By Chi Gieng
Educator - Engineering For Kids
When I was a child I loved watching my favourite television shows after a long day at school. Shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Magic School Bus, and Mythbusters were an integral part of my childhood. These television programs fueled my curiosity and inspired me to think critically about how the world around me functioned. Looking back on my childhood, I realized how important it was to be exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as a child. These youthful experiences eventually led to my studies in engineering today. Now, more than ever, I know it is crucial to introduce children to STEM at an early age.
Age of Curiosity
Children absorb information and ideas like sponges. At such an exploratory point in their lives, it makes sense to invest in a foundation that will serve them throughout their education. Teaching STEM creates a positive reinforcement for kids to ask questions. This makes them think about how different systems in our everyday lives work. When I am working with children, they often ask me questions like “why does this happen?” or “what does that do?” In almost all cases I respond “let’s find out how”. By encouraging them to investigate these ideas and concepts together, not only will they develop critical thinking skills, they will also build confidence in inquiry. Even in university, many students still struggle to ask questions. Building STEM skills helps develop a willingness to act on curiosity — to explore, discover and learn.
Girls In STEM
As a male student studying engineering, a predominantly male field, I notice that there aren’t as few women in engineering as people may think, but not as many as there can be. From my observations, there is an increase in female engineers, however this is a work in progress. Which brings me back to my first point, why STEM is crucial at an early age. Many initiatives such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Girls Collaborative Project and National Math and Science Initiative have been established to increase the number of women in STEM-related fields. I believe we need to continue encouraging girls of all ages to pursue STEM. At the age of 5 and 6, children begin developing gender identities. Girls often face a gender gap in confidence as they get older. We need to counter the idea that boys are naturally better at math and science. It’s a shame that these stereotypes and negative perceptions affect girls at such a young age. Standardized testing in the United States shows that girls and boys remain evenly matched ability-wise in STEM subjects, but girls are still underrepresented in STEM-related fields. We should encourage girls to pursue STEM as it opens many opportunities, especially in the ever-expanding tech field. Gender and racial diversity in STEM also contribute to a positive and innovative culture across the field. Just to name a few of the amazing women in STEM:
- Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal in 2014
- Roberta Bondar, first female Canadian astronaut in space
- Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, first woman to win the prestigious MIT-Lemelson Prize
I believe in inspiring and building confidence in our youth while developing their skills for the future. It is refreshing to see innovations and new ideas arise from them. Introducing STEM to children is rewarding, but keeping them interested and engaged as they grow older is more difficult. Strong extra-curricular programming can help children to see that STEM is more than just a class to finish. Programs like Engineering For Kids and Spirit Of Math Schools take a hands-on approach to show kids how science and math concepts relate to real life. Sparking genuine interest and keeping youth passionate about STEM in their lives will benefit our children and open opportunities for them to learn and grow, as I know it did and will continue to do, for me.