Diversity Research in students Preparing for STEM Education - Student Research Foundation

Strategies for Early STEM Learning

What Are the Best Strategies for Getting K-6 Students Excited about Technology?

 . . . findings from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning

There is a common belief that children take to technology like the proverbial ducks take to water.  Give them a computer or a tablet and stand back, that thinking holds, and tech learning will pretty much take care of itself.

Well, that could be. But researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning is finding that what happens in elementary school can determine whether students remain engaged in STEM learning through high school and beyond.

You’ll find videos on the Institute’s website that present findings about STEM learning. Here’s a summary of some of the key findings.

Every Child Is a Scientist

From the moment they are born, all children have to figure out the world around them. That means that by the time children arrive in elementary school, they are already engaged in a process of scientific inquiry. STEM learning is more about supporting that established process than about starting something new.

However, Children Need Help Developing Skills

To encourage learning, children need support in four areas:

  • Observing
  • Questioning
  • Testing ideas
  • Creating

Social Connections Support Tech Learning

Research at the Institute found that when children are part of a team when given a task or project, they remain more focused on it for longer periods of time. Even when children are only told they are part of a team they focus better, even if that team does not actually exist. If they are told, “you are on the green team,” for example, they focus better, complete tasks, and learn more. Researchers also found that if children are part of a team, they are more relaxed when completing tasks.

Fun and Enjoyment Spark Ongoing Interest

When elementary school students engage in activities that are fun, they stay interested and perform better in STEM programs in their later years of school.

Positive Experiences Are Critical to Girls’ STEM Learning

Girls are more likely to stay engaged in STEM learning when they take part in positive learning experiences during their elementary-school years. And if girls are given the same opportunities as boys (like summer and special programs), they enjoy STEM learning just as much as boys do.

Questions to Ask Young Students

Elementary teachers do not need to be STEM experts to spark learning and engagement. STEM learning can be encouraged by asking two simple questions:

  • “What did you observe?”
  • “What do you predict?”

Get more details on students pursuing STEM studies when you can review our research findings.


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