Middle school is an important time for tweens and teens: they are exploring new areas of study, discovering where their interests lie and developing passions into hobbies and later, careers.

Studies show that this is also a time when students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) begins to wane. Introducing middle school students with innovative spirits and passionate curiosity to the power of ideas when coupled with STEM can not only have an amazing effect on a child, but also the potential to have a lasting effect on the world.

Here are seven ways to inspire a love of STEM in teens and tweens:

  1. Help tweens and teens find a mentor. Mentors are important during the middle school years, offering guidance, helping to identify strengths, working through challenges and even building self-confidence for kids. Teachers, coaches, graduate students and even professionals in STEM-related careers can act as mentors. A local university or lab can be the perfect source for quality mentors for young scientists.
  2. Encourage project-based learning through the Maker Movement The Maker Movement, a DIY-trend that pushes “makers” to re-imagine objects rather than throwing them away, inspires teens and tweens to become active creators through firsthand learning experiences and authentic problem solving. Ideas for activities can be found online through sites dedicated to science education, at local Maker Faires or even on social networking sites like Pinterest. By using STEM principles to solve real-world problems and applying science to everyday life, students are empowered to explore their inquisitiveness.
  3. Explore STEM clubs and summer camps. Clubs and activities can help kids meet friends with similar interests. Look into activities like LEGO robotics clubs or coding classes that apply concepts learned in the classroom in new and unique ways. Whether it’s after school or over the summer, STEM activities help develop problem-solving skills while exploring concepts including logic, math, science, engineering and physics in a hands-on, collaborative environment.
  4. Participate in science competitions. Competitions create the perfect atmosphere for students to make an impact through science today. Working on inventions and solutions to solve current problems, teens and tweens taking part in these events can expand their horizons, meet other students with a passion for STEM and problem-solve like real scientists. Whether it is a local school science fair, a state-level competition or a national challenge, students will put science into action and see their peers doing the same.
  5. Show them how other budding young scientists are changing the world. Seeing what their peers are doing can help inspire students and show them the possibilities that are achievable at this age. Past winners of science competitions, like Peyton Robertson or Deepika Kurup who were both named “America’s Top Young Scientist,” in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are great examples of young students making a difference. Robertson, who created an innovative sandbag design to better protect flood zones against salt-water damage from future storms, presented at the White House Science Fair; Kurup developed a water purification system that also contributed to her being named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Energy!
  6. Introduce students to non-traditional STEM careers. While many associate STEM with traditional mathematicians and scientists working in a lab, there are a lot of different roads that an education in STEM can lead to. Mechanical engineers making holograms a reality, coding geniuses working to make social networking sites better and even sports statisticians calculating the odds of teams winning the big game all actually have a background in STEM.
  7. Encourage collaboration among students. Two minds are better than one, especially when scientists need someone to bounce ideas off of while problem solving. A culture of collaboration inside and outside of the classroom is important for young innovators to explore diverse perspectives, make uncommon connections and push the boundaries of science with limitless potential for progress.