The simplicity of technology now means that the core fan base of new and innovative products is getting younger and younger. It is evident that children are naturally interested in technology, but how can we take advantage of this passion?
The key to harnessing this potential is likely to come down to our ability to combine their love of technology with a robust STEM education.
In this blog post, we’ll define the STEM subjects and consider how they are applicable to the modern world, before exploring how children can develop an interest in toys, gadgets and gizmos into skills and attributes they’ll need in later life.
What are STEM subjects?
The STEM subjects are science, technology, engineering and mathematics and there is increasing support for improving our STEM teaching methods. Many now believe that STEM subjects should be considered the key to giving children the skills they need to enter the workforce.
So, let’s look more closely at the four disciplines that make up STEM.
Science – a natural love of science is likely to be linked to an interest in discovering how things work through a series of experimentation. Developing these skills at an early age is likely to increase children’s chances of being able to code, methodically improve a process or imagine new (technology-driven) solutions to existing problems.
Technology – due to apps, social media and the growing popularity of the Internet, we are now more focused on the importance of technology than ever before. We are beginning to teach children about computer coding and it’s many applications. However, the pace of development means training for our teachers also needs to accelerate to keep up.
Engineering – this discipline is all about teaching kids to solve problems using technology, new ideas and the most suitable materials. Problem-solving is increasingly becoming the key ‘soft skill’ for candidates in the modern world. A natural inclination towards puzzles, riddles or construction toys may be an early indicator of engineering potential.
Mathematics – maths is probably the least popular but most important of all the STEM subjects. A strong understanding of the right principles of mathematics is probably the most potent way of enhancing children’s capabilities in the other STEM subjects.
How do we develop their love of technology?
The UK has a rich history in computer gaming, sciences and the digital arts, which will need a technologically minded workforce to continue moving forwards and innovate. If we want to develop a world-beating workforce, we need to find new ways to promote the STEM subjects, encourage a love of technology in our children and help them develop their key skills.
It is important that as a society we broaden our horizons in our approach to teaching and learning at the same time. To be more inclusive with our education system so that the next generation have basic skills, but perhaps start to accept that what is a necessary basic skill today won’t be required in the future. Writing with pen and paper or driving manually are just two things that are sure to be less prevalent in the future. As technology and society evolves, so should our ways of teaching and the tools we use.
How can parents and educators look to kindle children’s future in STEM?
From a very early age children mimic behaviour. So like with any interest spending quality time together and actively exploring, whether looking at pictures, playing a game or visiting museums, exhibitions or events can be a good first step to encouraging a young mind.
Children learn to navigate their way through simple apps and use tablets from an early age with parents often resorting to using online video and apps as a “digital babysitter”. However there’s also a plethora of great products, services and apps out there to engage and promote skills. We have found some great examples for different stages of their child’s development which can serve as a great aid to education and their future in STEM, but as with all technology exposure limits should still be set for well-rounded development.
Below we have included some ideas for inspiration for parents and educators to identify and encourage children with an interest and aptitude for a future in STEM.
Early years – Cubetto is a friendly programmable robot toy that’s simple to use. The method is pretty easy to pick up, with some children learning the basics before they even go to school. Construction toys like Lego and Duplo are also popular choices that are easy to learn and allow creative play.
The most important thing at this stage is giving children the freedom to express themselves, the possibility for creativity and most importantly the space to have fun.
Development – to progress at primary age children, need a little more of a challenge. They are likely to move on to an interest in games such as Osmo, Kano or even the early stages of playing Minecraft. During the development stage, we can determine whether they are ready to take their interest forward into more challenging applications or whether enjoyment is still the overriding factor for them. Their aptitude is mainly measured on their ability to learn the basics or grasping the logic or “rules” that govern their games and tools, following instructions and completing a series of tasks.
Technologist-in-the-making – to encourage youngsters further you might expect to some signs that they are inquisitive and developing an interest in finding their own solutions to problems they encounter There are a lot of ways that will allow us to stretch their abilities. By introducing them to the more advanced elements of Minecraft, simple programming through HTML or Visual Basic, or even something like a Raspberry Pi to encourage them to expand their technological horizons further.
At this point, an interest in more abstract thinking and deeper problem-solving is likely to be a strong indicator of their potential for the all-important transferrable skills.
What role can businesses play?
Think about applications for public sector: There are some great examples of businesses offering fantastic applications of new technology for education. Google’s expedition programme is one of these, using VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) to explore up close new places and topics in a meaningful and engaging way. Once there is a way for schools and similar organisations to use your technology and tools there is still the question of how they access it.
Find a way to make technology accessible: Making new technology accessible to educational providers is vital. Many software providers offer school or academic licenses or discounts. Over the years we’ve also worked with many educational providers and businesses to help find suitable financial solutions that allow the school or other institution to spread the cost of software and associated IT costs. This goes a long way to helping institutions keep up-to-date with the technology being used in business, but it’s about more than that. It’s about offering free trials and offering to demo the technology. Older students’ and educators’ feedback can also in turn add value sharing the benefits for the business.
Partnering with an organisation to test your software might be a risk but it might also be a cost-effective way to uncover bugs and gain understand what works and what doesn’t, it can also provide you with insight about different applications and new features.
Share knowledge: Better knowledge sharing from companies facing challenges and at the forefront of innovation and encouraging staff to forge links with colleges and schools and share their experience and knowledge with the next generation is also integral to inspiring the next generation and ensuring they are working with the latest technology. This is of course easier said than done as some institutions don’t actively look outside their teacher pool who have heavy workloads and demanding priorities already. Nevertheless there is great potential to benefit both sides in the long term. This should prove enough incentive for everyone to be willing to make change work.