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Challenging Learners in STEM: Tips for Making Science and Math Fun

Engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)  fosters a love for learning and encourages critical thinking skills. Challenging these learners with new topics and interesting projects will also keep them engaged and build confidence. Research indicates that early exposure to STEM disciplines significantly boosts students' enthusiasm and propensity to consider careers in these fields

Tips for Challenging Learners in STEM

Given the anticipated deficit of one million STEM professionals by 2030, it's imperative to cultivate a strong foundation in STEM education from an early age. A strategic approach is vital for building a competent and proficient workforce equipped to meet future demands in these critical sectors.
However, many educators face the challenge of making these subjects appealing and accessible to students. Creating a more dynamic, interactive, and enjoyable learning environment with the following practical and effective strategies can help make STEM subjects fun and engaging.


Challenge Learners Through Hands-on STEM Projects

Project-based learning is one of the most effective ways to engage students in STEM. Fun project ideas include:

  • Building simple robots or machines
  • Designing and testing model bridges or towers
  • Creating lava lamps or crystal gardens
  • Programming games or apps
 Challenging a learner in STEM with a hands-on outdoor STEM project

Incorporate STEM Into Storytelling

Linking STEM concepts to engaging stories makes abstract ideas more concrete and relatable for students. A study by Stanford professor Chip Heath found that 63% of people could remember stories, while only five percent could remember statistics. Potential storytelling activities include:
  • Reading STEM-focused books or watching STEM-based shows
  • Writing or acting out STEM-related skits or plays
  • Creating comic strips to explain scientific principles

Integrate Technology and Digital Tools

Today’s students are digital natives, so incorporating technology into STEM lessons can boost engagement. Research from Frontiers in Psychology shows that interactive digital experiences improve learning outcomes. Useful digital tools include:
  • Educational coding apps and games.
  • Virtual lab simulations and models
  • Interactive online lessons and videos
  • Math practice apps with gamification 
 Two Black boys smile while working on a project using school laptops while their teacher looks over their shoulders

Connect STEM to Real-World Applications

Making clear connections between STEM concepts and real-world problems helps students understand the relevance and importance of these subjects. Ideas include:
  • Exploring the engineering behind sports equipment
  • Analyzing data about environmental issues
  • Using math to plan a road trip or budget
  • Learning about the chemistry behind cooking

Embrace Field Trips and Guest Speakers

Getting students out of the classroom or inviting STEM professionals into the school exposes them to engaging hands-on STEM experiences and diverse role models. Options include:
  • Visiting science museums or local companies
  • Participating in coding camps or maker fairs
  • Hosting scientists, engineers, or tech experts

Foster Curiosity

Encourage students to ask questions and explore their interests within STEM. Providing opportunities for independent or guided research can deepen their engagement and understanding. Share what you are learning and wondering about to model curiosity and show students that curiosity is a lifelong pursuit.

In addition, celebrate curiosity by acknowledging and praising students who demonstrate a curious nature to motivate them to continue asking questions and exploring new ideas.


Create an Inclusive Environment

It's essential to foster an environment where every student feels valued and supported, regardless of their background. Teachers should employ various teaching methods to cater to different learning styles and ensure classroom materials are accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.
Encouraging diversity in thought and approach means promoting an open-minded atmosphere where students feel safe to express their unique perspectives and problem-solving strategies. It's essential to challenge the notion that there’s only one "right" way to understand or approach a problem, fostering creativity and innovation.
Supporting all students in their learning journey involves providing the necessary resources and assistance to ensure they can succeed. For example, this could include tutoring, providing mentorship programs and ensuring all students have access to the necessary technology and materials. Teachers should also be mindful of potential barriers to participation and actively work to eliminate them.


Focus on Continuous Learning

Keeping yourself updated with the latest trends and developments in STEM education is crucial for educators to provide their students with the most effective and engaging learning experiences. Options include:
  • Attending workshops and conferences
  • Joining professional networks
  • Reading relevant literature

Provide Feedback and Reflection

Providing constructive feedback to students is a critical aspect of teaching that aims to positively guide their learning journey. Constructive feedback will challenge learners to think critically about their own work and encourage them to reflect through the various stages of their next project. The feedback should be specific, actionable, and focused on their performance, not personal attributes. When offering feedback, it's crucial to highlight what students did well and where there is room for improvement.

Get the Tools and Resources You Need to Challenge Your Learners

Making STEM subjects fun and engaging is essential for inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists. Incorporating interactive and hands-on learning, collaborative activities, real-world connections, gamification, and encouraging curiosity can help foster a passion for STEM and challenge learners to continue their education outside the classroom.
National Math and Science Initiative offers tools to empower teachers and administrators. Our programs, including curriculum supports and forums, coaching and several other programs and resources, help build strong communities of educators who work together, practice together and reflect on their teaching and the needs of their students. 
The programs and support offered by NMSI are designed to meet educators at the intersections where help is needed to become high-quality teachers who deliver better student outcomes.