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Autumn STEM Guide

Welcome to the Autumn edition of our seasonal STEM guides! It contains:

  • STEM related autumn events and themed days/weeks
  • Quick, easy website and activity suggestions for how to get involved (click on the pictures to find out more)
  • Autumnal STEM resource recommendations

Diaries at the ready! The events listed below are a really good way to help theme your STEM activities and help children to make real-world links. From mild weather to frosty starts, from darker evenings to colourful trees, Autumn has it all! Make the most of this time of transition with these STEM events.

National Coding Week (14-20th September)

National Coding Week aims to build people’s confidence and digital skills through fun, engaging coding events. You can take part by learning to code. There are lots of great coding activities and games online to help you with this.

How to get involved…

Biology Week (3-11th October)

Biology Week showcases the important and amazing world of the biosciences, getting everyone from children to professional biologists involved in fun and interesting life science activities.

How to get involved…

World Space Week (4-10th October)

World Space Week is an international celebration of science and technology, and their contribution to the betterment of the human condition. World Space Week consists of space education and outreach events held by space agencies, aerospace companies, schools, planetariums, museums, and astronomy clubs around the world.

How to get involved…

International Archaeology Day (17th October)

International Archaeology Day (IAD) is a celebration of archaeology and its contributions to society. Every October the AIA and archaeological organisations around the world present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. 

How to get involved…

Chemistry Week (18-24th October)

National Chemistry Week (NCW) is a public awareness campaign that promotes the value of chemistry in everyday life. This years theme is ‘Sticking with Chemistry’. Visit their website for educational resources linked to this theme.

How to get involved…

Nuclear Science Week (19-23rd October)

Nuclear Science Week is an international, broadly observed week-long celebration to focus local, regional and international interest on all aspects of nuclear science. Nuclear Science week explores what it means to “Think Clean. Think Solutions. Think Nuclear.” Click here to view lesson plans and resources on their website.

How to get involved…

Bonfire Night (5th November)

Try a bonfire night-themed STEM activity such as ‘Frozen Fireworks’. This activity explores the question ‘what happens when we mix fluids of different densities’. For full instructions click here.

National Recycling Week (11-17th November)

National Recycling Week to bring a national focus to the environmental benefits of recycling. Each year Recycle Week attempts to change people’s recycling behaviours while gaining positive publicity. It’s a great chance to raise awareness of the importance of recycling to children.

How to get involved…

Autumn STEM Resource Recommendations

Here are a few of our ‘must have’ Autumn STEM resources. We think you’ll come back to them year after year with your children! Click on each picture to view it on Amazon.

Have we missed off an autumn STEM event or a ‘must have’ autumn STEM resource? If so then add it to the comments below. (note: this is a UK based website so some events have a UK focus).

A-Z of STEM Resources

When you think STEM education, what kind of resources come to mind? The chances are it’s this kind of equipment…

Expensive stuff basically! Granted, this kind of kit is amazing and you can do some fantastic STEM activities with it. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t have access to these kinds of resources.

STEM doesn’t have to blow the budget.

It can also look like this…

The kind of stuff we have lying around our homes and classrooms. The kind of stuff that fills up our recycle bins and the kind of stuff that we’re turning to particularly at the moment, when it’s harder to get to the shops.

So here’s my A-Z of everyday ‘must-have’ STEM resources, along with some tips and activity suggestions for each!

A4 paper

From recording your observations to creating the longest paper chain you can from just one piece of A4 paper, this is a staple resource for most STEM activities.

Why not try:

No matter how good you are at re-using carrier bags, it’s hard to avoid having a few single-use bags lurking around. Re-use them for egg parachutes or create a kite or a windsock.

Why not try:

This is my absolute top recommendation. Cardboard has so much play potential! Don’t believe me? Check out the book ‘Not A Box’ for inspiration. You never know when a few flat-packed boxes will come in handy!

Why not try:

Wooden dowel or sticks collected from the natural environment can become valuable building tools. For example, they could form the mast of a boat or the chassis of a car.

Why not try:

  • Recycled Boats

Elastic bands are a useful way to create flexible joins between materials. A great example is a lolly stick catapult. Safety note: this resource requires supervision.

Why not try:

…because you’ve got to make your STEM project look good! Beyond the aesthetics, felt tips are an important resource for chromatography based STEM activities.

Why not try:

Give them a wash and these jars can be transformed into all sorts of exciting STEM projects. Safety note: this resource requires supervision.

Why not try:

Place an outdoor hula hoop on the ground outside and use a magnifying glass to explore the minibeasts within the hoop. Or use string to turn your hula hoop into a spiders web!

Why not try:

Ice cubes are a very cheap resource that can be used for a range of activities. Use them to explore properties of materials or to test thermal insulators.

Why not try:

Not only is this resource a lot of fun, you can use it to explore some important real-world scenarios. For example, ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 2 contains a jelly based activity called ‘Earthquake-Proof Structures’.

Why not try:

(Computer) keyboards are central to developing technology skills in young people. We can use them to code, research, create design simulations… so many options!

Why not try:

Lolly sticks form a great building material for lots of different projects. For example, you could use them to build bridges, create catapults or to design a marble maze.

Why not try:

This is one of my ‘must-have’ resources for outdoor, nature based activities. It’s fascinating to take a closer look at the world around us and the plants and creatures within it.

Why not try:

From paper mache volcanoes to newspaper towers, this cheap, easy-to-source resource is worth having in abundance. For more details about the ‘newspaper towers’ activity, see ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 1.

Why not try:

Adding olive oil to water creates some interesting results which can be used as a starting point to exploring density. Drop in an alka-seltzer tablet and you’ve got yourself a lava lamp effect!

Why not try:

 I don’t know about you but these kinds of things often scream ‘stem potential’ to me. For example, a plastic tub lends itself brilliantly to becoming a plastic recycled boat. Note: re-use plastic rather than buying it specifically for an activity.

Why not try:

  • Recycled Boats

Can you tell I was struggling with the letter ‘q’?! Quarters (or coins) can be used in a variety of ways. Explore chemical reactions by adding acidic liquids to dirty coins. Or use coins as weights in a tin foil cargo boat.

Why not try:

Natural materials such as rocks are fun to collect and can be used in a variety of ways. See how many different ways you can sort them or use them as the hour markers on a homemade sundial.

Why not try:

This simple ingredient makes a great building material. You can use it to create structures such as towers or pyramids. Use marshmallows, plasticine or gummy sweets to create the joins between the spaghetti strands.

Why not try:

A measuring tape comes in handy for most STEM activities and is a great way to develop some measuring skills.

Why not try:

Utensils: measuring jugs, cups, bowls, spoons etc. These kinds of household items come in handy again and again for STEM activities.

Why not try:

This acidic substance creates interesting chemical reactions when added to a base such as baking soda. See an example of this in the ‘Volcanic Eruptions’ activity in ’15-Minute STEM’ Book 2

Why not try:

A staple household item, adding a squirt of washing liquid to another liquid such as milk or water breaks the surface tension and creates some interesting results.

Why not try:

Again, can you tell I was struggling with this one?! Forgive me the slightly tenuous link to electrical circuits… Having a simple electrical kit of lightbulbs, crocodile clip wires and a battery is a useful basis for many STEM projects.

Why not try:

From the ‘speakers’ of a string telephone to the container of a salt pendulum, yoghurt pots can take on many different creative forms.

Why not try:

And finally we’ve made it to the letter ‘Z’. Zips can be sewn or glued into your STEM creations to add interest and functionality.

Why not try:

Summer STEM Guide

Welcome to the Summer edition of our seasonal STEM guides! It contains:

  • STEM related summer events and themed days/weeks
  • Quick, easy website and activity suggestions for how to get involved (click on the pictures to find out more)
  • Summery STEM resource recommendations

Diaries at the ready! The events listed below are a really good way to help theme your STEM activities and help children to make real-world links. We anticipate lots of outdoor, nature-themed STEM activities over the next few months while the weather is mild and the natural world is alive with colour and activity.

30 Days Wild (throughout June)

This annual nature challenge is organised by the Wildlife Trust. They want you to do one wild thing a day throughout the whole month: for your health, wellbeing and for the planet. That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness.

How to get involved…

National Dinosaur Day (1st June)

National Dinosaur Day takes place on both the 15th May and the 1st June. It’s a great one for any budding young palaeontologists! Celebrate all things dinosaur by finding out some cool dinosaur facts and taking part in some dinosaur activities.

How to get involved…

World Environment Day (5th June)

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year, and is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Learn how all living things on Earth are connected in the web of life and how we can act for nature.

How to get involved…

World Oceans Day (8th June)

On World Oceans Day, people around our blue planet celebrate and honour the ocean, which connects us all. By working together, we can — and will — protect and restore our shared ocean. Join this growing global celebration on 8 June with continuing engagement year-round! To view the education resources on the World Oceans Day website click here.

How to get involved…

Women in Engineering Day (23rd June)

The 23rd of June celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world. It is is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry.

How to get involved…

The Big Butterfly Count (17th July – 9th August)

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 113,500 people took part in 2019, submitting 116,009 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK.

How to get involved…

National Marine Week (25th July – 9th August)

This event is the Wildlife Trusts’ celebration of all things marine. Despite the name, it lasts 15 fun-filled days to allow for the variation in tide times around the country. During this time, Wildlife Trusts all around the UK put on a jam-packed programme of events and activities.

How to get involved…

Summer STEM Resource Recommendations

Here are a few of our ‘must have’ summer STEM resources. We think you’ll come back to them year after year with your children! Click on each picture to view it on Amazon.

Have we missed off a summer STEM event or a ‘must have’ summer STEM resource? If so then add it to the comments below. (note: this is a UK based website so some events have a UK focus).

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.

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