Keeping students interested in STEM subjects can be a challenge as the work and material becomes more dense and challenging, something that will often become an issue when you try to keep your students excited about engineering classes.
Engineering topics in particular can get dry or difficult if not taught in a way that successfully maintains interest and gives students a positive experience.
What’s most important to remember is that engineering does require a great deal of creativity and problem-solving, making it an inherently interesting subject once you look past the often challenging mathematical elements.
Show Real-Life Application
As a supplement to the regular curriculum, it is always useful and beneficial to take time to show kids how everything they are learning can be applied.
If they are in a math or science class and the opportunity arises to show engineering in action, absolutely take it. You can do so by organizing field trips, bringing up real engineers and their accomplishments during lectures or even organizing a career day to have an engineer talk to the class.
David Dodge, CEO of Codakid, knows firsthand how tricky it can be to help kids maintain interest in STEM fields like engineering:
“Kids have a ton of energy, whether they’re in elementary, middle or high school. Particularly smaller children will have a harder time focusing on things like lectures and worksheets and need hands-on and solid experiences. Showing kids at any age what they could do with the material they are learning has drastic impacts on their interest and likelihood of success. And, of course, the more they succeed, the more positivity they will associate with the subject in the future.”
It can be hard to maintain kids’ interest when they are only working through problems and learning about theories.
If you don’t have the ability, authority or funding to organize career days or field trips, you could always consider assigning presentations or projects on the topic of well-known engineers or accomplishments in the field.
By keeping up with a more dynamic curriculum, the likelihood of sparking the interest of a potential future engineer skyrockets.
One thing that has been a proven boost in motivation in any area is using project-based tasks and assignments.
The idea behind project-based assignments basically surrounds an emphasis on larger tasks over an extended period of time rather than multiple smaller tasks.
Kids will often see smaller things like homework and worksheets as tedious and out of their control, diminishing their motivation to take charge of their learning experience and really find interest in the subject matter.
By assigning larger and more creativity-driven projects, you give the students an opportunity to really make the assignment their own, organizing their time and milestones and working through problems and hiccups as they arise.
Since they feel more in control of the project and how they tackle it, they feel more in control of their success as well. This is one of the key components in keeping anyone motivated, as it is much easier to lose interest and focus when the results feel completely out of your hands.
Not only will this help keep students excited about engineering classes throughout their youth, it will also give them a taste of the application of everything that they’re learning.
By seeing the kind of things they could be doing in a career of engineering, kids will be much more likely to take the subject seriously as a personal interest that they may end up pursuing later in life as a career.
Teach Them Coding
A last suggestion for keeping kids interested in engineering classes is to incorporate coding into the curriculum, even if only as an optional or extra credit lesson.
Teaching kids to code may seem off topic in many curriculums. After all, it seems rather specific to computer science and not as important in other STEM areas.
Not only is coding beneficial to pretty much any STEM subject, it is also an incredibly beneficial and lucrative skill that will offer any given student the opportunity for job security later in life.
By 2020, it is expected that there will be about a million open jobs in the U.S. tech industry. Additionally, coding is used in virtually every industry nowadays including medicine, farming, business, law, education and, of course, engineering.
If the obvious benefits of coding in STEM fields isn’t enough, it also promotes a variety of other base skills that students will find useful in every area of life.
Just based on the project-based nature and the content of coding in general, students will strengthen their creativity, problem-solving, discipline, communication, mathematical skills and more.
Aside from all of the benefits, coding is fun. Kids can make their own games and exercise their creativity in a way that is interesting to them and makes them want to keep learning and working on improvement. This will likely transfer to other areas of their STEM education, including your root focus of engineering, math and science.
If there isn’t room to incorporate coding into your class, you could also consider starting and running an after-school club that you can encourage kids to join.
For extra incentives, you could consider making the club an extra-credit opportunity or a replacement for a different assignment the students would otherwise need to complete. You could also use your creativity to think of a different incentive that fits your style!
There are also a variety of educational coding games you could simply introduce to your students that they could pursue in their own time. Of course, you could also make yourself available to discuss these games and their projects with them outside of class to strengthen their interest and your relationship!
However you manage to do it, it’s important to make sure kids are exposed to coding as early on as possible to guarantee an advantage and interest in STEM later in life.
No matter what age group you are teaching, the ultimate goal is to drive students towards success in and passion for the subject you are showing them.
When it comes to STEM subjects like engineering, this can obviously be a difficult thing to achieve amongst the equations, terminology and theories.
By making sure to show your students real-world applications of engineering, incorporating more project-based assignments into your curriculum and teaching your students how to code, you are definitely on the right track to making this goal a reality.
Plus, if you can keep your students excited about engineering classes, you just may inspire future members of that career field as well.