Few STEM educators would argue the vital role that math plays in today’s increasingly tech-heavy society. Math is the foundation of technology and science, and science is the foundation of engineering. Even if a student isn’t particularly keen on becoming a mathematician, possessing a strong math background could easily serve as the launchpad to a slew of in-demand STEM careers. How do you get Gen Z students interested in a math career?
Educators are in a unique position to inspire Generation Z students and get them interested in a career in math. The only question is how? Here are six ideas to switch your Gen Z students onto math and get them interested in a math career.
1. Nudge Them Towards an Internship
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Paid or not, internships for high school students can be immensely valuable for several important reasons. In addition to helping students in the college admissions process, a high school internship can give Gen Z’ers the chance to explore different career pathways within the field of mathematics.
Mathematicians can be found almost anywhere: research labs, classrooms, Wall Street brokerages, non-profits, the government, and tech startups, to name a few. By encouraging your students to seek out internships for math majors, you can potentially help them discover their dream job.
2. Make Problem-Solving a Daily Activity
Many of us remember filling out math practice sheets and memorizing formulas. And odds are, you probably didn’t like it. That’s because the “fun” part of math comes from using logic and discovery to figure out an answer — not mindless memorization.
Instead of slapping practice sheets down on your students’ desks, begin each lesson with daily problem-solving activity. Give your students a math question that requires deep thinking rather than quick memorization of formulas.
Take the focus off being right or wrong and encourage the process of discovery and understanding. Who knows? You may just turn a math-hater into a math-lover.
3. Introduce Them to Different Career Pathways
Students who are good at math may choose to study something else entirely. Not because they’re disinterested in a math career, but because they simply don’t know what their options are in the first place.
So, why not enlighten them? Discuss the versatility/marketability of a math degree and how a strong understanding of numbers could potentially lead to a wide range of fast-growing careers, like operations research analysts and actuaries. If they express interest in a particular occupation, help them find job shadowing opportunities to see what a day-in-the-life of that career is like.
4. Connect Math to Real-World Context
It can be tough for Gen Z students to develop a true passion for math when it takes place solely inside the classroom. They need to see how mathematics applies to their daily lives and their future careers.
One way to incorporate math concepts into a real-world setting is by getting your Gen Z students involved in robotics. Robotics technology relies heavily on mathematical concepts, such as algebra and geometry, which motivates students to do math for something other than a good grade.
Another way to get your Gen Z students thinking about math outside the classroom is by connecting mathematics to social justice issues. Teaching students about social justice themes and how math can find potential solutions to the problem can give students the desire and motivation to pursue a math career.
5. Encourage Students to Volunteer
One of the more common stumbling blocks to a math career is a lack of numerical confidence. When students don’t have a strong foundation in math, they may decide that they aren’t smart enough to handle challenging math topics in college.
Encouraging your students to find volunteer opportunities for teens can help build their confidence, both within the realm of math and in general. For instance, students could volunteer to tutor younger grades, which would help both parties build stronger math skills.
While math-related volunteer opportunities are ideal, it’s worth pointing out that any volunteer opportunity can greatly benefit high school students. Not only does volunteering increase self-confidence in multiple areas, but it can also offer teens the chance to improve their soft skills — something that could be a huge asset to their future math career.
6. Bring Math Speakers into the Classroom
Bringing well-spoken, math guest speakers into the classroom can be a great way to get students interested in a math career. A strong guest speaker can show students what a career path in math might look like and inspire them to take an interest in a particular field.
There are so many exciting math careers that could interest your math-lovers from sports statisticians to data scientists. Many speakers will agree to come to your class for free or speak to your students virtually via Zoom, especially if you already have an existing relationship with them.
If possible, try to tie in your guest speaker to your lesson plan for that week. If your students are learning about the slope-intercept form that week, try to arrange a guest speaker who can describe how they use slope-intercept to perform their job’s daily duties.
Emphasizing the ‘M’ in STEM
As our society becomes increasingly dependent on scientific and technological innovations, we need more students with a strong math background. But as an educator, you know first-hand that getting high school students interested in math — let alone making a career out of it — can be a fairly difficult task. With these ideas, you can encourage your Gen Z students to start thinking about a math career’s possibilities.
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