When the concept of STEM was first introduced into elementary schools, it was met with conflicting reactions. Many teachers were concerned about adding more content to an already overwhelmed plate. But once the guidelines were established and the framework was rolled out, it was easy to see the benefits of integrating hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math into one area, and students loved it.
The fact is that today’s generation of learners are going to be adults in a world that previous generations never had to deal with. The subjects included in STEM were never as important in the past as they are now. As younger students are introduced to STEM lessons, they begin to understand how what they are growing up around works, and some may develop a passion for those topics. Integrating PhD students who already have significant knowledge in a subject area with younger students gives these early learners role models, introduces them to the concept that they, too, can become experts on the subject they’re interested in, and, in essence, opens the door to a gateway career in the sciences.
What is STEM?
It’s a widely held and understood truth that many students have a harder time grasping skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. These same four subjects, though, are the foundation of today’s Digital Era, which is soon to become the Quantum Age. In order to have the skills relevant to obtaining a large proportion of jobs that will be available in the upcoming years, graduates must have a solid understanding of these STEM subjects.
Instead of teaching them individually, however, STEM sets up a curriculum that integrates all of these together in an interdisciplinary approach. Through lessons that create a cohesive learning experience, instructors give students real-world applications that they can apply to in-class experiments.
Statistics show that students who have a significant interest in STEM subjects while they are younger tend to look to other avenues to major in by the time they graduate. Only 16% of high school students head off to a program of study in these four subjects. Because so much of the world’s industries, commerce, and future endeavors rely on STEM skills, it’s essential that the field of academics works to foster more of a passion for and focus on getting students to pursue further education in these fields. This has been done more frequently by using things like science investigatory projects.
How These Projects Lead to Science as a Career
Science investigatory projects (SIPs) are science-based research projects or chosen areas of study that are performed by elementary, middle, or high school children. They are science experiments that are designed to be either in-class group projects or individual projects created for science fairs or exhibitions. The intent of these assignments is to give younger learners a fun, interesting, and engaging way to learn about science and research in a way that is similar to what actual Ph.D. students and graduate researchers use.
Some universities and early public schools have established a relationship in which Ph.D. students come into the classroom to work with younger students on these projects. It becomes a winning combination when the graduate students are able to take what they have learned and attempt to instruct others. Teaching a concept solidifies the knowledge in the instructor, and the younger learners are able to get more out of the project from someone who specializes in the field.
Because one Ph.D. student is able to work more focused with a group, it’s more likely that younger learners will engage more. With that engagement, a spark of passion for any or all of the STEM subjects might be ignited, thus opening the door to the gateway of a potential career in the sciences that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.