STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects can be a challenge for students, however, as educators and parents we can help prepare our students for these challenges by equipping them with a growth mindset. This specific mindset encourages students to problem solve, overcome failure and develop a deep love for learning new concepts—which are all critical for STEM education success. Before we can teach kids about a growth mindset, we must first understand the term.
The concept of growth mindset was first developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who explains that, “With a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Students who embrace growth mindsets—the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere—may learn more, learn it more quickly, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve their learning and skills.”
What does a growth mindset mean for STEM education?
There is a persevering idea that if you are not innately good at STEM subjects, or do not fit the mold of what society thinks an engineer or scientist should be, then a career in STEM isn’t for you. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Now, more than ever, STEM fields needs individuals that are willing to break the mold and think outside of the box. As technology continues to grow and transform society, STEM fields need people that truly embody a growth mindset.
How can you encourage a growth mindset?
- Demonstrate to students that learning is a process. We commonly see teachers demonstrating this with a project-based-learning capstone project. Structuring lesson plans so they build in complexity toward a final semester or year-end project encourages students to look at a concept in a multitude of ways. For example, in an engineering course you might start with a basic theory, test it, develop a proof-of-concept and then ultimately 3D print the final design. This hands-on learning opportunity allows students to progress towards a common goal while applying new concepts throughout the project’s development.
- Real-world demonstrations. Focus on building an overarching understanding of a concept rather than placing too much emphasis on short-term knowledge. One way of doing this is by connecting learning to real-world applications. For example, students can choose a global issue and work together towards solving it through robotics or product design. This type of hands-on-learning allows students to see the true implications of their work and understand how it applies to a real world situation.
- Praise children for their effort. Instead of telling children that they are intelligent, focus on praising their hard work and perseverance. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Carol Dweck explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
- Bring in professionals. Students need to see professionals in STEM fields. Invite professionals into the classroom to speak to students about their career and what first motivated them to pursue it. Giving students a chance to connect with STEM professionals is both encouraging and motivating.
Engineers and other STEM professionals play a vital role in society—we need to encourage today’s students to be tomorrow’s STEM leaders.
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