Encouraging students to think critically about their world with STEM education

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As parents, educators and community members, we’re all concerned about Canada’s next generation and readying them for our ever-changing world. As a science outreach organization, we have a vested interest in ensuring that children and youth have the 21st century skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, needed to navigate our increasingly complicated world.

STEM is a critical and growing part of the Canadian economy, and hence our children’s futures where STEM-related opportunities will be endless. With a 4.6% annual growth, STEM fields have the fastest job growth rate in comparison to other fields, and this number will continue to increase as we move further into the 21st century. This makes it essential for students to be immersed in STEM early and frequently to help prepare them for the future, including encouraging them to choose STEM subjects when they become electives in Grade 11 and 12.

While there are positive signs that the future of STEM in Canada is bright, we cannot ignore the conflicting attitudes that prevail. With the recent dismissal of Ontario’s chief scientist, for instance, we must ask: how can we ensure that our children and youth know that science matters? How can we encourage youth to pursue post-secondary education and careers in STEM, when outside forces may tell them otherwise?

Students participating in a STEM workshop together.

It’s about instilling an appreciation for STEM early, so that children understand that science is all around them and a part of their everyday life. It’s about ensuring that we fuel passion for exploring, we heighten engagement in STEM, and pique openness to different perspectives and ways of thinking. And that we prioritize equity of access, and build confidence in those who are less likely to “see” themselves in STEM-related careers, often girls and youth from marginalized communities. It’s about putting a new face on scientists and engineers, including their own!

All children in Canada deserve the support that they need to tackle the environmental, technological and health-based challenges we face – because those issues are not a matter of opinion or belief. They exist and they matter. It’s about making connections between STEM education and the world beyond classroom walls, and providing essential skills to all children that they can carry in any job they choose.

We want to work with you to make this a reality. Scientists in School collaborates with educators, administrators and school boards to provide engaging STEM workshops that enhance lessons and help provide real-world context from the voices of those who have worked in STEM disciplines. By aligning with curriculum expectations, our workshops help children build connections between science, technology and the world at large, and provide teachers with partners in STEM education.

We know our program is effective. Thanks to our 2017-2018 post-workshop survey completed by 4,899 teachers (that’s 19.6% of teachers who had a workshop with us last school year), we know that our program offers a high-quality, curriculum-enriching experience that even your most reluctant learners will love. Survey results showed that in Ontario and Alberta, 92% of teachers found our workshops were very to extremely effective in enhancing their students’ attitudes towards STEM. Ninety-three per cent of teachers reported our workshops were very to extremely effective in encouraging their students to think critically. Here are some highlights of what we learned:

2017-2018 Post-Workshop Survey Highlights

Post-worshop survey from Scientists in School

Above all, it is vital that students are able to think critically. They must ask questions, think intelligently and challenge what’s presented to them. Over 29 years, our presenters have met 9 million K to Grade 8 scientists – your students – who have left our workshops exclaiming, “This was the best day ever!” or “I want to be a scientist!” There’s a reason for this: when children are provided enriching experiences that are outside of their everyday world, they’re introduced to additional voices who help build confidence to reach their dreams.  They discover that their future doesn’t seem so uncertain after all and life becomes an endless stream of opportunities to explore, test out and discover. We must work together and do everything we can to make sure that bright spark never dulls.

Students looking through microscopr

If you’ve ever considered booking a STEM workshop with Scientists in School, we encourage you to do so soon – ideally in the fall term. Here’s why:
1.  You get your students excited about STEM early in the year, allowing you to ride the momentum with your own lessons.
2. You grow your students’ critical thinking skills and ability to ask good questions early in the school year.
3. You get your first topic choice.

We hope to work with you, whether you’re an educator or a parent, to instill the marvel of STEM in your young scientists, and help nurture the imperative skills they will need no matter the path they take. When we combine resources and expertise – and our shared hope for our students’ futures – we have the power to create change.

Photo Credits: MaryAnn Griffin and Kathy Moore 

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