This article is written in collaboration with the “¡Edúcate, es el momento!” campaign as part of their seven-day event promoting higher education for Latino students across the United States.
Last April, I dedicated a week to Latino students who are interested in pursuing careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) fields.
It troubles me that Latinos only account for 5.8% of the engineering workforce, and young Latinas are virtually nonexistent. Most Latino college students aren't pursuing a degree in any of the STEM fields. But with the U.S. Hispanic poverty rate hovering around 26%, a career in one of these fields has the ability to lift families out of poverty, since STEM graduates could potentially earn a six-figure salary upon graduation.
So why aren't our children excelling in the subjects of math and science? No doubt, it is for many reasons. Our public school system in general, seems to be struggling to produce the next generation of scientists and mathematicians. And low-income schools, which support high concentrations of Latino students, seem to be suffering the most when it comes to providing the resources needed for STEM education. Add to that these reasons why Latino parents oftentimes don't encourage their children to pursue STEM field careers, and we can see why our kids are invisible in this area.
So how can we as parents help our kids to get excited about science and math? Here are five great ways to inspire and support your children in these subjects:
1. GET INVOLVED
Find out what your child is learning in school. Are they studying animal classification? Fractions? The water cycle? Ask your child, or their teacher, what topics they are currently covering in class. Being informed is key and will help you to know what to do next...
2. GET EXCITED
If your child tells you they're studying patterns in math and you immediately grimace, how do you think your kid is going to feel? So what if you think patterns are boring? Be prepared for your child's answer, control your facial features, and respond with delight. (But don't be overly enthusiastic. Your child is an expert lie detector.)
3. INVESTIGATE & SUPPLEMENT
Once you know your daughter is studying the secret lives of fungi, get to work looking for ways to help her explore the subject. If your son needs help with his algebra homework, check out the Kahn academy to help him understand and to practice.
4. MAKE IT EXCITING
Somehow you've got to figure out a way to make the subject come alive for your child. Try to find ways to relate the issue to their own life. You can also...
- Go to your local library and find books on the topic.
- Explore the web for online games and interactive websites that help to reinforce concepts.
- Buy your own science kits (who doesn't love experimenting?) and make every Friday night a Discovery Night.
- Find local and national contests that encourage your child to problem solve and promote creative thinking.
- Field Trip! Find out what exhibits your local museums/nature centers/zoos are hosting and see if they relate to anything your child is learning about.
5. START WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG
Develop your child's curiosity and critical thinking skills as early as you can. Asking simple questions, such as, "What do you think will happen if I let go of this ball?" or "How many cars do you see on our street?" can help your child learn to wonder about their world and also predict outcomes to specific actions. Supply your child with lots of puzzles and books that center around nature and the environment. And every family should own a set of building blocks so kids can connect with their inner engineer.
6. LEARN ABOUT IT
Who says learning is just for kids? Be a role model for your child and show them that learning is a lifelong process that can bring joy and gratification. Better yet, ask your child to explain it to you. Nothing helps you learn better than knowing you have to teach it to someone else!
My favorite STEM education resources for kids:
Khan Academy Free, online, world-class education on every subject.
TED Inspirational online videos.
Scholastic Math Missions Software for kids.
Math Playground Online games for children.
School Zone Workbooks, flash cards and software.
Mighty Math Books A great list of fun books that use a creative approach to teaching math.
DiscoverThis.com Educational science kits and toys.
GrowingTreeToys Learning toys for children.
MythBusters Science entertainment show that uses experiments to separate myths from reality.
NASA Kids' Club An awesome interactive site for children.
Discovery Kids Another good website.
Curiosikid Science experiments for kids in Spanish!
Canopy in the Clouds A bilingual site about the rainforest.
Design Squad Nation A reality show on PBS where kids ages 6 – 19 design ingenious machines in the hopes of winning college scholarships.
Fat Brain Toys They carry an incredible set of engineering toys.
Bright Kids World Carries a selection of engineering kits, models, toys, activities for kids.
ABCYa.com free educational kids computer games and activities for elementary students to learn on the web.
NASA: The Space Place Also available in Spanish
Technology for Kids A cool range of experiments, free games, science fair projects, fun quizzes, interesting facts, amazing videos and more!
Con mucho cariño...