With schools closed and summer quickly approaching, parents are most concerned about ways to keep their kids busy and entertained. Thankfully, Justin “Mr. Fascinate” Shaifer, science communicator and STEM personality, has the answers.
The Southside Chicago native is the founder and executive director of Fascinate, Inc., a nonprofit that educates underrepresented students about STEM careers. With his expertise and knack for keeping kids engaged, he strives to make science cool for Gen Z through the Magic Cool Bus project, exciting content, and partnerships with organizations, such as Microsoft, Google, and the MIT Media Lab.
“I was one of the kids that were really disengaged from STEM because it wasn’t really perceived as cool,” he said. “So it’s really important to engage your kids’ curiosities. Showing kids role models of people in STEM that look like them is a huge part of creating that intrinsic motivation that can make kids understand that a future in STEM is possible.”
AfroTech recently turned to Shaifer to help identify ten ways to keep a curious STEM-loving kid engaged—for parents, guardians, and any adult struggling! Hear from the fly science guy himself.
Explore artificial intelligence.
“The NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit gets kids familiarized with artificial intelligence (AI), enabling this kind of more widely, wider access to AI for younger people. We mystify AI so much and make it seem so complex and impossible to reach, but there are all kinds of awesome projects that you can create like brain scanning interfaces or drone testing. And with this small, powerful computer, kids can operate their application with less processing bottlenecks. For this specific kit, I suggest kids are no younger than 16, but there are robotics kits out there that can engage kids of all different ages.”
Contribute to Citizen Science projects.
“Some kids complain about science because they say that it doesn’t apply to real-life or allow for any real contribution to the science community. Well, math is the solution to that problem. There are all kinds of projects in the Citizen Science catalog that scientists have put out there where essentially kids or even a classroom full of kids can contribute their observational data to science. For example, there was one project where you can count the incidence of bugs on [the] New Jersey shoreline. So for data that would normally take a huge team of people to collect, scientists have realized that we can put a project out, teach people the guidelines, and inspire them to be our data miners. Thus, students can gather data for real science projects, most importantly, from home.”
Recreate science magic tricks.
“Go on YouTube and type in “science magic tricks.” It’s not actually magic, but you’ll find experiments that will make people really shocked and excited. Kids can learn to make water disappear with super absorbent polymers or make paper fly away by lighting it on fire. Those are really cool things to do on camera, and I’ve actually made some videos of those myself.”
Start a YouTube channel or TikTok for your science experiments.
“A lot of kids now love to record. I would strongly encourage passionate kids to dedicate an entire channel or social profile to their scientific creations, ideas, and experiments. Kids have an abundance of creative energy that they just want to unleash on the world, and technology’s allowed that to be accessible. If a parent has a hyperactive kid and needs them to sit down and focus on something, the idea of building a brand behind their STEM or science page and continuously creating new content can help.”
Identify their favorite celebs as STEM professionals.
“Kids love music producers like Metro Boomin. Basically, he’s a sound engineer who is producing sounds with a computer program. And so this guy that they think is super cool is a STEM professional. That’s one of those other things to put into context for them. Acoustics, voice recording, sound dampening technology — they’re all STEM activities. Kids don’t identify that with the traditional definition of STEM, i.e. coding and science experiments, but identifying it as such may get them excited.”
Post explainer videos on STEMedia.
“In STEM, spreading of your findings to the public is arguably as powerful as the experiments or the science itself. If you just do science in a vacuum and no one knows, then it’s almost irrelevant even at the highest levels. You get your science funded by making people aware of the importance of your research. So once you do one of these cool things, you should post to STEMedia, founded by a good friend of mine, DR. Nehemiah Mabry, who highlights a bunch of different STEM stuff on social media as a good example in Instagram explainers. Explanations of ideas can get kind of boring if you’re just sitting there talking, so the key is to learn the art of video production in order to spice things up. And note, video production is a really cool STEM skill.”
Learn to code.
“There are several different platforms that are free or affordable online where a kid can learn to code. GitHub is where coders place their creations for all to see the code they put together. It’s kind of like a LinkedIn for coders. But as far as learning to code, Code Academy and Udemy have some pretty cool courses that are relatively affordable. You can get certifications after the completion of each course that shows that you know how to code.”
Simulate a laboratory.
“First, Phet Simulations is free! They created this repository of simulated science concepts to play with. I think most of the stuff is for older kids, but there are elementary level, middle school level, and high school level simulations of different phenomena. It’s primarily used as a teaching tool, but an active and involved parent can use this to help their kids learn more about science.”
Virtual math games.
“PBS Kids has free math games for young kids. Most of these games are pretty simple like pattern matching, counting, and some of those kinds of things. What’s really cool for really young kids is the incorporation of PBS characters like Arthur.”
Lastly, learn more about COVID-19.
“There is a lot of cool information out there that can provide context for kids about what’s going on right now. I feel like if I was a young kid, I would wonder why we’re quarantined. Why do we need to do all of this stuff? That’s a gateway for your kid to understand more about virology and how epidemics work. Those questions of why a virus is infectious and how it spreads exist in the minds of a lot of kids. Plus, kids have that innate curiosity. So, it’s really important to engage them with that in a relevant way.”