STEM Starts at Home!

By Jake Murray and Barbara Joseph

Largely missing from the national focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education is an appreciation for how families promote learning.  Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that parent involvement in children’s learning is positively related to their academic success. This holds true across all school communities, grades, ages of students, and content areas .

A key to successful family engagement in support of learning is the comfort-level of parents and caregivers in the areas that their children are studying.  Many parents and caregivers, however, are not familiar with STEM topics; some are even ‘STEM-phobic.’  At the same time, they are extremely busy with limited time to engage children in enriching and fun ways that excite them about and promote learning.  These parents and caregivers are then at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting their child in STEM topics at home and especially in cultivating a passion for STEM areas and careers that can sustain children’s interest in these critical areas as they progress through school.

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Recognizing this ‘STEM knowledge gap’ and the time constraints faced by many families, Wheelock College and the Sylvia Earl Innovation Fund recently awarded the Aspire Institute a grant to develop an applet that provides this accessible information in STEM concepts to greatly enhance parent/child engagement in elementary age STEM areas.  Through fun facts, engaging experiments, and thoughtful discussion points developed by Wheelock faculty and other experts, this applet will offer STEM information that can be weaved seamlessly into everyday activities – such as dinner conversations, car rides, and family nights.  For example, parent-child STEM activities might include:

  • Finding the largest 3-digit number possible on license plates while driving to school. If the license plate is 517-8331, the largest number would be 875.
  • Watching the phases of the moon each night together when walking the dog or just going outside for a few minutes, and recording the changes in a graph.
  • Sharing the ‘fun fact’ that you would have to walk for seven hours straight to burn off a supersized Coke, fry and Big Mac.

Of course, there are numerous websites available that provide fun math and science facts and games for elementary age students. Yet, the reality is that parents have limited time to search the web for this kind of data to engage their children. More importantly, data on the web does not structure parent/child engagement. Providing an applet that will automatically send snippets of fun data to parents allows them to engage with their child in STEM areas in a fun and interactive way.  Not only will the facts and data be engaging, we will connect this information to real life experience of families.



Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as an organizational leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner

Barbara Joseph joined Aspire in December 2010 as STEP Project Manager for a NASA-funded grant. Her role is to manage the development and rollout of high-quality online math and science in-service courses to elementary teachers.

Image from flickr user woodysworld1778 .