STEM - Classic misconceptions

4th January 2013 at 00:00
We owe it to our pupils to make the case for STEM careers

Every teacher has stood in front of a class and wondered what jobs each pupil will end up doing. Sadly, a great many of them will fail to end up in the careers to which they now aspire.

We are told that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines are crucial to the future of the UK economy and that there are widening skills gaps in these sectors. Yet if you talk to pupils, the myths that "engineers have no social skills and work in dirty environments" and scientists are "super clever, wear glasses and only work in labs" continue to prevail.

This is particularly true among hard-to-reach groups like girls (astonishingly, only 18 per cent of the IT workforce is female and only 6 per cent of the engineering workforce), ethnic minorities, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who may be the first in their family to consider higher education.

With a view to tackling this issue, I took pupils to one of the First Edition days run by education charity EDT. Hosted by universities and schools, these are designed to make young people aged 11-16 aware that STEM careers are a real option, and inspire them with practical challenges that link the science classroom to the world around them.

The EDT day we attended at Essex University allowed pupils to look at the range of careers in science and engineering while trying some hands-on activities that really inspired them, at a time when they were making some important decisions about their subject options and potential careers.

The main focus was researching our carbon footprint and looking at alternative sources of energy - in this case, solar power and renewable energy. We looked at and discussed ways of harnessing the sun's power. The pupils then had to design their own solar oven and test it by trying to heat a mug of water.

I have now taken three classes to First Edition days and they have changed the perspectives of many of my pupils, quite possibly setting them on a path towards a STEM career, as well as making many of them consider university.

Roxy, for example, had her heart set on being a professional gymnast and felt she was forced to attend the STEM day. But by the end of the day she asked me: "What grades do I need to do research at university?"

Michael Hancock is a maths teacher and AGT (able, gifted and talented) lead teacher at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. He has taught maths for 11 years. More information on First Edition can be obtained from www.etrust.org.uk or by calling 01707 871504

What else?

Give TESGA's top 10 STEM tips to parents and help them to support their children's career choices. bit.lystemTIPS

If you would like to become a STEM ambassador, check out TESGA's advice on getting started. bit.lystemAmbassador.

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