SPECIAL FEATURE: The Importance of STEM and Keeping Girls Engaged

By Maria C. Moore

 

As a nation, we need to engage our children in STEM based activities at an early age to foster their interest and to realize that STEM based careers are a viable option, especially for girls and young women. It has been said that people who choose a career in science, technology, engineering or math made an emotional connection early on when making their career choice. And often, they can trace that moment back to a pivotal experience in their lives that connected them on an emotional level for the first time with their chosen line of work.

Since the emotional connection to making a STEM career choice is so strong, it is even more important to expose children to fun and engaging STEM related activities at an early age.

Bricks 4 Kidz strives to engage and excite children about STEM concepts. We introduce children to complex STEM terms and theories in a fun, hands-on environment. When children are allowed to learn by doing, they are more involved and interested in learning. It’s amazing how quickly Bricks 4 Kidz children learn engineering concepts just by building and seeing first-hand these theories applied.

We have had children in class who do not understand how to snap two LEGOs together and can barely assemble a tech pin into a LEGOs tech brick while doing their motorized build. They don’t have the dexterity to get the small pin into the proper tech brick hole. By the third class, they are moving along with their build with no issues. The students’ progression builds confidence and helps those students to believe in themselves, and feel that they can accomplish things they couldn’t before. That confidence is valuable, as they carry that confidence with them in other aspects of their learning and daily lives.

At Bricks 4 Kidz, we talk to our students about STEM career options. We get them excited about the possibilities of different STEM careers, and encourage them that they can be anything they want to be.

We understand there is not a lack of jobs in STEM industries, but rather a lack of qualified individuals to fill the available positions. As the demand for STEM skills continues to intensify, the shortage of interested and proficient students will constrain the nation’s economic growth.

Between 2017 and 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow 13 percent, compared to 9 percent for non-STEM jobs — with positions in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing leading the way.  (Via Change the Equation)

Overall, since 1990, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79 percent — increasing from 9.7 million to 17.3 million. (Via Pew Research Center)

It is imperative to fill these jobs because people employed in STEM fields are making technological breakthroughs that directly impact all of our lives. Engineers are improving our infrastructure, developing safer bridges and roads across the country. Scientists are making advances in health care that bring us closer to eradicating disease. And innovators are consistently changing the way we think about communication. They are the people who move our country forward and the minds who enable us to remain one of the most progressive nations in the world.

Unfortunately, there is an inadequate representation of women in these fields. We are failing to keep young girls engaged in STEM.  A metaphor frequently used to describe the fact that women are under-represented in STEM careers is that of a “leaky pipeline” carrying students from secondary school through college and on to a job in STEM. Researchers suggest this pipeline leaks students out at various stages: students who express interest in science careers sometimes change their minds when applying to colleges and select other areas of study. Others begin their college career in a STEM program, but change majors before graduation. Finally, some students leave the pipeline after graduating with a STEM degree when they select another field as a career.

Researchers are trying to determine if women aren’t choosing STEM fields due to stereotypes and educational differences. Differences that start as early as the third grade, according to Thomas Dee, with boys advancing in math and science and girls advancing in reading.

Everyone agrees that getting kids, especially young girls, engaged in STEM activities at an early age helps to excite their curiosity about STEM fields. Activities like coding clubs, LEGO clubs and science fairs all help to engage students. Hands-on activities in our classrooms help to engage students and aid in the better understanding of complex concepts. It is imperative that we make an investment in educating our young students in fun and creative ways that make STEM learning something students are excited to continue throughout their academic careers.

At Bricks 4 Kidz, we are passionate about bridging the gap and getting kids engaged in STEM activities at an early age. Our curriculum starts at the pre-school level and progresses all the way to coding and advanced robotics. Bricks 4 Kidz offers workshops where we teach our STEM curriculum (aligned with NYS standards) and motorized LEGO builds. We have been offering workshops and after school enrichment classes all throughout CNY, teaching thousands of children each year. Workshops can be held right on the school’s campus in the classroom, or schools can travel to our Creativity Center in Dewitt.

 

Maria C. Moore is the owner and director of Bricks 4 Kidz in DeWitt.

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