The engineering and science industries are a vital element of the UK economy, meaning skills shortages in the STEM sectors represent a real threat to the UK’s capacity for growth.
This is something that needs addressing at all levels, with STEM clubs (science, technology, engineering and maths) a prime opportunity to sow the seeds for change in children. They can be of value for young people of any age, but evidence shows that engagement with younger children is particularly important for challenging the status quo of low aspirations to STEM careers.
As well as the pupils, research also shows STEM clubs can have significant and measurable positive impacts on teachers and other leaders, and even the schools or colleges themselves.
What’s in it for children now?
Admittedly, it’s a while before children will be joining the workforce, but catching their interest while very young is vital and young people who take part in STEM clubs are much more likely to enjoy these subjects.
Taking part in a STEM club can also:
- Improve STEM subject knowledge supporting and building on classroom learning.
- Promote enjoyment of the subjects through hands-on activities. These can help demonstrate the real-life contexts of classroom learning while also improving engagement by less academic pupils.
- Develop different, long-lasting skills to those learnt in the classroom, for instance teamworking and project management.
- Be inclusive for all: STEM club activities can help to bust the brainy image of scientists and give students of all abilities the understanding they can have a future in this area.
What’s in it for the children in their future?
Taking an active part in a STEM club can motivate young people to consider STEM subjects for futher study and as a potential career path:
- The simple enjoyment of the clubs and activities can prompt an enthusiasm that lasts long into the future.
- Two thirds of teachers report a definable increase in attainment from students who regularly attend STEM clubs.
- Students rate themselves better at subjects – especially in D&T and science – and therefore gain confidence.
- This improved confidence then encourages them to go on to consider STEM for further study. As stated in the Aspire report, studying science can keep a child’s options open for the future.
- The additional skills developed in STEM clubs, as mentioned above, have a long-lasting effect, improving employability (in all fields).
- Continued study of STEM subjects will increase awareness of relevant careers, so opening up a whole range of opportunities and helping to narrow the skills gap.
How does the school benefit?
This may seem a selfish question, after all we are considering children and their future, but the benefit of STEM clubs to their school or other organisation is a worthy consideration. As much as educators are focused on the learning of their young charges, knowing a project isn’t an unworthy drain on resources can be a welcome reassurance in these cash-strapped times.
In short, STEM clubs are great:
- They enhance cross-curricular provision, helping to emphasise the interrelation of subjects within the real world. Yes, teachers know this, but being able to increase collaboration between staff and departments is always a good thing.
- They help to raise the profile of STEM subjects across the school. Everyone knows about the achievements of English and their performances, and PE and the school football team, so why not demonstrate the reach of the sciences too?
- There is an improved sense of satisfaction with STEM club leaders. This comes from the flexibility of running the club and the ability to tailor themes to appeal to the interests of all involved (student and teacher), in a way the curriculum cannot always allow.
- The most successful STEM clubs (and the ones savvy enough to tell people about what they do) can generate local press coverage, leading to an increase in status in the local community and a nice pat on the back for all involved.
What about the teachers or leaders?
Running STEM clubs doesn’t have to be about the school or children, teachers can benefit too:
- Increased enthusiasm, confidence and passion for teaching.
- Enhancing and updating subject knowledge.
- Improves the teachers’ understanding of current STEM concepts and debates.
- The freedom to shape and influence the activity is empowering.
- Improved pupil-teacher-school relationships.
- Facilitating improved links to local STEM employers can open up more opportunities for pupils.
So how do you set up a STEM club?
Our free book of lesson plans, Learning about Bridges, offers a real-life context for fun, engaging hands-on activities for primary school children (that are easily adaptable for all ages up to 18) to start you off. We also offer advice on setting up a STEM club, and grants for clubs using our resources. It’s also worth taking a look here.
Then you just have to invite some enthusiastic youngsters to take part.