Embrace emotions in the scientific process
Emotions may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking about STEM education. However, emphasizing feelings over facts can give students permission to bring their authentic selves to STEM classes. “For teachers aiming to connect students to STEM, it is essential to understand emotions that exist and do not exist,” writes Emdin.
For example, if a student feels frustrated because they are struggling to balance an equation, teachers can reassure them that big feelings are natural when solving difficult problems. Teachers might say that getting frustrated doesn’t mean they aren’t smart enough or that STEM is too hard for them. This could mean that they have identified an area where they need more support, information or practice. Search shows that emotions can lead to deeper learning and allow students to access their passion for academic subjects. If a student is feeling lethargic, they may be communicating that they need more culturally relevant examples to pique their interest and help them feel more invested.
“It’s not demeaning or anti-strict for you to start conversations about STEM with emotion,” said Emdin. “We can teach that way and still get our intellectual rigor and academic weight.”
See students as scientists
Students remember their bad experiences with STEM learning, which can lead to feelings of disconnection or fear. “I’ve seen kids in sixth grade who, when presented with a scientific algebraic formula, literally shrink in their seat and start sweating,” Emdin said.
To help young people develop a positive STEM identity, he recommends teachers target students’ scientific mindsets, which are “the skills, characteristics, attributes, and dispositions of the most prolific and brilliant scientists and mathematicians of our time.” Rather than focusing on a student’s content knowledge or memorization, teachers can hone skills that students are using all the time in social interactions and hobbies. For example, a teacher might notice and praise a child’s keen observation skills, analytical nature, or the questions the child asks. So teachers can see how well-known STEM experts have these same traits. For example, they might mention that the way a student asks questions reminds them of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr.
“You start attaching their inherent traits that they used to form their STEM identity. And slowly you develop those inherent strengths, and then you introduce deeper scientific skills,” Emdin said.
Additionally, search shows that adding an arts component to STEM education, also known as STEAM, can provide another avenue for students to find their identities in these disciplines. “The arts are the essence of our collective humanity that awakens us to our best selves,” said Emdin, who also serves as scholar/griot in residence at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and is the creator of science geniusa program that explores hip hop and science.
He also encourages educators to expand the “A” in STEAM to include two more words: ancestry, which invites students to consider cultural contributions to science, and authenticity, which examines how students can fully engage in scientific inquiry. “It is essential for us to be able to deconstruct [STEAM] and then rebuild it in ways that are more inclusive, more diverse, and that more honor indigenous knowledge, traditional knowledge, and localized knowledge,” he said.