5 Essential STEM Skills for Middle Schoolers: Where & How to Learn Them
Nurturing our children's STEM skills is more crucial than ever. If you're a parent looking to teach important STEM skills to your middle schoolers, you've reached the right blog post.
We'll explore 5 key skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). These skills set a strong foundation for academic success and open doors to many exciting careers in our tech-driven society.
We'll explain what are STEM skills, why they matter, and offer practical teaching strategies.
Whether your child is already enthusiastic about technology or you're hoping to ignite that passion, this guide is designed to empower their STEM journey.
And before we start, here's a chart from the US Department of Labor.
Image source: https://blog.dol.gov/
In the next several years, the number of available STEM jobs is expected to skyrocket! So, if there ever was a time to teach your kids valuable STEM skills - it's today.
Now, let's start right away with the #1 STEM skill you can start teaching your kids right away.
STEM Skill #1: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the cornerstone of intellectual growth and problem-solving prowess. It's a skill that goes beyond memorization. it encourages students to question, analyze, and form reasoned judgments.
For middle schoolers navigating a world filled with information and ideas, fostering critical thinking abilities is crucial. In this section, we'll talk about what critical thinking entails and why it's a fundamental skill for your child's educational journey.
What is critical thinking and why does it matter for middle schoolers?
Critical thinking is not merely a buzzword; it's a skill that equips young minds with the ability to question, evaluate, and understand information on a deeper level. It's the skill that encourages them to ask "why" and "how" rather than just "what."
It's crucial for middle schoolers for several reasons:
It promotes a deeper understanding of subjects by encouraging students to go beyond surface-level knowledge.
Critical thinkers are better equipped to solve complex problems, a skill valuable in academics and daily life.
It helps middle schoolers make informed decisions based on evidence and logic.
Critical thinking is a skill highly sought after by universities and future employers.
It fosters curiosity and a desire to explore, which is crucial for lifelong learning.
How to teach your kids to become critical thinkers?
Teaching your kid to become a critical thinker requires a bit of creativity - that is, if you're looking to get their complete attention. But the methods are pretty simple. Here are some strategies that have proven to be successful:
1) Questioning exercises
Encourage your kids to ask questions about the world around them. Ask them open-ended questions and try to get their opinion - rather than getting a "yes" or "no" answer.
2) Debate and discussion
Engage your middle schooler in a debate/discussion on topics of interest. This will help them reevaluate their opinions, find out how to present arguments, and simply to sharpen their ability to think on more deeper levels of understanding.
3) Socratic questioning
Introduce the concept of Socratic questioning, which involves asking probing questions to stimulate critical thinking and exploration. This is a great teaching method, not only for middle schoolers, but even for us adults.
4) Reading and analysis
Reading is a wonderful activity that enriches our vocabulary and expands our minds with new ideas. Try encouraging your kids to read books of different genres and ask them, for example, to analyze book characters' motivations.
5) Logic games
Playing board and logic games means - adapting to a set of new rules and using logic to make the best out of your current situation. Playing a few games of chess with your kids on a weekly basis will surely enough help them in developing critical thinking skills.
All these activities are not only designed to teach your kids to become critical thinkers, but also to have fun in the process. They make the learning process much more engaging and enjoyable.
STEM Skill #2: Problem-solving
Problem-solving is a skill that transcends the boundaries of subjects and disciplines, making it an invaluable asset for middle schoolers. It's the art of untangling complex issues and finding innovative solutions.
In this section, we'll talk about in detail about problem-solving, unravel what it truly means, and why it's an essential skill for your middle schoolers.
Understanding the role of problem-solving in STEM
Problem-solving is the heartbeat of progress in STEM. It's the driving force behind innovation, discovery, and the solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges.
In the context of STEM, problem-solving isn't just about finding answers to specific questions. It's a versatile skill that empowers individuals to tackle complex, real-world problems.
Problem-solving is a crucial skill for middle schoolers for several reasons:
Innovation and advancement in STEM fields relies heavily on creative problem-solving
Hands-on problem-solving experiences, such as experiments and coding, enable active learning, enhancing their understanding of STEM concepts.
Problem-solving skills are intrinsic to scientific research, allowing researchers to design experiments, analyze data, and expand knowledge in STEM fields.
They will learn to make informed decisions based on evidence and logic rather than impulsive reactions.
How to nurture problem-solving skills in middle schoolers
Teaching your kids to become versatile problem-solvers is essential to their growth and future success. It's inevitable that their lives will be riddled with various challenges and obstacles. Knowing how to overcome them makes all the difference.
Here are some actionable strategies for teaching your middle schoolers about problem-solving:
1) Encourage curiosity
Children are curious by nature. Asking them questions about topics that interest them will just fuel their quest for knowledge. Ask them - why, when, who, how, and what if? Watch how they form their opinions and propose solutions to some critical problems.
2) Present real-life challenges
To become master problem-solvers, they'll need to solve some real-word (and age-appropriate) challenges that require a creative approach. For example, try asking them to plan a family get-together.
Or even better, engage them in community service projects where they must identify a local issue and brainstorm solutions.
3) Collaborative projects
Solving problems in a team is a whole different area. They'll need to work together with their peers, communicate their ideas effectively, and organize internally to solve problems as a team. Often in life, they'll be met with challenges where they'll need to rely on their teammates - and what better way to prepare for that than to join forces with their middle school peers!
To find these projects, think about encouraging them to join a club or a group - like science clubs or robotics teams.
4) DIY projects
One of the best ways to raise problem-solvers is to have them work on DIY projects. And the best part is - these projects are a great opportunity to bond with your kids and act as a role model for them. For example, try building a birdhouse together! Discuss potential problems that may arise, talk about what resources and tools you'll need, and how to assemble the birdhouse. They'll have a few ideas already stored in their pocket.
Or you could get our DIY STEM kit designed for middle schoolers (and older kids and adults)!
5) Explore diverse subjects
Problems and challenges throughout life are rarely one-dimensional. Encouraging your kids to explore various fields and take interest in a wide range of subjects will best prepare them for the future. They'll develop a broad problem-solving toolkit which will prepare them for overcoming academic, business, and life challenges.
STEM Skill #3: Creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation drive the exploration of uncharted territories, the development of groundbreaking technologies, and the crafting of solutions to our most pressing challenges. And for pursuing a STEM career path - these skills are essential.
In this section, we'll explore what these creativity and innovation entail and why they are essential for your middle schooler's educational journey.
Importance of creativity and innovation in STEM education
Creativity and innovation serve as twin pillars that support the entire edifice of STEM. They are not just desirable; they are essential for the advancement of knowledge and the transformation of theoretical concepts into real-world applications.
Here are just some of the reasons why should you teach creativity and innovation to middle schoolers (yes, it can be taught):
High levels of creativity are essential for approaching problems from a fresh perspective and crafting innovative solutions through unconventional thinking.
There are few well-trodden paths in STEM. Creativity is a compass that guides scientics and researchers into the unknown. Creating something innovative - whatever it may be - cannot be achieved without a creative approach.
Nurturing creativity and innovations sparks a lifelong love for learning - beneficial for academic and professional success.
Encouraging creativity helps students grasp core principles by experimenting and connecting the dots.
Who could've thought that your kids could build their own DJ mixer in just a few hours? And what better way to learn STEM skills?
How to inspire creativity in middle schoolers?
Nurturing creativity in middle schoolers is an investment in their future. It's about fostering a mindset that values innovation, embraces curiosity, and celebrates out-of-the-box thinking.
Here are some strategies you can start employing even today:
1) Provide unstructured playtime
Unstructured play isn't just about fun; it's the secret sauce for creativity. It's where your child becomes the director of their own adventure. Give them time and space for imaginative exploration.
Whether it's building towering structures with building blocks, crafting fantastical tales through action figures, or simply running wild in the park, these unscripted moments provide a blank canvas for their creativity to shine. Through play, they learn to think on their feet, adapt, and come up with solutions to unexpected challenges.
2) Promote risk-taking
Taking risks is the hallmark of innovation and creativity. Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone. Let them know that it's okay to make mistakes because that's where the best ideas often sprout. Share stories of famous inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs who faced setbacks but persevered.
The more they see risk as an opportunity rather than a roadblock, the more they'll embrace innovation and creativity in their pursuits.
3) Encourage reading
Reading is like a treasure hunt for ideas. Expand their literary horizons beyond textbooks. Dive into the magical realms of fantasy, explore the mysteries of science fiction, or venture into the past with historical novels.
As you read together, ask open-ended questions like, "What do you think will happen next?" or "How would you solve this problem if you were the character?" This invites them to think creatively, predict outcomes, and develop a deeper connection with the story.
4) Arts & crafts
Arts and crafts aren't just about making something pretty; they're a canvas for self-expression. Encourage your child to experiment with various art forms. Painting allows them to blend colors and textures to convey emotions. Sculpting with clay or crafting with recyclables teaches resourcefulness and transforms ordinary objects into art.
Through these creative outlets, they learn that there's no right or wrong way to express themselves – it's all about letting their imagination flow freely.
5) Limit screen time
Excessive screen time can put a damper on creativity. Encourage your child to put down screens and engage with the tangible world. Explore your neighborhood, visit museums, or simply go cloud-watching. The real world is a wellspring of inspiration.
Set limits on screen time to ensure that they have plenty of opportunities for hands-on exploration, active play, and meaningful interactions.
6) Encourage journaling
A journal is like a magical portal to their inner world. Encourage your child to keep one, not as a chore, but as a private space for thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Besides enhancing their writing skills, journaling helps them clarify their thoughts, reflect on experiences, and brainstorm creative ideas.
Suggest different journaling prompts – from describing a dream adventure to imagining what they'd do with a superpower. Over time, they'll develop a treasure trove of creative musings.
With these strategies, you'll give all the tools to your child to think creatively, setting the stage for a future rich with innovation and discovery in the world of STEM and beyond.
Another quick note! Remember Tamagotchis? Well now, your kids can build their own from scratch. CircuitPet is one of our coolest STEM projects - and you can get it delivered to your doorstep as a part of our STEM Box subscription!
STEM Skill #4: Collaboration
Collaboration isn't just about working together; it's the dynamic fusion of minds, where innovation thrives and creative sparks ignite. It's when your middle schooler joins forces with peers, combining their unique strengths to tackle challenges as a team.
In this section, we'll uncover why collaboration is more than a buzzword in STEM and how to cultivate this essential skill in your budding scientist or engineer.
How important is collaboration in STEM fields
More often than not, your kids will find themselves in situations where teamwork is the only way to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle. Whatever STEM career they decide to pursue, teamwork will prove to be a valuable skill - sometimes even more important than technical skills.
Here's why teamwork is absolutely necessary in STEM:
It amplifies capabilities as diverse minds join forces, achieving more together than alone.
STEM issues are intricate; collaboration combines expertise from various angles to tackle complexity effectively.
Collaborative teams spark creative ideas, driving innovative solutions in STEM.
Research collaborations expedite discoveries, exploring a wider range of hypotheses.
It facilitates knowledge exchange, critical in fast-paced STEM fields.
STEM demands creative solutions; collaboration pools diverse problem-solving skills.
Collaboration ensures STEM innovations benefit society practically, not just in theory
How to get your middle schoolers to work in a team?
Middle school is a crucial time for your child to develop teamwork skills, setting the foundation for success in school and beyond. Effective teamwork involves collaboration, communication, and mutual respect.
1) Emphasize the value of teamwork
Talk to your child about the importance of teamwork in various aspects of life. Explain that when people collaborate, they can achieve bigger and better things.
Share stories of famous teams, from sports like basketball or football to partnerships like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founding Apple. Highlight how teamwork contributed to their success.
2) Assign group projects
Encourage your child to engage in group projects, both in school and in extracurricular activities. Explain how group projects provide a chance to learn how to work harmoniously with peers. When they work in a team, they can pool their strengths and come up with creative solutions.
Also, encourage them to take on different roles in these projects; like a leader, organizer, or contributor.
3) Teach conflict resolution
Explain that it's normal for teams to encounter conflicts or disagreements. Emphasize the importance of addressing these issues constructively. Teach your child conflict resolution skills, such as active listening, compromise, and finding common ground.
Share examples of how resolving conflicts positively can lead to better teamwork and stronger relationships.
4) Be a team player at home
Demonstrate teamwork within the family. Involve your child in decision-making processes, such as planning family outings or organizing household tasks. Show them that everyone plays a role in making family activities successful.
This helps them understand how teamwork functions in a familiar context.
5) Join extracurricular clubs
Encourage your child to explore extracurricular clubs or groups that align with their interests. These can include sports teams, debate clubs, or even volunteering organizations.
Participation in such clubs not only enhances their skills but also exposes them to diverse teamwork scenarios. Discuss their experiences in these clubs to reinforce the importance of teamwork even further.
6) Praise teamwork efforts
Acknowledge and celebrate your child's teamwork efforts. When you notice them working well with others, provide specific praise. For instance, say, "I saw how you actively listened to your teammate's ideas during the science project – that's excellent teamwork." Positive reinforcement reinforces their understanding of what constitutes good teamwork.
7) Reflect on team experiences
Engage in regular conversations with your child about their team experiences. Ask open-ended questions like, "What challenges did your team face today, and how did you work together to overcome them?" or "What did you learn about teamwork during your club meeting?" Encourage them to reflect on their experiences, as this helps reinforce their learning and growth in teamwork skills.
By expanding on these strategies, you're providing your middle schooler with a strong foundation for effective teamwork, which will benefit them throughout their academic journey and beyond.
STEM Skill #5: Coding
Coding isn't just a language of machines; it's a language of the future. In today's tech-driven world, the ability to code is akin to having a superpower – it empowers your child to create, innovate, and shape the digital landscape.
Think of it as a tool that bridges imagination with reality.
In this section, we'll spill the beans about why computer programming is a vital skill for your middle schooler to master, and how it opens doors to a realm of endless possibilities.
How important is coding in today’s world
Coding, once confined to the realm of computer scientists and software engineers, has become a fundamental skill for navigating our modern world. It's not just about crafting lines of text that make computers do tricks; it's about unlocking the doors to innovation, problem-solving, and countless career opportunities.
Here's why coding is so crucial:
Technology is all around us, from smartphones to smart homes. Understanding how these devices work, and being able to program them, grants you the power to customize and optimize your digital experiences.
Coding is essentially the art of problem-solving translated into a language computers understand. It teaches you to break down complex issues into smaller, manageable parts and develop logical solutions. This skill is invaluable in various professions.
The job market is evolving, with an increasing demand for tech-savvy individuals. Coding skills open doors to a wide range of careers, from software development to data analysis, and even fields like medicine and finance.
Learning to code fosters a growth mindset. It teaches you how to learn, adapt, and keep up with rapidly evolving technologies – a skill crucial for lifelong learning.
Coding isn't just about numbers and syntax; it's a form of creative expression. You can design websites, develop video games, or create interactive art installations, pushing the boundaries of your imagination.
Code is a universal language that transcends borders. In an interconnected world, it enables collaboration with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
In essence, coding has become a foundational literacy of the 21st century, much like reading and writing.
Middle schoolers who grasp the essence of computer programs and computer science in general, gain a significant advantage, not only in their STEM education but in their future endeavors, where coding proficiency is a passport to an exciting and ever-evolving digital landscape.
How to teach your kids to code?
So, you're ready to introduce your kids to the world of coding? Awesome! It's like opening a door to a realm where creativity meets problem-solving. To kickstart their coding adventure, here are 7 strategies that will make the journey not just educational but loads of fun:
1) Start with exciting projects:
When introducing your kids to coding, kick things off with exciting, hands-on projects that captivate their imagination. Consider tasks like designing their own games, creating interactive stories, or crafting animations.
These initial projects provide a sense of accomplishment, igniting their passion for coding. Plus, the "wow" factor of seeing their creations come to life is unparalleled motivation.
2) Explore kid-friendly coding tools
Coding can seem intimidating, but there's a whole world of kid-friendly coding tools waiting to be explored. Platforms like Scratch, Blockly, and CircuitBlocks offer colorful, interactive interfaces designed with young learners in mind.
They provide step-by-step tutorials, making coding accessible and engaging. These tools act as digital playgrounds where your kids can experiment, learn, and express their creativity through code.
3) Nurture independent exploration
Encourage your kids to take the reins in their coding journey. Let them explore various aspects of coding, from designing websites to crafting mobile apps. This independence not only bolsters their problem-solving skills but also allows them to express their unique creativity.
Mistakes along the way? Embrace them as valuable learning opportunities. Independent exploration instills resilience and a sense of ownership over their coding projects.
4) Show how coding rocks the real world
Make coding relevant by showing your kids how it powers the real world. Explain that coding is the language behind their favorite video games, websites, and even the technology they use daily.
Explore coding's impact on various industries, from entertainment to healthcare and beyond. Understanding the practical applications of coding fuels their curiosity and underscores its importance.
5) Challenge their coding skills
As your kids become more proficient, introduce coding challenges to keep their enthusiasm burning bright. These challenges can take the form of coding puzzles, mini-projects, or tackling more complex coding tasks.
Challenges are like treasure maps leading to valuable coding skills. They stimulate critical thinking, encourage problem-solving, and inspire your kids to push their boundaries.
6) Celebrate every milestone
Break the coding journey into smaller, achievable milestones. Celebrate each one, no matter how modest. Completing a coding project, solving a particularly tricky problem, or leveling up in a coding skill are all victories to cherish. Celebrations foster a sense of accomplishment, boost the kids' confidence, and keep the motivation flowing.
Plus, they make the coding journey feel like a series of exciting adventures.
7) Code together = bond together
Transform coding into a family activity. Learning to code together not only provides an opportunity for you to guide and mentor your children but also strengthens family bonds. Collaborative coding sessions create shared memories and experiences.
You'll witness your kids' growth firsthand, and they might surprise you with their ingenuity. Plus, coding as a family promotes a growth mindset, emphasizing that it's okay to learn and make mistakes together.
By implementing these seven strategies, you'll provide your kids with a well-rounded and enjoyable coding education that can set them on a path to discovering the creative and problem-solving wonders of coding.
What kind of careers can your middle schoolers go after mastering STEM skills?
The world is full of exciting possibilities for middle schoolers who love STEM. While they're learning, they're also preparing for future careers. Here's a look at some cool jobs your middle schooler can aim for by mastering STEM skills.
STEM careers aren't just about using science and tech; they're about making things, solving problems, and discovering new stuff. But here's the fascinating part: STEM skills aren't confined to STEM jobs.
When your middle schooler learns STEM skills, they're not just opening doors to STEM careers; they're unlocking countless possibilities in the broader job market. It's like having a superpower that helps them excel in whatever path they choose.
How and where can your middle schoolers learn STEM skills?
Empowering your middle schoolers with STEM skills is a journey that can begin at any time. Whether it's at home or at school, offline or online, there are many ways to teach STEM skills.
Here's how to do it:
1) Ensure your kids are participating in STEM-related courses as a part of their school curriculum. Many middle schools offer these courses, and it's a great way for them to slowly dive into the world of STEM.
2) Online courses on platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and edX are an excellent source of knowledge on various STEM topics. STEM courses on these platforms often come at a low cost, so think about enrolling your middle schoolers in one of these courses.
3) STEM kits are great for providing hands-on learning experience. STEM kits usually include various STEM projects, tools, and components needed to complete a certain project. Luckily, we can help you with that!
4) Hiring a STEM tutor could be a good move if you want your kids to receive a personalized learning experience. From chemistry to coding, today it is easy to find a tutor for almost any STEM field and skill. There are even some STEM mentorship programs you can apply to and find a STEM professional to guide your little ones.
5) STEM-related books are a treasure trove of invaluable information. To master the foundations of specific STEM fields and get a good grasp on what skills are needed to perform, STEM-related books are almost an inevitable learning medium for any middle schooler. Not to mention - reading is cool!
By exploring these avenues, you can create a rich and diverse learning environment for your middle schoolers, nurturing their STEM skills and inspiring them to pursue exciting future possibilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
CircuitMess has the best STEM kits for kids of all ages
As you dive into STEM education with your kids, remember - it's all about nurturing creativity, problem-solving, and a lifelong love for learning. Through exciting projects and kid-friendly tools, you're preparing them for a future of digital literacy and scientific curiosity.
And what better way to teach your middle schooler valuable STEM skills than with our STEM Box?
Every 3 months, you'll get a new, exciting STEM project delivered to your doorstep. Each box contains all the tools and components you'll need to complete the project. And it's incredibly fun! From building and coding your own smartwatch to assembling a robotic arm from scratch - we've got some cool projects you'll want to get your hands on.
Whether your child is coding, exploring electronics, or diving into STEM, CircuitMess is the perfect companion for a fun and interactive learning journey. Embrace the joy of learning, and watch your children thrive as they master essential STEM skills.