Busting the myth that you have to be a STEM expert to teach it to children, educator and author Emily Hunt talks about how to turn STEM into an everyday activity.

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Parent and educator attitudes can have a big influence on a student’s educational journey. By modeling enthusiasm toward learning STEM, adults can demonstrate to students the everyday STEM applications to broader life skills.

Author and educator Emily Hunt joins the podcast to discuss how parents and teachers can easily bring STEM thinking into their homes and classrooms through quick and engaging 15-minute activities. Once a reluctant STEM teacher, Emily now says her favorite subjects both in the classroom and at home are STEM. This inspired her to publish two resource books for families and educators titled 15-Minute STEM.

Building STEM Enthusiasm

As a student, Emily disliked STEM subjects most. As a teacher, she knew she needed a basic understanding of STEM but worried her lack of expertise and enjoyment would affect her classroom. 

But actually being in the classroom with STEM changed her mind. “I love teaching maths now because I feel like I've got the empathy for children who were feeling like I was at school,” Emily says.

Emily’s whole mindset about the purpose and use of STEM subjects has changed. Rather than just an exam she had to pass so she could move on with her life, she recognized that the skills STEM teaches touch every aspect of life. That’s the attitude she brings to her STEM education strategy. 

“When my students were taught in this way, I could see how enthusiastic they were,” she says. “It made me determined to raise awareness about STEM education from there.”

STEM Resources for Elementary Students

After recognizing there just weren’t enough resources out there for elementary-aged students, Emily knew what she had to do. She published her popular resources online. 

After that, Emily approached a book publisher, and thus were born the 15-Minute STEM books. Each book has 40 activities, including a real-world hook, easily resourced supplies, and opportunities for further exploration. Students can work on most activities independently, and are encouraged to experience the trials, failures, and successes of the experiment themselves.

Everyday Learning in STEM

Parents and teachers doing STEM are often weighed down by these two false assumptions:

  1. I’m not a STEM-y person, so I can’t teach those subjects.
  2. I can’t fit anything else into my school day, especially not STEM.

The Lack of Expertise Myth

Emily points out that people who are in STEM careers don’t consider themselves an expert on everything to do with STEM.

“Teaching children STEM skills is not about knowing all the answers,” she says. “This is something that we can embed into our everyday lives by encouraging curiosity and giving our children opportunities to solve problems.”

The last thing that encourages excitement about STEM is another homework-type workbook. Rather, STEM learning can look like cooking, learning to code, growing your own plants, and stargazing. 

Here are some examples of activities you can do that bring STEM into everyday life:

  • Counting change in a shop 
  • Measuring ingredients for a cake
  • Visiting a zoo or museum
  • Going on a nature walk
  • Looking for fossils on a beach
  • Taking a toy apart
  • Playing with puzzles
  • Playing board games or logic games
  • Reading STEM picture books

The Lack of Time Myth

STEM can be easily integrated into activities you’re already doing as a classroom or household before dinner, on weekends, or throughout school holidays, Emily says. (The 15-minute activities, by the way, have been tested to ensure that they really do take just 15 minutes.)

“This is something that's really fun that we enjoy doing with our children,” she says. We're giving them a problem and they're solving it, then we can have a chat to work out what we've learned from that.”

Action Steps for Parents

To the family that wants to become an “everyday STEM” family, Emily gives these suggestions:

1 — Point Out STEM in Everyday Life

Parents can and should make the case that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics touch our daily lives in positive and interesting ways.

2 — Incorporate STEM in Everyday Life

A household in which children gather around a microscope or think of a ruler as a toy is one that recognizes STEM is not just about test results but about skill building and lifelong learning.

Guest Links

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Episode Transcript

Emily Hunt Q&A [2:12]

Eric Olsen: On today's episode, Author and Educator, Emily Hunt discusses her turn from STEM skeptic to STEM teacher and how parents and teachers alike can easily bring STEM thinking into their homes and classrooms through quick and engaging 15 minute activities. You're now a STEM book author, but you started off as a teacher who disliked STEM. What was your turning point?

Emily Hunt: Yeah, so I don't have a background in STEM at all. And actually these were the subjects that I really disliked when I was at school and maybe it was the way that they were taught to me. I don't know, but I just didn't see how they were relevant to my life. And I really felt like I was learning them to pass an exam and then I could drop them and just never do them again. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I knew that I needed a basic understanding of STEM, but beyond that, I didn't see its relevance. So, I was really nervous when I went into teaching to have to deliver these subjects. I was thinking, how can I do that if I'm not passionate about them myself? And then I had that funny thing that I think a lot of teachers listening can probably relate to where the subjects that you found the hardest at school are actually the subjects that become your favorites to teach.

So, I love teaching maths now because I feel like I've got the empathy for children that were feeling like I was at school and I can see the misconceptions that they might struggle with. So, I make a point now when I teach these subjects of making them really relevant and trying to bring them to life. And I'm naturally more enthusiastic about them too because as an adult, I can see all the exciting things that you can do with STEM and I can see the opportunities that it leads to. And then I was made science lead at my school and I had a little panic about that as well. And this is when I got excited about STEM because I just love the idea of bringing together these subjects like we do in real life and using them to teach children through problem solving activities, rather than just in this traditional lesson sense. And I could see the reaction that I got from my students when they were taught in this way, I could see how enthusiastic they were. And it just made me really determined to raise awareness about STEM education from there.

Eric Olsen: I love the late to life STEM lover's story. And I love that reality of I am more empathetic for the children who struggle with it because of my own. So, from that turning point, what then inspired you to start writing your 15 minute STEM book series and who specifically did you write them for? Were they for your own students, for your school students?

Emily Hunt: So, I actually never set out to write a book, that was a really unexpected and exciting outcome for me. My husband took a job working in California for a year. So, I went out there with him and I had a bit of free time and I was a bit frustrated that I didn't have much to do. I love the Californian sunshine, but I'm a teacher, I'm used to being busy, relaxing is not a strength of mine. And then I remembered that I'd had this idea of why doesn't somebody build a website with STEM resources for five to 11 year olds. And this is back in 2017, there really just there wasn't very much online at the time.

And the idea for 15 minute STEM came really quickly because I just thought that is literally what it is. It is STEM in 15 minutes and I set up the activities. I put them online and they were really popular. People were downloading them and I thought, what could I do to promote them? I approach a publisher and the outcome of that is that I now have two books and each book has 40 activities for five to 11 year olds. And the books are written for teachers and for parents. So, I wanted anyone to be able to pick up a book and deliver this to children. Each activity is on one side of A4, it tells you everything that you need to know, so you certainly don't need to be an expert to deliver it.

It starts with a hook question or a real world link to engage children. It tells you everything that you'll need and these things are really easy to resource. It gives you step by step instructions. It gives you an explanation of the learning, opportunities for further investigation, and it's deliberately hands off with the instructions because I really want the parent or the teacher to be hands off with the students. We don't want children to be taught. We don't want them to have to sit there passively watching the teacher do the experiment and telling them what's happening. We really want students to experience it for themselves and make mistakes and learn from that through that process.

How can parents help teach STEM if they’re not particular STEM’y? [6:37]

Eric Olsen: So, let's say I'm hearing all of this, I'm convinced that my student would benefit from more frequent STEM knowledge. But I'm like “old Emily”. I'm not particularly stemmy as a parent myself, what can I do in that situation?

Emily Hunt: I think this is such a common barrier for both parents and for teachers for doing STEM. And I think that the word science, technology, engineering, and math can come across quite intimidating if you don't have a background in them. And we fall into this trap of thinking that we need to be an expert in them. And of course that's completely not true. My background shows that. And even if you are in a STEM career, you're not an expert on everything to do with STEM. So, let's just make that clear. Nobody is an expert here. But teaching children's STEM skills is not about knowing all the answers and it's not about going out and buying a textbook and sitting down at a table and working through it like you're doing some homework with your child.

This is something that we can embed into our everyday lives by encouraging curiosity and giving our children opportunities to solve problems. I mean, it could be as simple as doing some cooking and getting them to help with the measurement and making sure that's really accurate. It could be learning to code using a website like Scratch or Hour of Code. I mean, growing your own plants, measuring the plants and how they're growing each day or doing some stargazing, looking at the night sky, using an app to identify the different constellations. There's so many easy ways to embed STEM.

Finding 15 minutes to add STEM to an already busy school day [8:05]

Eric Olsen: I love those ideas and examples because fitting something else in our school days always feels so hard and you gave some great examples there. How do I incorporate that into my school day? Can you talk through a couple more of those 15 minute examples and to try to figure out maybe how to time bank these into my day? How do I fit them into what might be an already fairly busy schedule?

Emily Hunt: Yeah. So, I would say that we don't need to see this as something that we have to add in like an extra subject that we need to sit down and do. This can be something that we can be [inaudible 00:08:40] reading through conversations that we're having or observations that we're making. And through 15 minute STEM as well because all of these activities have been tested to make sure that they can be delivered in just 15 minutes. So, that could be when you've got home from school and you've got that bit of spare time before you have your dinner, it could be at the weekends or in the holidays, it's changing our mindset, so that this isn't another activity that we have to fit in. This is something that's really fun that we enjoy doing with our children and we're giving them a problem and they're solving it. And then we can have a chat about that and work out what we've learned from that.

Eric Olsen: And I love that your books have it all laid out for us to make it as easy as possible for the STEM nervous parents and teacher. Emily, finally any next step advice for a family that wants to become an everyday STEM family?

Emily Hunt: So, I would say just pointing out the use of STEM disciplines in our everyday lives. So, calculating chains in a shop, measuring ingredients for a cake. So, we're making those connections between the skills that we're doing and their real world relevance. Maybe taking a trip to a museum or a zoo, that's bringing learning to life and we're meeting experts in these fields. It could be exploring outside, so you could be going on a nature walk and looking for patterns occurring in nature or looking for fossils on a beach. It could be taking a toy apart and looking at how it works, making sure that it's safe to do so of course, you've got an adult there with you. It could be playing with puzzles or playing games together because things like Sudoku and chess are really great for developing logical thinking, which we know is really important to STEM subjects. And even reading STEM picture books, there are so many books out there that inspire and that challenge stereotypes in STEM as well.

Download AoPS’ Raising Problem Solvers Guidebook [10:27]

Eric Olsen: That is true. There are so many great books out there. In fact, we just wrote one. Hey their parents, if you're looking to engage and challenge your young STEM learners, Art of Problem Solving has just published their Raising Problem Solvers Guidebook. It's full of helpful strategies to support and challenge advanced learners, curriculum recommendations straight from our Art of Problem Solving families, our STEM gift guide, free resource recommendations, and much, much more. It's the perfect next step to help you navigate and build an educational plan that's right for your family. Download our Raising Problem Solvers Guidebook for free today.

Emily Hunt Rapid Fire [11:10]

Eric Olsen: It's now time for our rapid fire segment called Problem Solved where we ask the guest to solve incredibly complex and difficult education issues in single soundbites. Emily, what's one thing about K-12 education you wish you could snap your fingers and problem solved, it's fixed?

Emily Hunt: I would like to see schools collaborating more with businesses and professionals from an early age, so that if we raise students aspirations and help them see how their learning is relevant to their futures and develop life skills.

Eric Olsen: If you could go back and give your kid-self advice on their educational journey, what would it be?

Emily Hunt: That the purpose of school is not just about getting good test results. So, obviously that's really important but just as important, I think as having good soft skills, communication, teamwork, problem solving, creative thinking. I think there's a really strong argument to say that these skills will get us further in life and be more valued by employers than having good grades on our CV.

Eric Olsen: What part of education do you think or hope looks the most different 10 years from now?

Emily Hunt: Oh, our curriculum definitely. I would hope that STEM education would be really central to it and I'd love it to be looked at really critically to make it more relevant to the world outside of the classroom and making sure that we are teaching students the skills that they need for their futures.

Eric Olsen: And finally, what's your best advice for parents looking to raise future problem solvers?

Enthusiasm as the antidote to projecting your negative academic perceptions to your children [12:33]

Emily Hunt: My best advice is be enthusiastic, to be really careful not to pass on your own perceptions to your children. Parents are such important influences. If you tell your child, oh, I'm terrible at math, then that could really affect your child's self-esteem and their journey. So, we want to be really open minded and encourage this as much as we can.

Eric Olsen: And listeners, we'd love to hear your answers as well. So email us at podcast@aops.com with your best advice for raising future problem solvers. And we'll read our favorites on future episodes.

Emily, thanks so much for joining us today.

Emily Hunt: No problem. Thank you for having me.

Episode Summary & Conclusion [13:14]

Eric Olsen: Doesn't everything just kind of sound better with an English accent? Maybe I should try and pick one up. I wonder if anyone would notice. Maybe I could suddenly transition over time. All right. I'll work on it. But I loved hearing about Emily's own turn from STEM scared to STEM lover. The concept of making sure we don't model fear or distaste for particular subjects, projecting our own academic baggage onto our kids, and all of Emily's other wonderful ideas for bringing STEM into the home and classroom and making them a part of our everyday routines. And may you continue your journey alongside us, raising the great problem solvers of the next generation.

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