How Early Math Education Empowers Students for STEM Careers

How Early Math Education Empowers Students for STEM Careers

Many institutions of higher learning try to recruit students into challenging STEM fields. If you’re the parent of a young child, how can you ensure they have the requisite skills to succeed in the area if they choose? If you’re a teacher, how can you prepare your students? 

The earlier you begin preparing children for STEM careers, the higher their chances of future success. Early math education provides the building blocks for future knowledge in engineering and coding. When students experience success in the subject during their formative years, they develop confidence in their abilities. 

STEM Careers Remain in High Demand 

Today’s generation faces a highly competitive job market. The rise of the gig economy has gutted traditional benefit programs, and wages haven’t kept pace with inflation in many sectors. STEM careers offer a path to financial prosperity, but only if students have the requisite background to succeed in them.  

Fortunately, a natural window of opportunity exists between the ages of 5-7, when children begin forming abstract concepts and create a picture of the world in their heads. As parents and educators, you have the solemn responsibility to seize this chance to foster a love of math in young learners. The attitudes they form toward the subject now will influence their future success. 

That accomplishment extends beyond the classroom. Already, STEM careers make up some of the hottest job fields for millennial workers. As technology continues to advance, these paths will expand. Students who embrace the attitude that math is fun will have the best chances of entering these challenging but lucrative fields. 

Early Math Education Provides Critical Cognitive Building Blocks

Many educators and parents alike consider STEM classes something children enter in their teenage years, and in some ways, they are correct. However, before teenagers can decipher complicated engineering formulas, they need to know how to perform necessary computations. If the mathematics demanded aren’t appropriate for the grade level or aren’t explained conceptually, students will struggle with how everything fits together. A solid foundation in mathematics is key to success in engineering or programming. 

This need for a solid mathematical foundation doesn’t mean teachers should treat the subject as a vacuum. It does mean they need to recognize the importance of mastering concepts like addition and subtraction. The best way to prevent future frustration in students is to ensure they understand basic principles before moving on to more advanced topics. 

Early Math Achievement Inspires Confidence in Future Success

Why do some students choose to pursue a STEM education later in life while others claim they’re “too bad at math?” Early exposure — when tied to achievement in some cases — proves key. One recent study found that among white and Asian students, early exposure to math and science influenced their later decisions to enroll in higher education. However, among underrepresented minority students, math achievement at a young age had a more significant influence on their belief they could succeed in the subject. 

To encourage greater participation in STEM, especially among underrepresented groups, parents and educators can praise children for math achievement. They can promote activities such as the following:

  • Math Bingo: In this activity, you begin by creating 25 math problems and writing the answers on a Bingo card. Use 5×5 cards and quiz little learners. 
  • Pizza fractions: In this activity, students create a pizza out of paper or a discarded pizza box. Then, they add toppings to their pie to represent different fractions. For example, they might make one that is one-half pepperoni and one-quarter mushrooms. 
  • Survey and graph: Children love learning about themselves through surveys, and you can use that motivation to inspire a love of math. Have children survey their classmates or family members on a subject,  and then create a visual representation of their responses. 

To Pique Student Interest in STEM, Start With Early Math Practice

Early math practice provides the cognitive and emotional framework for success in STEM. If you want your children and students to embrace this challenging field, start inspiring them when they’re young. 

About the Author

Alyssa Abel is an experiential education writer who focuses on developmental learning, college and career prep and unconventional education. Follow her work on her blog, Syllabusy.

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