Get Excited About STEM!

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The following is a guest post by Cindy Welch of YALS‘s Editorial Advisory Board.

STEM is a relatively new educational initiative to create excitement and energy around engaging with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. For those old enough to remember – or for those, like me – who love history, it kind of reminds me of the jumpstart science and math education got in the 1960s as a result of the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik and America’s race to regain its technological preeminence in the world. Interestingly, one result of that race was Arpanet, which later became the Internet and our World Wide Web.

Teens today are already engaged with technology, and YA librarians are right there with them, but how do we work with the remaining letters of that acronym? The Winter issue of YALS gives some great tips for getting started with collections and programming, and YALSA has a STEM task force that will release a STEM toolkit in conjunction with Teen Tech Week (March 4-10, 2012). According to a YALSA Board Document from MW 2012, the task force also has plans for a STEM wiki and a programming contest! You can already check the YALSA Blog for posts related to this initiative and follow up on the STEM It Up! Webinar scheduled for Feb. 1. If you missed it, just know that all Teen Tech Week registrants can receive a free copy of the recording, so if you register now – or if you’re already registered – you’ll be able to get a copy. YALSA members will also be able to access the webinar in the Webinars-on-Demand area free of charge.

In the meantime here are a few ideas for science, engineering and math programming, from the sublime to the silly (in no particular order):

  • “Found object” invention contest;
  • Draw or construct a thingamajiggy from your favorite sci-fi novel;
  • Discussing – or re-creating! – the science behind our favorite sci-fi books and movies;
  • Spy toys and tools – create, discuss, draw, get an expert in to talk about them;
  • Re-create engineering contests in your neighborhood; team up with high school physics teachers, or local college faculty to drop eggs, build flying machines (or models), or create mini go-kart races;
  • Host a science-fair extravaganza that has everything from local geeks as consultants, to actual experiments;
  • Create a loop of YouTube or SchoolTube videos that show actual experiments in progress and let it run during the 3-6 p.m. blitz; better yet – get teens to put it together for you;
  • Consult with teens to create a consumer math contest or awareness day, including cost comparisons, budgeting, practical uses of math.
  • Create a geo-cache in or around your library;
  • Host a “Big Bang Theory” night at the library; come as your favorite character? Or, perhaps a “What Would Sheldon Do?” quiz.
  • Partner with recycling agencies, environmental groups, or citizen action groups to raise awareness about the environment;
  • If you have a blog or radio program, consider interviewing or featuring local mathletes or science fair winners;
  • Contact outstanding science students to act as consultants during science fair season;
  • Create book displays based on YALSA Popular Paperbacks lists like the environmentally-conscious “Change Your World … or Live to Regret It,” or “Get Your Geek On
  • Get crazy with Legos, K’nex, or dominos.

As we shift to more inquiry-based learning, more and more people in schools, museums, and colleges are exploring all sorts of ways to make math and science concepts tangible and hands-on, so you don’t have to go it alone. We know about collaboration, so push the boundaries and talk to science and math teachers during your next school visit. Get to know the teen geeks in your neighborhoods – if you don’t already – and ask them what they’d recommend to get people excited about STEM. Most importantly, experiment! (Literally.) As for me, I’m going geo-caching!

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