According to the United States Department of Commerce, growth in jobs that employed STEM workers between the years 2000 and 2010 was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. Workers in occupations anchored in STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and math — made up more than 6 percent of the workforce five years later. There were 9 million workers in STEM jobs in 2015, each earning 29 percent more in salaries than their non-STEM counterparts. And nearly 75 percent of those STEM workers have at least a college degree.

A workforce with a strong STEM education is vital to our cities’ infrastructure, economy and advancements in medical research. STEM strengthens critical-thinking skills, fosters collaboration and, at its core, prioritizes problem-based learning. Taken together, these proficiencies have the power to give rise to a new generation of innovators. So how can we keep students enthusiastic about things like geometry theorems or Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion? 

Keep it in the real world. 

Students crave a connection between what they’ve learned in science and math to real-world issues. How can we improve our favorite social media network? How might a town expand its recycling program? How can we apply our class discussions to an important technological innovation or an environmental concern?  

“Pretty much anything around us [involves] technology,” Richfield, Minnesota–based teacher Carrie Allen told Scholastic Teacher magazine. “That’s one thing we’re teaching the kids, too: everything around us was created or engineered to solve a problem.”

Students are curious creatures. They benefit from knowing that there is a reason behind each lesson. When students understand that the STEM fundamentals they’re focusing on at school have a real-world application, we will have engendered robust enthusiasm for these disciplines — an enthusiasm that could serve them well for their academic careers and beyond.