"When you are a kid you are born a scientist."
WRITTEN BY: VARSHA JAYASANKER
Throughout middle and high school, I competed at science fairs at the regional, national, and international level. Since graduating high school, I have been involved in science fairs as a judge and mentor. One question I always get asked by parents is, “how do I get my kid interested in STEM?” Through my experiences over the last decade, I realized there were three key factors in my upbringing, provided by not only my parents, but by teachers, mentors and other influential adults in my life.
1) Engage a child’s Innate Scientist
Neil deGrasse Tyson once said, “when you are a kid you are born a scientist”. A scientist asks questions about the world around them and investigates those phenomena until they find an answer to that question. This is exactly what kids do with their environment. Somethings piques their curiosity and they poke and prod at it until they find an answer.
To get more children involved in STEM, we need to engage and cultivate this innate scientist in them. When they ask a question, rather than providing a simple answer, we should discuss the topic, allowing children to develop their own answer. Discussions can also be supplemented with media such as books and videos. This allows children to be more involved in the process of inquiry (described below), cultivating their interest in STEM.
2) Participate in Inquiry-Based Learning
The word inquiry is defined as “the act of asking for information." Inquiry-based learning, therefore, is learning through the use of questions, problems, or scenarios. Traditional learning in a linear process, where a stream of information is expected to be absorbed by the student. In inquiry-based methods, the process is iterative, where a question leads to answer, which leads to another question and answer, and so on. Simultaneously, this process is producing knowledge, which has proven to boost learning.
3) Expose children to STEM
When I was a kid, which was not too long ago in the early 2000s, STEM toys and activities were limited to LEGO and a plastic microscope. Nowadays, STEM is an entire wall of a toy store, consisting of variety of LEGO, activity kits, books, simplified circuitry, and more! Any of these items promote exposure, which is a key element to getting children interested and involved in STEM.
STEM is also available in the community–STEM camps as well as science and technology museums provide children with interactive and guided experiences in STEM, allowing for more structured exposure.
Exposure to youth STEM initiatives is also an important element in getting children interested in STEM. Regional and national science fairs have public viewings where students as young as 9 present their projects to the community. By observing youth not much older than them, children see STEM as more of a current reality rather than a distant dream or future objective.
Varsha Jayasankar is a master’s student at the University of Guelph pursuing cancer research. In her school years, Varsha competed at over 30 regional, national, and international science fairs, winning numerous accolades including being named one of Canada’s Future Leaders by MacLean’s Magazine. Since graduating high school, Varsha has been involved in science fairs as a mentor and judge, with the goal of getting more youth interested and involved in STEM.
This article originally appeared in Business Link Niagara.