Teaching

How Bringing STEM Experts Into Your Classroom Can Help Engage Students

By Lauraine Langreo — November 09, 2022 4 min read
Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class
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Three new guides from the Voya Foundation’s National STEM Fellowship and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) give educators ideas on how to provide high-quality STEM career engagement experiences for their students.

The STEM Career Engagement Guides are broken down into elementary, middle, and high school levels and provide steps toward “intentionally incorporating STEM career possibilities into the classroom,” according to a press release accompanying the guides.

The guides come as jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow twice as fast as those in non-STEM fields, and millions of STEM jobs are expected to go unfilled in the near future, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students need to know about these careers and have confidence in themselves that “they can take on the challenges that the future will place in front of them,” said Kristen Record, one of the co-leaders of the National STEM Fellowship and the 2011 Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

How can teachers invite STEM professionals into the classroom to have authentic engagement with their students that would fuel their interest in those careers, help them understand what they need to do to be successful, and reveal career opportunities perhaps they’ve never heard of before? That’s the question that led Voya STEM fellows to develop the career guides, Record said.

Bringing in these speakers can provide “relevance to the content in your classroom,” said Dyane Smokorowski, the other co-leader of the fellowship and the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year. “Often, you’ll hear students say, ‘When am I ever going to need this?’ Having someone share how they use this information or the skill sets every day is like, ‘Oh, wait a minute. There’s a career connection to why I’m learning this content.’”

Voya Foundation’s National STEM Fellowship, established in 2017, began as a way for State Teachers of the Year with STEM expertise to mentor early career educators about what excellent STEM teaching looks like.

The Voya STEM fellows found that “there was a whole bunch more that we didn’t know about [teacher] preparation and STEM careers,” Record said. “Learning about STEM careers is not part of teacher preparation.”

And even if teachers want to find guest speakers to engage their students, many of them don’t know how to find those speakers, Smokorowski said. She added that the guides offer educators a path to find “entry points, no matter where they are with technology, where they are with feeling comfortable in engaging a guest speaker, or how to prepare students to work with a guest speaker.”

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Each guide, written by educators working in those grade levels, starts with an overview of why it’s important to engage students in STEM at that particular grade level. Then, it walks teachers through how to:

  • Select speakers appropriate for their students;
  • Prepare speakers to engage with students;
  • Get students ready to engage with the guest;
  • Sustain the connection with the guest beyond a one-time event.

“As you go up through the grades, it’s leveling up the exposure at an age-appropriate and grade-appropriate transition for their own career and college success later on,” Record said.

Here are some tips from the guides:

  • Be intentional about the timing to host a speaker: A speaker can be a way to kick off new material, to enhance student work or dive deeper into concepts, or to provide closure to a unit.
  • Find STEM professionals in your community: Teachers can reach out to former students, family members, representatives of local companies, or a local college professor. There are also free online resources that connect STEM professionals to classrooms. Teachers should also consider inviting speakers who provide diverse representation for their students.
  • Prepare the speaker: Don’t assume STEM professionals know how to interact with students, and set clear expectations with speakers by providing talking points so they can better engage with students.
  • Prepare the students: Provide background context to students and help them come up with questions about the speaker’s work, and encourage students to use their previous knowledge to help make connections between themselves and the speaker.
  • What to do after the presentation: Have students reflect on the presentation (whether through journaling or through visual displays) and share that feedback with the speaker to help encourage and strengthen future collaborations. Student reflections can also be highlighted through social media platforms or the school website. Teachers can also encourage speakers to leave contact information so students can reach out with follow-up questions.

These STEM engagement activities will show students that “there are more STEM careers out there than engineer, scientist, and doctor,” Record said. Some of the other growing STEM careers are software developers, information security analysts, data scientists, and statisticians, according to a U.S. Department of Labor blog post.

“As a physics teacher, I’m not deluded enough to think that my 50 kids are going to go be engineers or physics majors,” Record said. “But they will use those [STEM] skills in some type of career.”

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Sophomore Byron Barksdale, part of the aviation program at Magruder High School, takes a look at the exposed engine of a plane during a visit to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 6, 2022.
Sophomore Byron Barksdale, part of the aviation program at Magruder High School, takes a look at the exposed engine of a plane during a visit to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 6, 2022.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week

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