A description of STEM practices designed to encourage scientific vocations

STEM programmes are receiving increasing attention since they are considered efficient for developing scientific literacy for citizens and for increasing the number of young people choosing to study scientific-technological disciplines at the end of their compulsory schooling and choose scientific vocations (EU 2015). Decision makers are becoming interested in incorporating STEM approaches in formal education, also for early years. The BotSTEM partners have produced a description of STEM practices designed to encourage scientific vocations for early-years education in Europe.

The practices have been found through thorough searches of scientific journals, and descriptions of ongoing and finalised projects supported by the EC. The European Commission has supported a large number of European projects in recent years and a thorough scan of projects addressing the issue of encouraging pathways to scientific vocations is reported.

In relation to education we suggest, based on our review, the following suggestions:

 

 

  • Role models:

    • In order for young children to appreciate what it means to be a scientist or an engineer the children have to meet with them in person.

    • Encounters with female scientists are relevant for designing a gender inclusive approach.

 

 

  • Acting as a scientist or an engineer:
    • By arranging projects to make children face real world problems that needs to be solved using hands-on activities included in inquiry based or engineering design cycles develops an understanding for the systematic actions performed by scientists. Drama and fictional story books are reported to be an effective way of staging such projects, as well as play-based approaches.

    • Robotics may also function as a motivation factor for exploring scientific concepts.

 

 

 

 

  • Gender issues since early childhood:

    • Cooperative techniques for learning should be used in STEM classrooms to favour girls learning.

    • Teachers and parents should challenge unconscious bias related to girls and STEM subjects, including robotics

 

 

 

  • Promoting teachers’ confidence and expertise in science and technology using practical skills:

    • Initiatives on Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL) programmes should be established giving teachers a chance to develop their own scientific and engineering skills.

 

 

 

 

  • Parents’ attitudes towards STEM and STEM-related media should be encouraged:

    • Parents’ attitudes towards STEM media can have an impact on children’s perceptions of science and engineering. Parents may indirectly affect their child’s exposure to STEM concepts by influencing how often their child is exposed to science and math television, apps, and computer games.

 

  • Experiencing some degree of meaningful choice and a sense of psychological freedom:

    • Our results from the botSTEM project confirm earlier studies that a sense of freedom is important also for younger children. Teachers nurturing of children’s inner motivational resources by using as a didactic strategy to consider their own ideas and suggestions in the botSTEM activities engage the children in curious inquiry and discussions.

    • Affective and social dimensions of learning and their connection with engagement and assessment should be considered.

    • High-flyers and low-achievers children need more support and challenge.

 

Special STEM activities and encouragement should be handled with care. Special activities and encouragement provided by teachers might backfire and discourage rather than encourage motivation. We advocate an early introduction of STEM and robotics to children. If children have a positive relation to STEM and see its content as a natural part of their everyday life, later and artificial ‘special STEM programs’ might not be necessary.

For more detail and references, see the complete O3-report on www.botstem.eu

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