Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education is important as the world depends on it – we are surrounded by STEM in our everyday lives. It provides pupils with life skills; the idea is to prepare them for successful careers in the modern workforce. They can learn to take risks, create, work with others, think outside the box, and understand that it is alright to fail. All pupils should be encouraged to study and be enthused by STEM since many of the careers available to them will be related in one way or another. This guidance outlines the ways in which STEM learning can be encouraged in school and at home.
STEM in school
Engaging young children in STEM doesn’t have to be hard. Early learners are curious and by asking them to investigate and question the natural world, you are engaging them in STEM.
Try taking children outside; if you don’t have access to natural areas or a more developed park, you could get children to work together to plant a small garden or grow seeds in cups. Ensure that children are asked “what” questions, such as “what are these ants doing?”, and encourage them to observe, explore and communicate.
Schools can celebrate STEM by organising dedicated events that provide opportunities for pupils to get excited about the possibilities of STEM that go beyond the limitations of timetables and tests. By creating a stimulating environment for pupils to explore, schools can help to build their confidence, realise their potential and have fun.
One way to raise the profile of STEM subjects, and to ensure you are embedding as many opportunities for children to experience the curriculum as possible, is to dedicate a day or week to STEM, during which all year groups can be involved in various activities. Tasks can be based on each year’s ability and classes can work together to create a finished product.
One primary school, for example, has previously divided classes into teams to represent an element of the STEM acronym:
- Science – creating food
- Technology – advertising
- Engineering – designing and refining the product and packaging
- Maths – money and budgeting
Pupils are likely to be enthused about something that is different to their normal school routine and that requires creative, problem-solving skills.
It can be a good idea to encourage pupils to work in mixed attainment groups and with peers they might have otherwise not worked with; this way, pupils who are already comfortable in particular STEM subjects can support and help their peers feel more confident.
Sometimes, subjects like maths or physics can be perceived as having no use outside of school; problems can arise in secondary school where a poor experience with a STEM subject has an effect on a pupil’s FE choices.
In order to give pupils the opportunity to meet people who work in STEM-related careers, get career advice, share ideas, and raise the profile of people working in STEM environments, you can encourage pupils and teachers to form a STEM group of sorts. These groups can meet regularly and be accompanied by different guests that work in the industry. Whether they are a scientist, aviator or radiologist, pupils will be keen to learn where their studies can take them.
In January 2018, a study conducted by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that a gender gap existed in most STEM subjects, particularly at A-level. The report highlighted that female pupils made up 42 percent of all STEM entries last year, and female pupils regularly outperform their male peers in many of the subjects.
Though the DfE has a number of initiatives in place which are boosting participation in STEM subjects, schools can also play a part in doing so.
Some schools have implemented initiatives through which a group of female pupils and teachers meet regularly to discuss women in STEM and meet with women in the industry. These groups have proven to work well in boosting female pupils’ confidence and helps to challenge the gender gap in STEM studies that continues into the workplace; however, these groups can work just as well in encouraging all genders to study STEM.
STEM at home
Children continue to learn when they are at home, and parents can play a vital role in introducing STEM learning into their children’s lives. STEM surrounds children at home – cooking, fixing a bike, gardening – these are all suitable activities for children that involve observing, asking questions and identifying problems. Parents can also plan family trips to museums or zoos that encourage interests in science and the natural world.
Ask parents to talk to their children about STEM or their own careers, and to ask questions about what their children want to do. They can encourage their children to continue asking the “what?” and “how?” questions at home and embrace their curiosity.
If you choose to host a STEM related meeting or event at school, invite parents along to see what their children have been working on – asking for their feedback will allow you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your STEM initiative. This can help to keep parents engaged with their child’s learning and provides them with an understanding of the importance of STEM.
Schools can provide support to other schools; STEM Learning provides information on Science Learning Partnerships which is available here. They are led by local teaching school alliances, schools and colleges with excellence in science. If you find that gender stereotypes are apparent within your school, there are plenty of initiatives that you can get involved with to boost pupils’ confidence. GirlsGetSET is an exciting scheme aimed at showing girls aged 13-to-18 what STEM is all about.
Good quality STEM education starts with good quality teaching; our guidance on Professional Development for STEM Teachers identifies the ways in which school leaders can boost opportunities for their STEM staff, including various CPD opportunities, sustainable projects, and more.
Busby, E., (2018) ‘Women with Stem skills ‘lost to the economy because of A-level gender gap’’, para.3 <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/women-stem-skills-lost-economy-because-a-level-gender-gap> [Accessed: 18 February 2018]
Hillview Primary School (2018) (Email conversation about STEM week) [Personal communication: 13 February 2018]
The Crypt School (2018) (Email conversation about WISE group) [Personal communication: 28 February 2018]