How Do We Get Teens Excited About Science?
Written by Eduardo Cetlin, President, Amgen Foundation
We at the Amgen Foundation believe that an understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, particularly science, is critical for students to be prepared for careers and citizenship in the 21st century. Today’s students are the innovators of tomorrow — the people who will find new ways to cure diseases and improve patients’ lives. We have a great opportunity to spark a love of science in students, tap into their motivations, and stimulate their understanding of the purpose and benefits of a strong STEM education.
We recently partnered with Change the Equation (CTEq) to hear from teens directly about what gets them excited about science and the potential to explore a future career in the field. Today, we’re proud to announce the results of “Students on STEM: More Hands-on, Real-World Experiences,” a new survey that reveals what motivates U.S. high school students to study science. According to our findings, teens are very interested in science — in fact, more than eight in 10 say science is interesting — but they don’t necessarily feel engaged in their science classes. Additionally, they rate their science classes below other classes. Roughly half of teens would sooner try out the latest smartphone than help a famous scientist run a biology experiment.
The survey also found that science classes provide most teens their sole exposure to biology, especially low-income teens, so giving students experiences that challenge and captivate them is critical to keeping them engaged. And providing more real-world exposure to science and biology careers and professionals is also imperative — teens have few pathways to informed career decisions.
What we learned
Teachers are key catalysts in fostering learning and interest in science, helping students explore scientific ideas and how they apply to the real world — especially when teachers utilize hands-on and engaging teaching techniques. Teachers need the support and training necessary to employ new and effective techniques that keep students engaged.
Teens would also benefit from outside opportunities to learn about science careers. Few teens have access to science role models and resources they believe would help them plan their steps toward a career. For example, 86 percent believe knowing an adult in their field of interest would be helpful, but only 32 percent actually know such an adult. Even fewer, less than one in four, knows someone with a job involving biology.
Unfortunately, low-income students have the fewest pathways to science careers. They are less likely to know someone who works in biology or be involved in a science club or group — or even to know such a group exists. Access to such high-quality, hands-on science experiences should not be impacted by a student’s socioeconomic status or zip code.
What we can do
“Students on STEM” revealed that teens recognize and appreciate what good science education looks like, but lack engaging learning opportunities, career guidance and professional mentors. Science advocates in our schools, businesses and communities can change that. Enabling science teachers to incorporate hands-on science experiences that enhance student learning through updated curricula, teaching materials, and professional development opportunities is an important step.
For example, the Amgen Biotech Experience works with nearly 1,000 high school teachers each year to provide free teacher training, curricula and state-of-the-art lab equipment to give students hands-on experience with the methods scientists actually use to create medicines through biotechnology. We also encourage you to check out CTEq’s STEMworks database to learn more and consider investing in the nation’s leading programs.
Blending high-quality science learning experiences with a strong understanding of what motivates students to stay engaged are powerful tools in helping us to prepare youth for our increasingly competitive world. We — businesses, educators, policymakers and parents — need to work together to help teens fulfill their dreams and potential, and thrive in the jobs of tomorrow.