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.
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.