STEM fields are tough. They’re more rigorously graded than other subjects, and with test results such a huge focus in education today, students likely aren’t getting enough of the inspiring hands-on learning that leads to lasting interest. Instead, kids develop “math anxiety” and quit science because they don’t think they’re smart.
As with getting more girls into tech, one of the keys is to encourage kids to think it’s worth giving it a good enough try before it becomes hard—and to push through even if it’s challenging. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck’s research found that parents and teachers might be praising in a way that backfires:
They often praise the ability, the talent, or the intelligence too much. The opposite of this is the good process praise. This is praise for the process the child engages in—their hard work, trying many strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their use of errors to learn, their improvement.
A study was conducted of recorded videotapes of mothers interacting with babies when they were one, two, and three years old. The more the mothers gave process praise, the more their kids had a growth mindset and a desire for challenge five years later. And now we’re finding how much better those kids are achieving even two years after that.
It doesn’t have to be outright praise. It can be as simple as doing a STEM-based activity with your child and saying, “hey, how did you do that?” and be interested in the process.
That said, the goal isn’t to force these subjects on our kids but to foster a love of them (in addition to fostering their other interests and passions) so know when to back off too. Forcing a kid to do math puzzles before he can play Temple Run is kind of like forcing him to eat all his spinach or no dessert. Spinach becomes a villain.
So incorporate more STEM lessons into your family’s everyday life but focus on your kids’ engagement. When the fun they’re having with a science project or math problem is greater than the fear they have of failing, I think we’ve done our jobs.
If you want to get your kids or students engaged with STEM education in a fun and effective way, please visit www.aicpublications.com
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