Cultivating Empathy in STEM Education

20170420_140251As a STEM teacher, my husband, Mark, is a member of the National Science Teachers Association and receives their bimonthly “Science Scope” magazine. The magazine houses great content for teachers and parents, with articles and activities to help effectively engage students in STEM-related subjects. While flipping through the magazine, Mark noticed an article that he thought might be of good resource for a blog post. The article is titled “The importance of cultivating empathy in STEM education” and is written by Kathy Liu Sun who is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Santa Clara University.

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Sun talks about the importance of bridging a connection between the content students are learning and the world they live in. Students are more likely to become engaged in STEM if they can make an empathetic connection to it. Sun recommends three ways to grow empathy in the STEM classroom.

#1 Connect STEM content to real people

Middle school students can be rather self-focused. Connect the content they are learning to people in the real world. Was there a recent natural disaster that occurred? Use scientific terms to show how the natural disaster occurred and then show how it affected people. Tsunami and earthquake disasters are good examples. After connecting the scientific phenomenon to people, then discuss technologies that exist to forewarn of the disasters or help in the aftermath.

#2 Bring in a guest to share his or her perspective.

I am a huge proponent for professionals doing outreach in the classrooms. Students need to meet and ask questions of STEM professionals. STEM professionals need to be approachable and engaging, encouraging students to investigate STEM careers.

#3 Add a “human-user” to an existing project

Mark has his students interview teachers to find out what problems they may be facing in the school and then the students come up with a design (Eventually, he had to tell students that door stops have already been done too many times). He challenges his students to look for real world problems and come up with tangible solutions. This connects the students to the STEM subject in an empathetic way; they want to help someone. Teachers give feedback on the students’ designs and the entire process brings STEM to life for the students.

What are other ways we can build an empathetic connection between students and STEM? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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