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Five Tips to Increase Student Engagement in STEM Education

By Kim Wierman, Director, FIRST® LEGO® League & FIRST® LEGO® League Jr.

Kids who have a strong grounding in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills have enormous future potential, but sparking interest in these fields can take some work on the part of educators. Early exposure to STEM is crucial in setting students up for success in these areas later in life, and hands-on, even playful, discovery is a highly rewarding way of providing kids meaningful opportunities to learn scientific concepts.

There’s a strong connection between how science-based subjects are taught and students’ interest in these fields—when classes are not appealing, students’ intrigue declines. To this point, inquiry-based approaches to education are highly effective because they take advantage of kids’ innate creativity and curiosity.

STEM learning opportunities are extremely valuable in helping kids understand the world around them, but also in preparing them to solve the complex problems of the technologically advanced society of the future. Whether through integration into your daytime curriculum or as an after-school program, educators and other caring adults have the ability to guide students on this journey. Here are five tips to increase student engagement in your classroom:

Promote self-directed learning. By providing the project goal, requirements and only gentle coaching along the way, students learn to think independently, course-correct through troubleshooting and learn from failure. By taking initiative and exploring their scientific curiosity, kids can gain confidence, foster creativity and take responsibility for their learning.

Provide hands-on opportunities. To make science education truly valuable, students need the chance to apply what they’ve learned beyond the textbook. A University of Chicago study shows that students who learn by doing understand STEM concepts more thoroughly and score better on tests than their book-based peers. By changing how students experience scientific concepts, educators can improve retention, encourage problem-solving and, most importantly, make science learning fun.

Create real-life connections. To really resonate with students, STEM curriculum should clearly demonstrate how concepts translate into real-life use. If students can’t connect what they’ve learned in the classroom with practical application, they are less likely to show continued interest, think creatively or problem-solve.

Encourage communication. By providing opportunities to formally and informally discuss their work (be it talking through problems or speaking to the class), students will develop presentation skills, develop confidence in their public speaking and learn to story-tell. Curriculum that includes judging or formal presentations creates even more opportunity to hone communication skills.

Require teamwork and collaboration. Working in pairs or small groups encourages students to share ideas, develop leadership, problem-solve and work with others who may have different solutions to the same problem—all scenarios they will face in their future careers. Teamwork makes students realize their way may not be the best way, and encourages them to think about a given problem from different perspectives.

There are several programs in the marketplace that provide these opportunities. For example, FIRST® LEGO® League helps students develop the 21st century skills they’ll need in their future careers, including digital-age literacy, inventive thinking, high productivity through efficiency and effective communication, while providing a hands-on, real-life connection to their experiences.

By fostering students’ science learning and creative tendencies at an early age, educators have the power to influence the future—including that of their students’ careers, and of our economy. Hands-on learning projects present unique, high-value opportunities do this, while helping young people gain the skills they need to support success far beyond the classroom walls.

Visit STEM in the Classroom by FIRST® to download a bundle including quick-start guides to team creation and other helpful educator resources.

This article was sponsored by FIRST®.