"Time for a STEM talk with your Kids"

(Appeared in the Des Moines Register, Sept. 13, 2010)

Ways to be more involved with your child’s STEM education

By Jeffrey Weld — Executive Director of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council

There's an alphabet's worth of ways parents and community members can help prepare the next generation for their STEM-based world:

Ask your child to teach you the math she learned at school today.

Bake cookies shaped like the continents and re-enact Pangaea followed by a cataclysmic chomp.

Calculate with the kids how much money our university football coaches earn per game and per hour.

Donate materials to a resourceful science or math teacher who can do a lot of creative things with cast-off appliances and equipment.

Entomologists at Cornell University would love to have help this fall with tracking ladybugs. Upload your finds at lostladybug.org.

Fractals, striking geometric shapes derived from iterative equations, make great t-shirts. Have one made.

Grow crystals in a jar on the kitchen counter from sugar, alum or Borax.

Help coach a science club or robotics team or math challenge by phoning the school science or math department chairperson.

Identify the trees in your yard and neighborhood.

Judge a student showcase or competition at your school.

K is the symbol for potassium in the Periodic Table and Na for sodium. Find out together what's up with that by phoning a local chemist.

Let the kids calculate a suitable tip for your next waiter.

Musicians' brains are wired differently—more gray matter in language and math regions. Start a band.

News of cloned livestock at the State Fair or oil-eating bacteria in the Gulf can fill car time on the way to swim practice.

Operate on your next chicken or turkey dinner and take a moment to marvel over the articulated vertebrae of the neck, nerve cords nestled within muscle, and hinge joints of the wings.

Planets are readily poised for a driveway gathering. Venus puts on quite an evening show this time of year.

Quotients, results of division, can be more fun than charades. Toss out a quotient, say . . . 3, and let the kids race to dividend and divisor.

Robotics is sweeping throughout Iowa schools like an autumn breeze. Encourage your child to get involved.

Statistics have a high probability of significance to kids' futures. Look up the odds on the lottery or tease apart that "four out of five dentists" claim.

Take a bathroom scale on an elevator to witness changes in gravitational force going up and coming down.

Unravel the cocoon of bagworms on your evergreens.

Vote for local, state and national political representatives who champion STEM education.

Welcome a math or science teacher into your business next summer to witness applications of their subjects in the real world.

X-rays from your root canal or gall bladder surgery make for good bedtime stories. In the morning, keyword X-ray on Wikipedia and read together how this amazing technology came to be.

Yen-to-dollar exchange rates might be worth monitoring given China's surging STEM-based economy.

Zoo trips and other outings, valuable as ever, tax our beleaguered teachers. Volunteer to organize the travel and logistics of a trip for your kid's class.

Iowa is a STEM state. Our economy increasingly relies on advanced biotechnology, information technology, engineering and manufacturing. Career options, as well as daily life decisions, will increasingly depend on a firm grounding in math and science and their applications. The STEM talk can now take its rightful place alongside the drug talk and the sex talk in setting kids on course for bright, inspired futures.

Want to be more involved? Visit Volunteer Iowa to learn more.