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Why more teachers are incorporating science experiments inside their classrooms

STEM has been a buzzword in educational circles for years, but more focus is being put on the curriculum to help address a job force that is having difficulty filling positions in those fields.
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Posted at 9:51 PM, Jun 26, 2024

The summer months may have just started for kids, but teachers from around the country are already preparing for the next school year.

The subject du jour? STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM has been a buzzword in educational circles for years, but more focus is being put on the curriculum to help address a job force that is having difficulty filling positions in those fields.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the number of jobs requiring substantial STEM experience has grown 34% over the last decade, but there is a shortage of people willing to take the jobs.

The Foundation writes, “the U.S. is facing a significant need to develop adequate talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to ensure economic strength, security, global competitiveness, and environmental health.”

“Critical thinking and problem solving is something that, in just my past five years, I’ve seen kids really struggle with,” said Kelli Higgins, a sixth grade science teacher in Illinois. “So, by bringing more STEM activities into the classroom, it really gets the kids thinking and able to solve problems.”

Higgins was one of more than 150 educators who gathered in Colorado to learn from one of STEM’s largest advocates: former science teacher and TV personality Steve Spangler, who hosts a STEM convention every year as he teaches teachers how to best engage kids in the classroom through fun science experiments.

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“STEM is so important today because our industry has to have homegrown scientists and engineers,” said Spangler. “We can’t steal from another country.”

According to a 2022 publication by the National Science Foundation, growth in research and development and science and technology output was higher in China than it was in the United States.

The report went on to say, even though output of research and development from the U.S. has increased, it has declined in its global share, showing other countries are outpacing the U.S. when it comes to producing STEM talent.

Whether it is blowing dry ice into a bubble to show principles of chemistry, or pulling a tablecloth out from under a set of tableware to show force and gravity, Spangler is hoping to change how students engage with STEM fields so they find it more interesting. It is the very reason Higgins is a science teacher herself.

“My sixth grade science teacher, Mr. Peters — I just remember his classroom, behind his desk was a wall of all sorts of science knickknacks and he always [taught] the class with a hands-on activity so, I try to do that,” she said.

“When a child gives you a big hug and says, 'best day ever,' what they’re really saying is 'you connected with me,'” Spangler added. “[They’re saying], ‘I’m engaging. I’m giving you part of my time to do this because I like this so much.’ It’s really cool.”