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Career-Based Learning: how young is ‘too young’?

 

What did you dream of being when you grew up? A footballer? A vet? A popstar? Ask this question to a class of children today and you may even have ‘vlogger’ or social media influencer thrown into the mix. New research published in January 2020 by the charity Education and Employers found that career aspirations are shaped early, from as young as seven. The report also found a disconnect between the careers children aspire to have and the demand in the UK economy.

Children form their career aspirations from an early age. What we don’t always appreciate is how set these views become while they’re still in primary school. The older children get, the harder their aspirations become to challenge. Crucially, children often aspire to do jobs that they are exposed to. This could be the jobs their parents do or those they’ve seen on the TV and elsewhere in the media. A child could be fascinated by insects but if they’ve never met or heard of a naturalist or an entomologist, how could they possibly aspire to be one?

As educators, we see the passions, talents and skills of the children we educate. However, we can’t expect them to know how to put these to use. A child might have a flair for science but the only careers they might know in science are a doctor, science teacher and a scientist. If they can’t see themselves in one of those jobs then it’s easy to lose engagement with the subject. Career-based learning helps children to make real-world links between what they’re being taught in lessons and the world of work. Through career-based learning we can not only challenge early perceptions and stereotypes, we can also widen career aspirations.

Giving children activities that expose them to the world of work from an early age isn’t daft, it’s helping to give them the best start in preparing for their futures. As soon as children are learning in school, they should be thinking about why they are learning it and where it could be put to use.

Here are a few things you can do to promote career-based learning in your primary school:

Bring in professionals

Invite visitors in to speak to the children about their careers. Putting a note in the school newsletter for interested parents/carers is a great place to start You could also reach out to local businesses, universities, museums or the STEM Ambassador scheme. Where possible, try to challenge children’s stereotypes. For example, meeting a female engineer or a male nurse could go a long way to changing perceptions. If it’s a struggle to fit visitors in to an already fit-to-burst timetable, consider introducing them in the form of a monthly whole-school ‘career assembly’.

Look to the future

While the future is unknowable, there are certain trends and scenarios that give us clues as to what the world of work will look like when the young people we teach enter it. For example, we’re likely to see an increase in applications of artificial intelligence, manufacturing innovation, construction and in improved transportation. We can also predict global challenges in areas including climate change, clean growth, the aging population and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Keep abreast of new developments and discuss them with your class.

Make real-world links

We can all relate to sitting in a lesson thinking ‘what’s the point in learning about this? How is this ever going to be useful to me?’ Pre-empt this by making learning relevant to the children’s lives and giving it a real-world purpose. This could simply be by having a discussion at the start of a new area of maths learning about how we might use it in everyday life, or it might be by giving the class a problem-solving activity with a real-world context.

Begin with a question

Introduce learning with a real-life problem or question. For example, ‘how can we provide shelter for people after natural disasters?’ Then stand back and let the children explore their own ideas and research the problem further, supporting where needed with additional instructions. Link the learning to conceptually similar careers, which, in the example given could be architect or environmental engineer. Introducing different careers through this kind of enquiry-based approach not only contextualises learning but may well sow the seed for inspiring the future generation into a range of in-demand UK industries.

You can read the full report here: https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Disconnected-Career-aspirations-and-jobs-in-the-UK-1.pdf

Sweetie STEM

Sweetie STEM - Children Engagement

We all know what a struggle it can be to get children to engage with a concept, particularly when we only have a pencil and paper to help us explain it. The more hands-on we can make it, the better. So…

What better way to get children’s engagement than to use sweets?

Here are a few activity ideas that you can complete with a pack of colourful sweeties. For example, Skittles or Smarties would work well. These activities help to bring learning to life, give the learning a purpose and, perhaps most importantly of all, you get to eat the sweets at the end!

Data Handling

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To begin, take your sweets and sort them by colour. Using a few packets together helps to create a larger sample size for your data handling. Younger children will enjoy ordering them into a simple pictograph, illustrating which colour is represented the most. Older children can instead represent this information in a bar chart. If you’re looking for a further challenge, move on to creating a pie chart, calculating the fractions and percentages of each colour. You could also compare your sweetie data with a partner, considering the following questions:

  • What do you notice about your graph?
  • Was there an even distribution of colours across the packets?
  • Which two colours have the maximum difference between them?

Shape, Space and Measure

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Estimating and Comparing: Before you open the packet, estimate how many sweets you think will be inside it, including how many of each colour. Then open it up and find out if your estimation was correct! It’s interesting to compare packets, exploring whether there is an even distribution of each colour. Older children could calculate the ratios of different colours.

2D Shapes: Younger children could arrange their sweets to create different 2D shapes, as shown in the photo above. They could then count how many sweets fit into each shape. Another activity could be to create symmetrical patterns with the sweeties, or even to create half a symmetrical pattern for a partner to complete. Just be careful your fingers don’t get to warm and melt the coating off the sweets!

Number patterns: This is a really fun way of exploring patterns! Begin a sequence for your child to complete, discussing what the pattern is and how they knew what colours to add next.

Symmetry

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This activity is really easy to resource and the results are always amazing to watch! Arrange your sweets in a symmetrical pattern around a plate, pour warm water into the middle and watch the coating on the sweets diffuse, creating a beautiful pattern in the water.

Share how you got on with these activities in the comments below and add any other sweetie related STEM activity ideas. 

How do you make clear ice cubes?

how do you make clear ice cubes

When it comes to making ice cubes I suspect we all have a similar technique: run the cold tap, fill up the ice cube moulds with cold water, pop in the freezer for a few hours and then remove as needed. In doing this, have you ever stopped to notice that the ice cubes you create are cloudy? In fact, they may well look like these images below:

Which got me thinking….

ice cube questions

The answer is simple and it has a lot to do with both the temperature of the water used to create the ice cubes and the way that the ice is frozen.To demonstrate this I’ve conducted a little experiment.

The Experiment

STEP 1: Take an ice cube tray and fill it with two different temperatures of water. Fill half the tray with water taken directly from the cold tap. Meanwhile the other half of the tray is filled with boiling water, straight from the kettle. Note: recently boiled water rather than water from the hot tap is best for demonstrating this. Adult supervision will be needed when trying this activity with children.

STEP 2: Carefully place your tray on a flat surface in the freezer. Make sure you’ve made a note of which end contains hot water and which contains cold!

STEP 3: Leave for a few hours, then remove and pop the ice cubes out to see the results!

 

What Are We Learning?

Boiling removes air bubbles from the liquid, allowing the water molecules to stick together even harder in the freezer. Removing these air bubbles also reduces the risk of the ice cube cracking or breaking into smaller pieces, meaning your drink stays colder for longer!

When we place the ice cube tray into the freezer, the water in the ice cube tray freezes at the outside of the cube first. This is the first part to cool down in the cold air of your freezer. As the water freezes, it pushes any impurities into the unfrozen part of the water. This means that any cloudiness is pushed to the centre of the ice cube as this is the final area to freeze. One way to counteract this is to use a technique called ‘directional freezing’ where the ice is frozen on one side first so all the cloudiness is pushed in the same direction. For example, if you freeze the ice from the top downwards then the cloudiness is pushed to the bottom, where it can then be chipped off to create a perfectly clear ice cube.

Next time you’re out at a restaurant, take a look at the ice cubes in your drink to see how clear they are!

 

Origami and STEM

origami and stem

There’s something about origami that really seems to capture children’s imagination. In most of the classes that I have taught over the years, there has been at least one child with a real passion for origami. Many a show-and-tell has been dominated by incredible paper-folding creations, from water bombs to paper dragons. Think back to your own school days; which of these origami classics do you remember creating?

Origami is the ancient art of Japanese paper folding and for many, a love of origami stems from childhood. As much as we might marvel at this paper art-form, do we see its potential beyond an interesting pastime? Origami has evolved to be much more than paper folding. Here are some examples, with real-world applications within areas such as engineering, medicine and technology.

origami and maths

At a primary school level, origami is a fantastic way to explore mathematical concepts including geometry, fractions and angles. Turning a simple square of paper into a piece of completed origami involves a lot of mathematical thinking. Origami instructions involve following steps of folds, often referred to as ‘crease patterns’, in order to create different geometric constructions. Children will need to use knowledge of directionality and angles in order to complete these correctly. Throughout the process they will create other shapes starting from a square including equilateral triangles, pentagons and hexagons. Patterns also feature heavily in origami.

The TED talk above, entitled ‘The math and magic of origami‘ explains in more detail about the complex mathematics involved in origami.origami and engineering

Many of the real-world applications for origami can be found within engineering. Take the example of car airbags. Did you know that their compact, quick inflating design was inspired by origami? Engineers took inspiration from origami patterns and folding methods to deploy how the airbag is stored and deployed. Engineers are continuing to draw upon origami techniques when developing new structures and technologies.

origami and medicine

In 2003, a new, origami-inspired heart stent design was created. Designed around an origami water bomb base, the purpose of the stent was to enlarge clogged arteries and veins. The origami design allows the stent to be expanded to different sizes depending on its application. Likewise, origami-inspired forceps are helping to revolutionise robotic surgery, allowing for delicate, precise cuts.

origami and space

There are plenty of examples of origami-inspired space technology. One such is the solar array. The combination of different folds expands into a large, flat circular surface. These solar arrays can then be used to convert solar energy into electrical power. More examples of how NASA engineers use origami to design future spacecraft can be found here:

 

And all this is just the start! I hope this blog has inspired you to find out more about the real-world applications of origami. Do let me know your thoughts and further ideas via social media or in the comments section below.

10 ways to nurture children’s STEM skills this summer

10 ways to nurture children's STEM skills this summer

Here we are, just days into the holidays, a long summer with the family stretching out in front of you. One thought is beginning to weigh heavily on your mind: ‘How on earth am I going to keep my children entertained?’ It’s all very well leaving them to their own devices but it doesn’t take long before the novelty of lie-ins, endless screen time and lack of routine wears off and you hear them utter those dreaded words: ‘I’m bored!’

Keeping children amused in the holidays is a daunting prospect for many parents and keeping the cost down even more so. However, the summer holidays are a golden opportunity for children to explore, learn new skills and put their learning into a real-world context. What’s more, nurturing your child’s natural curiosity and creativity is an excellent way to broaden their horizons and shape their future aspirations.

Recent research by the charity Education and Employers shows that children form their perceptions about careers and jobs at an early age, developing their future ambitions from as young as seven. However, making a connection between primary school lessons and the jobs they might one day pursue is not easy. This research also shows that there is a major disconnect between the careers that primary-aged children are most interested in and those that the economy needs.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related industries are some of the fastest growing and demand for skilled workers is only set to grow. From robotics to caring for our environment, space exploration to the digital revolution, these disciplines have an impact that can already be seen in every aspect of our lives. Preparation for STEM careers is not just a matter of imparting hard knowledge, but nurturing ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork and problem solving. Fortunately, STEM activities and soft skills go hand-in-hand.

Here are ten quick, easy ways to nurture a love of STEM this summer. They won’t break the bank, and might just prevent those dreaded words… ‘I’m bored!’

Go on a nature walk

Nature walks are a fantastic way to unwind and appreciate the natural world outside. Spend time searching for minibeasts like beetles and ants in different habitats, using a magnifying glass to take a closer look. Alternatively, look for naturally occurring patterns, from the symmetry of a butterfly’s wings to the spirals in a snail’s shell or the tessellation in tree bark. The natural world is full of patterns!

blow some bubbles

Have a go at creating a 2D shape bubble wand by cutting straws into quarters and bending pipe cleaners through them to join the straw segments together. For more of a challenge, create a 3D shape bubble wand. Cubes and pyramid shapes work particularly well for this. Then dip your bubble wand into soapy water, take a good look at your bubble and then blow it away!

Enjoy a local adventure

Take a trip to a local museum or zoo. This is a great way to not only bring learning to life but also to meet experts in different fields. What’s more, many museums run free events and workshops for children throughout the summer holidays. Look up locations near you for more information.

Get puzzling

Play puzzles and games. Activities such as Sudoku and chess are great for developing logical thinking, an important skill in STEM subjects. Construction toys such as Lego help to develop spatial awareness. Anything involving dice is great for developing mathematical skills.

Make a stick raft

Challenge your child to create a raft out of natural materials. Sticks, joined together with twine are perfect for this and a leaf can make an excellent flag. Then test your raft in a bowl of water or stream to see if it floats!

Appreciate the night sky

Try your hand at a spot of stargazing on a clear evening. There are lots of free apps available for download to help you navigate the sky above you. For a closer look at the stars, locate a free star gazing event near you. The ‘Go Stargazing’ website is a great place to start.

Create a junk modelling masterpiece

It’s amazing what can be constructed out of the contents of a recycle bin. Cardboard tubes such as those found on kitchen and toilet roll can be taped to a wall to create a marble run. Vary the angles of the tubes to create different speeds of travel. Another idea could be to create a moving vehicle or boat out of junk modelling materials.

Fix something

Find out how things work. For example, try taking a simple mechanical toy apart and reassembling it again (steering clear of electrical items). As you do so, discuss the function of all the different parts.

Construct a newspaper tower

Challenge your child to create the tallest freestanding tower that they can out of newspaper. Sticky tape works best for joining the structure together. You could make this competitive by setting a timer to see who can build the tallest tower in the allotted time: you or your child?

Set off on a scavenger hunt

Give your child a list of ten things to find in the natural world. Ideas that work well are a list of colours, textures, shapes or smells. They can tick items off the list once found or even take a photo of them as evidence.

 

For each of these activities, you can discuss their relations to different sorts of jobs. For example, a newspaper tower could be connected to the role of a civil engineer or architect; the nature walk to the job of a biologist or forester; the junk modelling to the job of a design engineer. Plan these activities into your summer holidays and perhaps you might just plant some seeds for future ambitions in the process.

For more STEM activities and ideas, order your copy of 15-Minute STEM here.

15-minute STEM

8 ways to teach robotics

 

robotics

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

– Malcolm X

In the fast paced digital world in which we live, barely a week goes by without the release of a new device or app. The children of today have grown up with this digital revolution and rely heavily on technology for entertainment, communication and information. As we look ahead it would be foolish to underestimate the impact that technology, automation and artificial intelligence will have on the future workplace. From driverless cars to robotics, the world is changing fast. The question is:

Are we teaching children the the skills they need to prepare them for the technological advances of the future?

Plus, with school budgets stretched to the limit, how can we provide forward-thinking technology education on a budget? We’ve put together a few ideas linked to the world of robotics…

Bee-Bots

These colourful programmable floor robots are a great way to teach directionality, programming and sequencing and are perfect for the 5-11 age range. A great way to begin is by marking out simple routes for the Bee-Bot to follow. For example, try sticking masking tape onto carpet to create a maze. Once children have got to grips with this, challenge them to devise and program and debug their own more complex routes. Currently retailing for £57.94 here on Amazon.co.uk

Lego Mindstorms

Lego Mindstorms

This educational program helps children to design, program and control robotic creatures, vehicles, machines and inventions. Lego is combined with programmable brick, motors and sensors, so you can make your creations walk, talk, grab, think, shoot and do almost anything you can imagine! These kits are on the pricier side at around £270 here but once purchased can be used again and again.

Lego WeDo

This resource is developed for primary aged children as an introduction to control technology and programming using robotics. The software is clear and intuitive for young children and comes in the form of an app. Click on their website here to find out more and download sample software and curriculum packs for free.

Raspberry Pi

This is a small, affordable computer that you can use for programming. Use it to learn to program with Scratch. You can kit yourself out with a Raspberry Pi here for around £36. Then head to their website to learn how to use this device in the classroom and take advantage of their free online training.

Sphero

These ping pong ball sized robotic balls can be controlled by an app and can even use facial recognition technology to drive the ball. They contain LED lights to allow them to glow many colours. The app is quick and intuitive for children to use. They’ll love navigating their Sphero around mazes and obstacles. Currently retailing for £49.99 here on Amazon.co.uk

Vex Robotics

Each kit comes with step-by-step instructions to build and program your robot. Kits include robotic arms, catapults and zip flyers. Each kits varies in price with the hydraulic robotic arm (pictured) currently retailing for £33.49 here on Amazon.co.uk

Scratch

Scratch allows the user to program their own interactive stories, games and animations. These programming skills are likely to come in hand in the future as the ‘language of robotics’. What’s more, you can connect and program hardware such as Raspberry Pi and Lego Mindstorms through Scratch. If you’re not already familiar with this fab free software then click here to find out.

nasa robotics

Nasa Robotics

The Nasa Robotics website is full of fantastic free resources for educators and children. This includes lesson plans and examples of how robots such as the Mars Exploration Rover have been used in space. Check it out here.

 Have you used a good robotics resource that we haven’t included? If so then comment below.

STEM education around the world

STEM education around the world

As a UK-based website, the global readership of our STEM resources is a constant source of fascination for us. At present our top 5 countries of access are:

1) Australia
2) United Kingdom
3) United States
4) New Zealand
5) India

This got us thinking. How does STEM education differ between these countries? Who is doing it ‘best’? We’ve done our research and these are the findings:

In 2015, all Australian education ministers agreed to the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026 which focuses on  developing mathematical, scientific and digital literacy; and promoting problem-solving, critical analysis and creative thinking skills. The strategy aims to deliver improvements to STEM education and has two main goals:

  1. Ensure all students finish school with strong foundational knowledge in STEM and related skills
  2. Ensure that students are inspired to take on more challenging STEM subjects

The Australian government also funds several early learning and school-based initiatives. This includes a $AUD 6 million investment in the ‘Early Learning STEM Education’ scheme (ELSA, a play-based digital STEM learning platform for preschool children). They will invest $AUD 4 million in the ‘Little Scientists‘ STEM professional development programme for early childhood educators and teachers. The ‘STEM professionals in schools‘ programme facilitates partnerships between schools and industry to bring real-world STEM into the classroom.

A 2016 report, entitled UK STEM education landscape conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering highlighted that the UK needs better coordinated STEM education from a young age in order to have a long-term impact. This includes changing negative stereotypes associated with STEM careers and providing better professional development for teachers to help them apply learning within a real-life context. The UK government recognises the importance of encouraging students from an early age to have an appreciation and growing understanding of science. There are a wide range of public, private and third sector initiatives aiming to support STEM engagement for young people. These include STEM Learning and WISE Campaign. These organisations can approach the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) for funding, an independent charity which funds innovative educational approaches  that have the potential to raise attainment and improve outcomes.

The United States recognises the need for investment in STEM education in order for young people to be competitive in the jobs market. In September 2017 President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum to expand access to high-quality STEM education for young people. It will put STEM education, particularly computer science, at the forefront of the Department of Education’s priorities. It also aims to devote at least $200 million a year in grant funds towards this area.

The New Zealand government has recently been encouraging schools to promote STEM education in the hope that this will ease the STEM skills shortage. The Ministry of Education supports teacher training programs such as Teach First and Manaiakalani Digital Teachers Academy programme which help to place high performing STEM graduates and digitally confident teachers in education.

A national strategic plan, A Nation of Curious Minds, is a government initiative with a ten-year goal to promote the importance of science and technology in New Zealand. Since 2015 it has funded more than 175 projects in excess of $NZD 6 million.

India is the second most populous country in the world. In 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi launched the ‘Skill India‘ campaign, aimed at training over 400 million young people in different skills by 2022. One such skill is STEM education. One challenge the country faces in doing so is designing the infrastructure and curriculum to support this objective. Since the campaign began there has been a focus on developing innovation and manufacturing skills from a young age. The India STEM Foundation organisation works in partnership with India’s Department for Science and Technology to promote STEM education across the country.  Other organisations playing a pivotal role in developing STEM education in India include STEM Champ and EduTech.

After reviewing the government policy initiatives and third sector contributions in these five countries, we think Australia may be slightly ahead of the game. But what do you think? Add your comments on this below.

The Big Blog of Seasonal STEM Books

If you’re looking for real world inspiration for your STEM activities then the seasons are a great place to start. We’ve recommended our favourite seasonal STEM books, dividing them between Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Within each category you will also find STEM books linked to seasonal events such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Our big blog enables you to look up books linked to the current season or plan your book order ready for the next one.

Click on each image to find out more about the book including the age recommendation, key concept and an Amazon link.

We’ll keep adding books to this blog as we come across them so do check back!

SPRING

SUMMER

AUTUMN

WINTER

Have we missed a great seasonal book? Comment below and we’ll add it on.

How To Organise a STEM Week

The idea for HowToSTEM first came about when I organised a STEM week at my primary school. Full of enthusiasm, I turned to the internet for inspiration, only to find… well, not a lot! Unlike the well-trodden maths or science themed weeks, there really wasn’t a lot available in terms of STEM resources aimed at younger children. Likewise, I struggled to find other primary schools that had organised a similar event. It was this realisation that prompted the creation of this website, to help other teachers (and indeed, parents) looking for STEM inspiration. Fast forward a year or so and I’m pleased to see that primary school STEM weeks are increasingly popular. If you’re looking to organise a STEM week in your school then I hope the advice below is useful to you.

DECIDE ON A THEME OR SERIES OF PROJECTS

Every STEM week needs a focus. One way to approach this is by having a whole school STEM theme. With a bit of forward planning you may even be able to coincide this theme with an annual event such as ‘World Space Week’ (October) or ‘National Robotics Week’ (April). The theme can then be broken down into separate year group focuses. For example:

Main theme: Transport.  Year group focuses: cars, planes, boats, rockets.

Main theme: Space. Year group focuses: planets, stars, rockets, sun/moon.

If this whole school theme approach isn’t for you then an alternative is to allocate separate year group STEM themes. This approach allows you to represent a wide range of STEM areas, all in one week. You can choose whether to link each theme to what the children have been learning or go completely off curriculum. Examples STEM themes are:

…the list goes on and on!

THINK ABOUT THE END RESULT

Start thinking ahead about what you’d like the final outcome of the week to be. Consider the following:

  • How much of the weekly timetable will be set aside for STEM? The whole week? Every afternoon?
  • Will each year group be working on one big project or a series of smaller projects?
  • How will you share the learning with the school community?
  • How will you display the learning around the school?

I have no doubt that your STEM week will create quite a buzz, both in school and amongst the parents. It’s therefore important to bring the school community together to share this learning. You may chose to do this in an assembly at the end of the week, allowing year group to present their learning. Alternatively you could organise a STEM week exhibition during which each class lays out their learning in their classroom for parents/carers and other classes to visit. I heard of one school who held a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style event at the end of their STEM week. Each year group had been challenged to create a product linked to their whole school STEM theme and concluded the week by pitching it to the ‘dragons’ (a selection of governors!).

You’ll find you have plenty of wonderful creations to decorate the school with. It’s worth liaising with teachers in advance to make sure they keep a sample of the work for you. Think about the area/notice boards you will use for the display and whether you will need a size restriction (some of our STEM creations turned out to rather too large for display!)

EXTERNAL WORKSHOPS & VISITORS

No matter where you are based, there are likely to be many people in your local community willing to work with your school during the week. When organising visiting speakers and workshops, consider reaching our to places such as relevant university departments, nearby zoos, local museums, and, of course, STEM ambassadors. If you’re not already aware of the STEM ambassadors scheme, they have over 30,000 ambassadors who volunteer their time and expertise to promote STEM to young people (https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors/ambassadors). Contact your nearest STEM ambassador hub to arrange a visit. My top tip would be to do so a few months in advance of your STEM week, detailing exactly the areas you will be focusing on. They can then include your school in their monthly email to ambassadors and will help to pair you up with the most relevant people to your topic. Aim to organise a visiting speaker or workshop per year group, as well as a STEM assembly or two. Our STEM week was launched with a fantastic assembly from the local university’s chemistry department, complete with explosions!

It’s tempting to spend lots of money booking workshops and visitors. I’ll let you in on a secret: the only cost incurred for our STEM week was for the project resources (things like card and dowel, most of which were acquired cheaply from Scrapstore). Every single visitor and workshop was completely free! Granted, the school was well-located in a large city but with a bit of effort and a few emails, I hope you could achieve something similar almost anywhere in the country.

PARENT VISITORS

Possibly one of your most valuable resources is standing right outside your classroom door. You’d be amazed how many of the parents and carers within your school community have STEM experience. Spread the word about your themed week and you will most likely find volunteers willing to lead workshops or Q&A sessions linked to their career. During our STEM week we had all sorts of wonderful visitors: pilots, boat builders, wind farm engineers, firemen – who knew we had such accomplished parents? We were particularly keen to invite in women working in STEM careers. There is now increasing awareness about the underrepresentation of women in STEM, as well as the misconception that STEM subjects are ‘male’. Inviting in female role models is an excellent way to challenge this. Some parents popped in for 10min sessions, answering questions about their job, others led workshops and hands-on activities. Their knowledge and expertise brought a depth to the week that we as teachers would struggle to attain and made our lives much easier in the process!

We hope you have found this advice useful. Do comment below if you would like to add anything further.

Teaching Soft Skills Through STEM

teaching soft skills through stem education

The Prince’s Trust recently surveyed teachers, parents and pupils to ask them about the place of soft skills in education. Their Results for Life report (see here) was published in September, and found that:

  • 43% of young people don’t feel prepared to enter the workforce, with 43% of those who feel this way believing their soft skills are not good enough
  • More than a quarter of teachers (27%) think that their students don’t yet have all the soft skills required to do well after school
  • 72% of workers felt they didn’t have all the soft skills to do well in their role when they started working

These findings are nothing new. For years we’ve seen reports telling us how employers value soft skills over technical knowledge in graduates and how soft skills are the main deficit in new graduates’ capabilities.

So what are soft skills and why are they so important?

Hard skills are the teachable abilities that we measure in schools such as reading, writing and mathematics. By contrast, soft skills are harder to quantify and tend to be self-developed. Examples are communication, teamwork, time management, resilience and problem solving. The Results For Life report concludes that such skills are considered to be as important to achieving success in life as good grades, by young people, teachers and workers alike. Whilst hard skills are indispensable, it is soft skills that help candidates stand out from the crowd and succeed in both the workplace and in life. Some employers claim to value them even more than professional experience. These soft skills often carry greater weight when applying for positions of leadership; I’m sure we can all think of a person in a position of leadership who has achieved this more for their exceptional soft skills than their technical abilities.

What can schools do to develop soft skills?

In his foreword to the ‘I CAN’ ‘Skills for Work, Skills for Life’ report (see here) Bob Reitemeier wrote that

despite recent attention from business and education sectors recognising the role soft skills play in work-readiness, the skills gap continues – with young people being overlooked because they lack this core skill set’.

With an education system focused on quantifiable academic success it’s no surprise that soft skills are pushed aside. Young people in the UK are under great pressure to succeed in exams, and spend an increasing amount of time working independently, often with a fear of criticism and failure. As a result, development of soft skills like team working and spoken communication can take a back seat; yet such associated qualities such as humility and self-confidence can improve the overall academic performance that we care so much about. It’s clearly time for schools to integrate the development of soft skills into the curriculum. One way of doing this is through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Boosting soft skills through STEM Education

STEM-related careers are one of the fastest growing areas of employment and STEM graduates are in a position to earn some of the highest starting salaries. Soft skills are increasingly required in these industries, in particular communication, teamwork, self-organisation and critical thinking. Done well, STEM activities can also be a way of developing soft skills.

Take a recent primary school STEM project. The year six children arrived at school to a crime scene: their school trophy had been stolen and the culprit had left a trail of destruction in their wake. Over the course of the week, the children collaborated together to solve the crime, classifying fingerprints, predicting the height of the criminal from their footprints, using paper chromatography to analyse written evidence and building up a profile of the criminal. They were visited by a policeman and a forensic scientist, found out about their roles in solving crimes, and ended the week by interviewing the suspects and successfully identifying the culprit.

The example above uses an interdisciplinary, project-based learning approach to teaching, based on solving real-world problems. It ticks a lot of boxes in terms of developing the soft skills our young people need. As with many STEM activities, it also involves a certain level of trial and error. However, these setbacks also teach important soft skills, helping children to develop the resilience and perseverance needed in life. One criticism from employees against our education system is that graduates are not adept at problem-solving, expecting to be told what to do rather than figuring it out themselves. STEM education is one way to combat this. When participating in STEM projects, children must learn to work in a team, listen to each other and communicate their ideas to others.

Young people recognise they need better soft skills, employers expect them, and teachers want to deliver them: better STEM education has been on the agenda for a long time, and by focusing on a real-world, problem-based approach, we can get enhanced soft skills into the bargain too.

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