adapt to the constant innovation in these fields, rather than keeping STEM separate as something they only think about during school hours.

Not sure how to make STEM a part of your day? One way is to model thinking like a scientist. Here are 4 tips for turning the conversation towards science and engineering anytime:

    • Encourage curiosity: All science starts with a question. Some people seem to have an unlimited supply of questions while others may not ask many at all. If your student is already a question-asker, encourage it! Sometimes we can be understandably worn down by a barrage of questions, but the beauty of science is that you don’t have to have the answers. If your child doesn’t show very much curiosity, you can choose a phenomenon in your house or neighborhood and make it a game to think of as many questions about it as you can. Encourage creativity and off the wall questions in this brainstorming game to spark up curiosity. 
    • Don’t give the answers: “I don’t know! How could we find out?” Instead of giving your student the answers to all of these questions, talk about how they could find out the information themselves through research, observation, or experimentation. One of the greatest features of science is that it is possible to rediscover everything humans already know through our own direct experience. If a simple experiment could be done at home, here are some tips to keep it scientific:
      • Test one variable at a time. If you want to figure out which plant food will make your houseplants grow the fastest, keep all of the plants in the same window and water them the same amount. The only difference between them would be the type of food they get.
      • If possible, have a control subject. In the plant food experiment example, have one plant that isn’t getting any food at all so you can compare its growth to the others.
      • More than one trial is best. For good science, one result isn’t enough. Try your experiment more than once to verify the results.
      • Failure is always an option - just as Mythbuster Adam Savage says! If your student had a desired result in mind, and their experiment proved them wrong, that’s great! Now they have a source for more questions.
  • “Show me the data!” If a controversial topic comes up, such as which phone to buy or how many hours to sleep at night, model decision making based on data. In the sleep example, a quick google search can help you find reliable data to make an informed decision. Discussions like this can also be a great time to teach students that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If a claim sounds too good to be true, encourage your student to look for data to back it up.
  • Correlation isn’t causation. Believe it or not, this idea comes up frequently in everyday life. Just because two things seem to be related, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other. However, it is a good starting place to ask questions about how they are related. There are some funny examples out there to illustrate this point.

Looking for resources to spark scientific conversations at home and encourage an interest in STEM? Here are some of my favorites:

Passing the time

    • Brains On Podcast: A science podcast focused on Elementary and Middle School, but interesting to everyone!
    • Smash Boom Best Podcast: A fun and fast-paced debate podcast that teaches how to make a valid argument - an important skill in science
    • YouTube: Not all science and engineering videos are actually scientific, here are some great channels:
      • Mark Rober: Home of the glitter bomb, squirrel maze, and other amazing engineering videos
      • SciShow: Well-researched and engaging answers to a huge range of science questions.

Out and About

    • iNaturalist: Download the iNaturalist app to participate in citizen science by cataloging the species you find everywhere you go. You just upload a picture and the location; you even don’t have to know what species you are looking at. This is a great way to help scientists track your local biodiversity.
    • Go on a field trip: Method Schools offers science-related field trips that let students experience science hands on through museums, zoos,  and outdoor activities through their events page. 

 

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