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Getting Kids Excited About STEM

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Updated on Feb 11, 2013

Math and science are responsible for the advances that make modern life possible.

They're also a lot of fun for kids to explore. And an interest in those subjects now leads to a promising future.

Career prospects are bright for those in the so-called STEM fields. That stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that jobs in these fields will grow 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than every sector except health care.

"That's where the economy is going," says James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition. "In order to get almost any job in the economy, you need these skills."

And STEM workers don't just include number-crunching mathematicians and scientists scurrying around labs in white coats. This category also includes people who work in architecture and manufacturing. Plus, adults who get jobs in STEM fields or students who choose them as college majors tend to command higher salaries than the average worker.

Does your child's future lie in STEM?

It just might, if something sparks his interest. Kids' inborn curiosity leads them to want to know more about how the world works.

"We are natural problem-solvers when we're born into this world," says Tony Murphy, director of the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program. "We build things and we knock them down, and we build them again."

Obstacles for Kids in Science

But most kids lose their fascination in these subjects as they get older. Researchers have found that one-third of students lose interest in science by fourth grade. Another 17 percent lose it middle school.

Much of the reason for this lost interest can be found in the way teachers are trained, says Murphy, former executive director of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Catherine University. College-level elementary education programs are designed to prepare teachers how to educate children from kindergarten through sixth grade. With such a large range of developmental stages in those grades, aspiring teachers don't get much training in how to teach science in an engaging way, Murphy says.

Another problem is that most schools' curricula emphasize reading and math more than technology and engineering, Brown says. The tests that students are required to take in public schools assess how well they do in basic subjects, which leave less time for teachers to have fun teaching about science and technology.

And many kids and parents have mistaken beliefs about jobs in STEM fields. Say the word "engineer" to a lot of children, and they'll think of someone who drives a train. And Eric Darr, interim president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, notes that many girls think math and science aren't suited for females. Visitors to his college in Pennsylvania are often surprised to learn that more than half the students are women.

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