Many adolescents and adults may recall early childhood as a time to explore novel and exciting topics–from athletics to healthcare and often astronautics–that they may align with a potential future career. According to Forbes, early childhood education is not only important in fostering critical academic and social skills, but can be a great indicator of future success regardless of occupational field. Often, students express great potential during these introductory years, but may yearn for consistent enrichment and self-exemplary figures in dream careers. Particularly, young students may be positively exposed to local occupations such as doctors, mail carriers, and firefighters, but may not gain hands-on exposure to the equally important fields in/utilizing STEM until elementary school, middle school, or possibly even later. To ensure that young students are supported and excited to pursue their dreams in STEM, or even to develop critical social and thinking skills, several methods can be implemented in early education classrooms that can positively influence the next generation of scientists.
During elementary and middle school, new forms of mathematics and introductory engineering problems may be portrayed as highly challenging compared to literature and history classes. In turn, students may have a deficiency in critical thinking opportunities that can better serve them throughout academia and beyond–gaining communication skills, problem-solving tactics, and thinking approaches by participating in STEM activities. To minimize this gap, STEM can be introduced in earlier forms of education, such as through maintaining class gardens, construction projects (earning a sense of engineering through firsthand building), and making verbal/written observations about regional weather conditions. In addition, McClure et al. highlights the use of online resources as providing a cost-efficient way to engage students through interactive games, trivia, and videos. Integrating simple math problems through situations (word problems) also helps to challenge students while ensuring they receive a solid foundation of arithmetic (2017). These methods may appear trivial, but many adults may agree that their career goals were inspired during these early years. In later forms of education, students will not feel as though engaging in STEM is mandatory or impossibly rigorous–but rather an enriching challenge that they may consider pursuing later in life.
Early education need not be entirely based on STEM, as other facets of learning should be emphasized during these vital years, and several approaches can allow educators to effectively integrate a well-rounded STEM component into the curriculum. Primarily, the main method of engaging students is through hands-on and collaborative activities to both hone enjoyment and promote interactive learning. In learning literacy fundamentals, students can write about their engaging moments spent in nature or read of historic scientists who have impacted scientific fields. Students may even act as a type of scientist, where they can learn about botany, ecology, and what it means to be a researcher in STEM. Of course, viewing historic rocket launches, microscopic organisms, and how coding is used in every-day situations through different forms of media is also engaging. These methods are also easily integrable in most classrooms, as they require few additional means and can be accessible via online and surrounding (e.g. outside of the classroom) resources. Certainly, students in early learning/elementary school programs shouldn’t fret over success or confidence in a future career, but rather should be encouraged to explore topics of interest; increased support in these realms can support future leaders–and encourage exceptional classrooms–to shoot for the stars.
In this episode of “Let’s Go to Space: BLUESKY Learning,” Episode 113: Kindergarten in Space, we speak with Kirstin Bunting, a kindergarten teacher on Florida’s Space Coast. Ms. Bunting strives to enforce space and other components of STEM into the youngest classrooms and uses her proximity to notable launching stations to inspire children in early learning. In addition, her curation of STEM activities for instructors serves to enforce her unique, aerospace-themed approaches in the classroom. Ms. Bunting undoubtedly inspires students to chase their dreams early on–fostering the growth of many rising “stars”. Learn more about Kirstin Bunting, or visit our other weekly podcasts to hear from other speakers, by clicking the link above. Also make sure to check out our website to learn more about becoming a member of the Aerospace and Innovation Academy, where you can join us in our quest to go to space.