A group of girls gather during the lunch hour in the school library. They are a part of a STEM club that meets each week to talk about their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math, engage in STEM challenges together, and talk about different STEM careers. Today they are meeting with two parents to talk about their careers in STEM. One mom is an X-ray technician. She brings in different x-rays to show students. She shares her career path and the schooling that she attended to gain experience in her field. The other mom is a graphic designer. She uses digital tools to create marketing materials, presentations, and even commercials for different companies. She recently completed a project with her team that focused on a new technology being used in electric cars.
As the parents share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the STEM club, the students jot down notes and ask questions. They are thinking about their own potential career paths. One girl admits that while graphic design may not be her thing, she is intrigued by the technology behind the electric car project. Another shares that she has an interest in medical fields like the x-ray technician, but thinks she might want to work with animals too. These students then spend some time in the library looking for STEM books on these subjects. They also find biographies of women in STEM so they can uncover more ideas about careers connected to their interests.
STEM Career Exploration
Preparing students for a future in a STEM careers can happen in a number of ways. Schools can offer online career exploration programs, invite in guest speakers, and offer students the opportunity to engage in career-focused PBL experiences. With many schools still working in remote or hybrid models, we can also expose students to careers through children’s literature.
There are an increasing number of children’s books that focus on different jobs in STEM, as well as individuals who led the way into industries connected to science, technology, engineering, and math. Books on famous engineers, mathematicians, architects, and scientists can provide inspiration to young people who are interested in learning more about the potential career pathways available to them.
Here are a few examples of great children’s literature selections that focus on STEM and the possibilities that can be shared with your students.
Counting on Katherine Katherine Johnson grew up with a curiosity in math and became an elementary teacher. She used her mathematical genius when she went to work for NASA. She and a team of other African-American women figured out how to return Apollo 13 to Earth. She and other trailblazers were depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
The World is Not a Rectangle Architect Zaha Hadid’s story is told in this book. Living in Iraq as a young woman, Zaha was intrigued by the world around her. She noticed patterns and design in everything, as she designed clothes and her bedroom. She uses her interest in shapes, math, and nature to develop her ideas. After going to school for architecture, Zaha opens her own design studio. She goes on to build unique buildings and sculptures, using her passion for the world around her as inspiration for her architecture.
The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough
Maria’s family maintains a farm in Honduras. It is a challenging year with their harvest not providing enough food for them. An inspiring story, based on actual events, a young girl makes a difference for her family. The book offers children ways they can be part of the movement to grow sustainable gardens and foster food security. Eventually by yielding good crops, the farm experiences a profit once again and Maria sees how her hard work made a difference for her family.
The Doctor With an Eye For Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath
As a young child, Patricia was interested in chemistry. She wanted to use her interest to help people. She overcame the odds during a time when most doctors were men and went to school to study eyes. Patricia studied blindness, in particular the visual impairments of African-Americans. She went on to invent a laser probe to help individuals stricken with blindness. Her story will inspire young people to pursue their interests and break down barriers.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
Through his exploration to create a new cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners, inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for a toy found in most households--the Super-Soaker water gun. His background in science and technology led him to use his creativity and design something fun and engaging for kids. Aspiring inventors will love this book and can use Lonnie’s story to design and invent creations of their own.
Pick a Book!
Children’s books are a great way to engage students and expose them to STEM through stories. Stories that highlight STEM careers can be one way to introduce career paths to students as young as kindergarten. Books aren’t just for elementary students though, picture books and STEM biographies can be used to share career ideas with learners at any age.
The selections shared here highlight the STEM careers of individuals from diverse backgrounds who took their early interests and leveraged them into careers that were exciting to them and valued by others. Their work in STEM ultimately served those in their communities and beyond through their perseverance, creativity, and dedication. As we work to build these same dispositions within our students, these books can serve as one way to foster STEM career exploration in our classrooms.
About the Author: Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.
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