By Michelle Talsma Everson
As someone who makes a living in the field of communications, I’ll fully admit that science class—whether in elementary school or college—wasn’t my favorite. In contrast, my 9-year-old son is absolutely in love with all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). It’s not a surprise—after all, his dad is an engineer in the aerospace field and, on his dad’s side of the family, there is a long line of STEM-related jobs and successes. Like most parents, I want to make sure to support his interests, especially as he gets older, as they might lead to a potential career field. I also want to broaden my own horizons and see STEM in a new light. Evidently, right now is the perfect time to do so, as science education for today’s youth is more important than ever before.
Kaci Fankhauser, STEM Ecosystem Coordinator for the SciTech Institute, says that parent engagement is important for all children when it comes to science. She points to statistics like, between 2017 and 2027, STEM jobs will grow by 21 percent while non-STEM jobs will grow by 15 percent, according to the Education Commission of the States, as one great reason why science is so important to this generation. That’s why, each year, events like the Arizona SciTech Festival, take place and welcome families to discover what Fankhauser refers to as “culturally relevant STEM.”
“The Arizona SciTech Festival is a statewide collaborative effort and, over eight years, has grown to feature more than 2,000 STEM events across the state,” she explains. “Of those events, about 60 are signature events that take place over February and March each year. The goal is that anywhere you live, you can go out and find something to do that is STEM-related. Through these events, families can see STEM concepts at work in their own backyard and activate what kids are already learning in the classroom. It’s about helping students, even those reluctant about STEM, to be comfortable in their own STEM identity and take back what they learned to school.”
Dr. Jeremy Babendure, Executive Director of the SciTech Institute, says that it can often be challenging to talk about science because many parents may think science is only for kids. But, he notes, kids look up to their parents and caregivers, and it’s on the adults to have a positive attitude about science and showcase how it’s important inside and outside of the classroom.
“I see the scientific process as a mindset; it’s about how you approach the world and solve problems,” Babendure explains. “No matter what career field you’re in, you ask questions and there’s a method to understanding the world. It’s very similar to how art can help you become an abstract thinker; science can help you learn to solve problems.”
So how can parents encourage science to their children outside of the classroom?
“STEM is everywhere and in everything, using technology is all about problem solving,” Fankhauser says. “Engage in STEM learning as much as possible, everywhere possible.”
Some examples Babendure notes is to participate in “sneaky science” – research how science plays a part in every day life or in your child’s favorite hobbies. For example, a child who is interested in plants can learn about the science behind plants and careers like being a park ranger. For my own son, he’s obsessed with cats, so we’re guiding him to books on how cats behave and career options like veterinary medicine.
To learn more about upcoming Arizona SciTech Festival events this month and next, visit www.azscitech.com.
Resources on the Importance of Science for Kids:
STEM data for Arizona: http://vitalsigns.ecs.org/state/arizona/overview
“STEM Gems” (easy STEM activities): https://naaweb.org/resources/stem-gems
STEM activities: www.sciencebuddies.org/parent-resources
For STEM events for families to attend: https://www.azscitech.com/
Afterschool STEM activities: ww.azafterschool.org