3 Ways High Schoolers Can Build Competencies in STEM

Posted on November 8th, 2019 6:41pm
By: paulteitelman

Building a Strong Foundation is Crucial for STEM Success

Perhaps no four letters are as important for building a successful career in the 21st century as STEM. 

Since this acronym was coined more than twenty years ago (STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and math”), it has revolutionized the way schools prepare students to enter the workforce. By focussing on integrated knowledge and problem-solving, a STEM-based approach provides students with skills and know-how rather than just data.

But while STEM has become a major force in university learning, especially in professional disciplines like engineering, it still hasn’t filtered down to the vast majority of Canadian public schools. Unless you are able to send your kids to a high school that specializes in technology and the sciences, your options for giving your kids a STEM-specific secondary education can be sparse.

So how can high schoolers in Ontario’s regular public school system build the STEM competencies that will give them a competitive advantage once they get to college or university?

Here are three practical ways you can help your teenager get a solid grounding in STEM, regardless of what the specialized offerings at their local high school are.   

1. Get the Most Out of the Resources You Have

Even if your high school doesn’t offer specialized options, that doesn’t mean there aren’t resources available to help your child improve the core competencies in science, technology, engineering, and math. Be creative about taking advantage of what is available at your local school and the wider community.

For example, many Ontario high schools are now offering students extracurricular programming clubs that can help them improve math and science skills, or engage in community activities like science fairs. Extracurricular activities can be a great supplement to the regular curriculum, because they engage students’ creativity and curiosity and offer more opportunities for exploration.

In addition to extracurricular activities, you may also want to consider whether tutoring might be a beneficial way of providing targeted educational support to help you get help with your Toronto science homework and build a strong foundation for post-secondary study.

Tutoring can provide a variety of benefits to Ontario high school students, including:

  • Extra help with particular areas of struggle
  • One-on-one lessons that allow students to move at their own pace
  • Teaching tailored to the Ontario school curriculum
  • Confidence-building support that can strengthen core competencies
  • Flexible scheduling that gives students help when they need it

Tutoring can play a transformative role when it comes to helping students prepare for a career in STEM not only by supplementing the education they are receiving at school, but also by giving them the opportunity to address their own areas of weakness.

No matter what your teenager struggles with most, Toronto chemistry tutors and math tutors and biology tutors can help them overcome the hardest parts of the curriculum, and start to see the real-world applications of all this abstract knowledge.

By getting the most out of the resources you have at your disposal, whether that be extracurricular support from your school or tutoring help from qualified professionals, you can make STEM learning a part of your child’s life, no matter where they go to school.

2. Don’t Neglect Language and Critical Thinking Skills

The nature of our education system is such that students are, once they reach high school, encouraged to focus either on the sciences or the humanities. While necessary for pragmatic reasons, this kind of educational streaming can have a number of adverse effects, chief among them being that students studying the sciences often don’t see the point of language arts, while arts students may conclude that science is dull and uncreative.

This practical division is necessary for preparing students to operate in a specialized economy, but it can also lead to an uneven development of skills. A student interested in software engineering, for example, may know a lot about the technical side of their work while having great difficulties communicating what they know to others.

While some school boards have made moves to overhaul this approach to education in recent years, it looks as though the system will continue to operate this way for the foreseeable future.

This means that if you want to help your high schooler stand out from the crowd in the world of STEM, helping them improve their communication and critical thinking skills is one of the best ways to do so. 

STEM isn’t just a series of overlapping fields. It’s also an educational philosophy designed to apply disparate kinds of knowledge to the tackling the problems of the modern world. And developing skills in STEM is about more than just knowing the math and science: it’s about mastering the communication and critical thinking skills needed to find big picture solutions.

Here are just a few ways that enhancing your high schooler’s language, critical, and creative thinking skills can help them improve STEM competencies such as:

  • Horizontal Thinking: Many researchers divide thinking into two categories: vertical thinking is analytic, methodical, stepwise, deep, and particular, while horizontal thinking tends to be associative, multidirectional, creative, and broad. While math and science tend to involve a lot of vertical thinking, the arts tend to be much more horizontal. Students who are able to operate using both kinds of thinking have a far greater capacity to innovate.
  • Capacity for Teamwork: The era of solitary inventors working away in their shops is long gone, so if you want to work in STEM, you need to be a team player. Traditional arts subjects like theatre can help students learn to become productive members of a creative team who can develop collaborative solutions under stressful and time-limited conditions.
  • Ability to Play Different Roles: Given the constantly-evolving nature of science and technology, preparing for a career in STEM means learning to excel at a number of different tasks. The workers best positioned to play a variety of roles are the ones who have strong communication and people skills as well as being versed in the specialized knowledge of their field, which is why improving language and communication skills can be a major asset in the world of STEM.

All of this means that if you want to help high school students prepare for a career in STEM, you will want to do more than just encourage them to excel in STEM-related disciplines.

In our experience, science tutors in Pickering and other communities in the Greater Toronto Area often find that the students who are best positioned for future work in STEM are the ones who have been able to supplement their knowledge of science and math with concrete skills from disciplines like English, theatre, creative writing, and music.

3. Get Involved in Collaborative Education

As we have discussed, the world of STEM is a collaborative one. It won’t matter how good your high school student is at algebra and physics if the don’t also know how to work with people who have different but complementary skill sets.

The workplace of the future, as many business experts have noted, is going to be a collaborative one, so in addition to bolstering your child’s chances of getting into a good school by finding them the best science tutor Markham has to offer, you might also want to take advantage of the collaborative education opportunities that exist in your community.

Fortunately, parents in the Greater Toronto Area have a wealth of options to choose from, including a range of different science camps and STEM-specific educational clubs designed to give kids an opportunity to start developing their skills early.

Enrolling your teens in a extracurricular activities relating to science, math, and STEM won’t just give them an opportunity to practice collaborative learning and problem solving, it can also be a great way to connect with people in Toronto’s scientific community who can help advise you on other educational opportunities.

Naturally, this kind of activity also looks good on university applications, when the time comes for your child to take the next step in their education journey.  

It is never to early to help your kids start building a strong foundation in the analytic skills they will need if they decide to go into a STEM-related field, and even if you aren’t able to enrol your child in a secondary school with a particular commitment to sciences, math, and technology, you can still help them improve their math, science, and problem solving skills.  

If you want to learn more about how you can give your child a head start in building their STEM competencies, get in touch with Prep Academy Tutors to learn more about our unique approach to tutoring, and how it can help your child meet their learning goals.