STEM and your Children

Why encouraging them in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is so important

     STEM ( or science, technology, engineering and math) is gaining a lot of traction in Toronto and GTA schools and in the general context of education.  Why is their such a big push for students to get involved in these topics?  It is not only that STEM careers are growing in the world today but also the important skills that students acquire from STEM, like critical thinking, problem solving and working across disciplines.  STEM does not just promote science literacy, but also how to solve and understand any type of problem they may encounter.  That is what science is all about: solving problems and finding solutions.  These skills are useful to everyone in their day to day lives.  

    I got to see this first hand when I attended the Toronto STEM Parent Conference on May 14th which was sponsored by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Ontario Ministry of Education.  I was interested to see what the TDSB is doing to encourage STEM and how parents are able to get involved to help their children see why this is an important area to study.  

Anthony Morgan of Science Ninjas

Anthony Morgan of Science Ninjas

    The keynote speaker was Anthony Morgan, the founder of Science Ninjas, which is an organization that puts on live science events to get the public excited about science.  Anthony was a great speaker and really showed how passionate he is about science. He believes in creating awesome experiences where you learn something.  It is great to see there are science role models like that out there, showing the public and children that science is not just something done by old men in lab coats but can be crazy, fun, cool and something that anyone is capable of doing.  This is what Primate Tales aims to do too.  Coming from a place where I never thought I could be a scientist to falling in love with primates and studying their behaviour I realized that science is not limited, it is limitless.  

    I attended a really interesting workshop put on by the TDSB.  It was run by Stella Kim, a high school STEM learning coach.  The workshop was meant to show parents how the TDSB is engaging students in STEM and why it is so important. We were show a question chart which is a great way for students to ask questions about a problem and use different modes of inquiry, like fact finding, predicting, analyzing and evaluating.  I think this a great way to get students thinking about a problem as it engages all these different types of approaching a problem. Stella asked us to participate by looking at the problem of lack of drinkable water on many first nations reserves in Canada.  I thought it was a great problem to look at as it touches on so many topics, from access to clean water, to indigenous issues to looking at how the problem affects people all over the world.  

Rock and Sand Water filter

From there we were asked to create a hypothetical water filter to help solve this problem with a variety of tools: a plastic bottle, cotton balls, cheesecloth, and a variety of sand and rocks.  I had actually taught children how to make one of these before so I took the lead of our group and went through the steps explaining how to make a water filter with these basic tools.  Our filter worked pretty well, made the dirty water relatively clear, but these types of filters don’t do a great job getting out any sort of bacteria that may be in the water so are not very effective for water that is more than just a bit muddy.  It is a great way though to get students thinking about how to solve a problem with basic tools, that may be all people is these communities may have access too.  

    I think this kind of teaching, where students are given real world problems and asked to try to find some solutions using hands on activities is a great way to help them learn and get them excited about science.  Giving them the tools to see that they too can solve problems and figure out unique ways to look at these real issues gives them confidence to pursue science related careers in the future.  Children are the future decision makers of this earth, and with the problems we are facing due to climate change and mass extinctions we are going to need people with these critical thinking skills who are excited and able to come up with solutions to these major problems.  If we are not able to adapt and change how we access energy and resources then we may go the way of the dinosaurs.  The earth does not need us, we need it and we need students who have the skills and passion to solve these problems.  

Toronto Ravine

    Finding ways to incorporate STEM in your every day life is a great way to get your kids to see STEM as something fun, exciting and important.   If you have younger children you could take them out for a walk in one of the many beautiful ravines Toronto has to offer. Ask them to point out where they see evidence of disturbances (trees fallen over, leaves eaten, etc) and ask them to brainstorm who could have caused that damage( an animal, person or act of nature).  This can get your child to see how interconnected nature is, with every animal and plant playing its special part.   For older children you could collect materials to make the above water filter and challenge them to try and get the cleanest water.  These are just some ideas, they are tons more out there, you can check out this site for more great STEM ideas.  

    If you want more information about incorporating STEM into your child’s classroom or at home.  Feel free to contact us or request your school book a Primate Tales program to show your child the amazing world of primates and evolution.  

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