Middle School Students Learn About Promising Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
A seventh grade student in a rural middle school is looking for ways to combine his love of art with his curiosity about computers. A young girl from East Texas searches for more information about the clothes that astronauts wear for an industrial design project. A boy in an urban neighborhood wants to follow up on a recent science lesson by learning more about amoebas.
Each of these interests provides teachers and parents a starting point for engaging the young people in career exploration and development. Yet for most students and adults, the link between personal interests and career possibilities is unclear or absent altogether. To help teachers, counselors, and parents strengthen those links for young people, EDC staff created The FunWorks, a Web site designed to capture the imagination of middle school students and encourage them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Funded by the National Science Foundation, The FunWorks is a part of the growing National STEM Digital Library (NSDL). Produced in collaboration with a youth design team, it features online career resources for middle-school students with a particular emphasis on engaging currently underrepresented populations in STEM education and careers—girls, minorities, and students with disabilities.
Research shows that the middle school years are a formative time in a young person’s evolving self-perception, says EDC’s Sarita Nair. “If young kids get turned on to STEM during these years they are more likely to choose the science and math electives in high school and college,” she says. “Conversely, if they don’t take the STEM classes in middle and high school, they effectively lock themselves out of STEM careers later on in life. Young people today are just not informed enough about the variety of STEM careers available to them. We need to make these careers options more visible.”
The FunWorks promotes these promising careers by beginning with the topics popular with young adolescents today. “There are other career sites out there that say, ‘Here’s what you need to do to become an electrical engineer,” says Nair. “Here’s what you do to become a programmer.’ They might list the engineering jobs, necessary skills, salary. They include a lot of text, but they don’t get the kids to see the connections between where they are now and where they might be in the future.
“We wanted our site to present career content in a way that is meaningful to this age group,” she continues. “So we started with what kids are interested in today, not with where we want them to be as adults.”
The site is built around topics popular with young adolescents, such as sports, games, music, and art. These broad areas of interest are used to draw young people into learning more about related careers. If you choose sports as a favorite topic, for instance, you quickly discover a host of sports-related careers like sports doctor, physical therapist, industrial designer, or footwear engineer. Select music and you learn about the work of a sound engineer, composer, or instrument technician. The site leads users from a quick overview of these varied careers to profiles of real people who hold these jobs. It also recommends other activities to pursue, books to read, and classes to take in middle and high school. The site also features some exciting interactive activities, such as an online knee surgery and a digital crime-scene investigation.
Reprinted with the permission of the Educational Development Center. © 1994-2008 Education Development Center, Inc. All rights reserved.
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