Thirty-eight percent of 15-year-olds in the U.S. who took the Program for International Student Assessment, a reading, science and math exam given to students globally every three years, expect to work in a science-related career at 30.
However, U.S. students only scored about average in science among their global peers and didn’t improve since the exam was last given in 2012, the report says.
High school science teachers and parents can use the following three tips to help teens interested in science and struggling academically beef up their skills.
1. Give students an outlet to explore science outside of class: Sometimes, students aren’t given the opportunity in science class to explore real data or to practice science in a hands-on or meaningful way, says Jessica Anderson, a science teacher at Powell County High School in Montana.
It’s helpful for students to have opportunities outside of class to explore their passion, such as in a science club or by conducting research with a mentor, says Anderson, who is also the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year.
Parents and teachers should help students find these opportunities and make sure teens take advantage of them, she says.
Students probably won’t do these activities if parents and teachers just recommend them, Anderson says.
“They’d be like, ‘Oh, thanks. Maybe I’ll do that.’ But they need that extra push,” she says. That’s especially important since students might lose confidence once they see a low score on an exam, she says.
2. Help students work on their literacy skills: There are so many technical terms students will encounter in science, such as those related to cell reproduction, that science can become challenging for students, says Chris Ludwig, a science teacher at La Junta High School in Colorado.
Families can help students beef up their comprehension skills by reading short news articles together, not even necessarily about science, and talk about what happened in the story afterward, he says.
3. Expose students to all kinds of careers in science: Many students don’t know about the various science-related careers available, says Anderson.
“They may think, ‘Oh, I have to be an astronomer or I have to be a marine biologist,'” says Doug Hodum, a biology teacher at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine.
But there are many other careers available in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – that require different types of skills, Hodum says, including lab technicians and primary investigators.
And parents and teachers should be careful when giving feedback. “It’s really easy to instantly to turn a kid off if you even suggest that, ‘Well, science might not be for you,'” says Ludwig, the Colorado teacher.
“You should never discourage a student from pursuing something they are interested in,” says Hodum.