Two weeks ago I took my little sister, through Big Brothers Big Sisters, to the MiSci Museum of Innovation and Science. After we left, she told me she had never done anything like that, and my response was, “Go to a museum?” She told me that she hadn’t learned about how math and science related to the real world. As a former teacher I was shocked. How had no one bridged the gap between school learning and real world STEM problems for her?

“… the main reason more young people don’t pursue degrees in STEM is that they think STEM subjects are not useful for their careers (23%) or they think these subjects are too boring (12%).”

Bridging the Gap

We have to show students that there is a real connection between science, technology, engineering, and math (though the acronym STEM is sometimes represented as STEAM for arts). As teachers, how do we do this? The best way to make learning engaging for students is have it pertain to something that they are interested in.

  • Have students design their own question. One of the things I did at the beginning of the year was a vision board for students. Everyone got their own piece of construction paper and dug through magazines for pictures. They used paper and images to make a board of questions that they wanted the answer to. Put students into groups and allow them to come up with curious STEM questions together!
  • Do an online search. The web has so many resources. Teachers are constantly hearing: “don’t reinvent the wheel”. Have your students engage with the internet and practice safe browsing strategies to find interesting STEM learning tools.

EVERFI offers a course called Hockey Scholar in which students learn about STEM concepts through the game of hockey. This provides data for teachers while encouraging rigorous STEM learning for students with differentiation already written into the modules.

Criteria for Real World Problems

Once your students have had the opportunity to explore what they are interested in, you can review the questions they wonder using these criteria for real world problems.

  • Is the problem real? There has to be a wondering that is applicable to reality. As fun as it would be to test whether unicorns are real, this doesn’t ask anything pertaining to actual technology or engineering-driven wonderings.
  • Will students relate to this? If we are using vernacular within questioning that already dissuades students from engaging in the STEM practice, it’s very likely students won’t be able to relate.
  • Is this doable? Part of the problem we have with engaging students in real world problems is the ability to research in class. As you determine what type of STEM project or practice you will have students participate in, make sure there is a hands-on activity for the classroom that ties to what they’re learning.
  • Are there multiple approaches to this? Can students learn and engage with one other regardless of their learning ability? Take out the idea of a right vs. wrong answer – have this instead be more exploratory for them.
  • Is there a design process? Scientific method is a great practice to refer to, however this should also involve STEM skills and concepts in different ways. Everything doesn’t need to be integrated in the same degree, as long as students can see the interaction among them as they work through problems.

Online Resources

As previously mentioned, EVERFI provides resources to teachers and schools at no cost, including the Future Goals: Hockey Scholar course sponsored by the NHL and NHLPA. EVERFI also offers Endeavor, a career exploration course that engages students in STEM learning concepts as they explore different careers.

The National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges provides challenges in four different categories: health, living, security, and sustainability.

For free STEM curricula check out the Boston Museum of Science engineering curriculum.


Kassie is currently the Schools Manager for Albany and Syracuse and started with EVERFI in 2017. As a former 2nd and 5th grade teacher, she lead her schools’ OLWEUS anti-bullying campaigns where she saw the need for social-emotional learning support. She received her Masters in Peace Operations from George Mason University in Washington, DC and attended Hartwick College for her Bachelors’ degrees in Political Science and History.

Real World Learning Matters

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