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5 ways to get started with STEM education


STEM education… we hear those words a lot nowadays. We know that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will play a crucial role in shaping our futures. STEM education is a cross-discipline approach to teaching these subjects with problem solving at its heart. Great STEM education works through activities with real-world applications, helping children to understand how their learning is relevant and how they could use it in the future.

But how do we get started with it?

Here are 5 quick, easy to implement ways to help get you started.

Remember…

  • You don’t need to be an expert in STEM to deliver great STEM education.
  • You don’t need lots of spare time in your day to fit STEM education in.
  • You don’t need lots of expensive resources.

Start with these small steps and you’ll steadily see the STEM culture in your classroom grow!


 

STEM activities with a practical, real-world purpose are a really fun way to engage children with STEM education. Not only that but they’re a great way to get children working collaboratively – perfect for the start of the academic year!

I truly believe that it’s possible to slot high-quality STEM education into those spare 15 minutes in your day.

Take my 15-Minute STEM books. Each book contains 40 activities, each starting with a curiosity question to spark interest and excitement. They give you activity instructions and an explanation of the learning. There’s even suggestions for further investigation if you wish to take the activity further.

Or check out the free STEM activities on our website here. New activities are added regularly!


How to get started with simple STEM activities:


Our year is packed full of rich opportunities to set STEM education within a real-world context. From seasonal celebrations such as Halloween or Easter to special days/weeks such as National Space Week or Ada Lovelace Day.

It’s always good to be aware of whats coming up each month so you can plan opportunities to link your STEM learning to it. For example, Autumn is the perfect time to try out our free Frozen Fireworks activity.

We’ve put together a handy guide for each season so you can plan ahead. You can find these in our blog section. We also recommend you make links to local events going on in your community, as well as to global events going on in the news.


How to get started with celebrating STEM events:


When you think STEM education, what kind of equipment comes to mind? Robotics, Raspberry Pi, 3D printers… expensive stuff!

STEM education doesn’t need to break the budget. It can also be all of these things: cardboard boxes, lolly sticks, yoghurt pots and elastic bands. The kinds of things we have lying around our homes and classrooms.

Instead of throwing these things out, save them up, safe in the knowledge they will soon come in handy for a STEM activity! Over time you could build up a class or school ‘Makerspace’, an area to store creative materials. For now a box in your cupboard will do.


How to get started with saving STEM resources:


It’s easy to underestimate the influence of a book on a child’s understanding of the world. Stories help to shape children’s perspectives and form their understanding of cultural and gender roles. What better way to teach the importance of STEM skills than through a book?

There are lots of fantastic fiction books around that your class will love. See below for some of our suggestions, including seasonal STEM books and maths picture books.

STEM books are also a great way to address diversity and challenge stereotypes in STEM. They help to introduce positive role models and to raise the profile of influential people in STEM.


How to get started with reading STEM books:


What better way to bring STEM education to life than with STEM visitors. When we invite in people working in STEM careers we not only help to educate children a bit more about the world of work but also to introduce them to a range of positive role models.

Why not start with the school playground? Reach out to the parents in your school community to see if they would be willing to speak to the class about their jobs. You may well be surprised by the offers you get!

Additionally try approaching local companies and businesses. You will find they are often only too happy to help out and some really productive relationships can come about as a result of this.


How to get started with speaking to STEM visitors:


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.

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