How we’re teaching STEM in UK schools – October Workshops

Posted 20/10/2015 by E.ON

In schools, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, but really covers everything from Design Technology to Physics. It’s such a big focus for the national curriculum, but employers actually struggle to fill their STEM positions. Not enough kids go on to university or apprenticeships in STEM subjects or professions, and the result is a shortage of scientists, engineers and computer coders. Kids think these jobs are stuffy, boring and not for them. They don’t know enough about STEM and they don’t want to.

We think that needs to change

Because we work in energy, we rely on the next generation of scientists and engineers to help us move forward. So we’re running our workshops in schools throughout the year to help get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and maths again. Our October Workshops taught kids about things as specific as types of energy, right through to things as broad as the different ways you can get into a science career.

To really make a difference though, we learnt to do some serious myth-busting. Turns out, kids had STEM all wrong. Here’s a run-down of what 200 secondary school kids thought about STEM and how we changed their minds this October:

Myth 1 - Science is dull

Wrong! STEM can lead to some of the coolest jobs in the world. Fancy getting your hands dirty under the hood of the latest F1 racing cars? Want to design a bridge? How about working on a cure for cancer? All these jobs – and hundreds more like them – start with STEM subjects in schools. Not so geeky now…

Myth 2 – STEM isn’t for girls

No way. Like all jobs, gender isn’t an entry requirement for a STEM career. We taught girls aged 11-14 that maths isn’t just for boys and engineering isn’t just a man’s job. How? By getting them involved. We got the girls building circuits, speaking to E.ON experts (men and women) about their day jobs, and using the energy industry as a case study. Girl (and boy) power!

Myth 3 - Science and maths are boring

You’ve obviously never heard of MaKey-MaKey then. This cool computer turns you into an inventor – you just hook up the wires to an object and you turn them into a keyboard or a mouse. This teaches kids how to make everyday objects smart, in just the same way that smart technology is transforming our homes and cities. With MaKey-MaKey, you can play the piano on bananas or race Super Mario on a plasticine joystick. And a normal school day isn’t exactly dull – think of chemistry experiments with glowing magnesium or getting creative with a glue gun in DT.

 schoolchildren at STEM workshop - E.ON

Myth 4 - Kids don’t need to worry about jobs until they finish school

You don’t have to be a grown-up to start thinking about your career. We asked kids to start thinking about their dream jobs and the subjects that could get them there. Plus, the kids saw that what they learnt in class applied directly to the real world. We’ll let them speak for themselves here - ‘I learnt that the national grid is like a massive, scaled up version of the basic circuit I built in class.’ You’re looking at an engineer of the future right there.

Myth 5 – Kids need a university degree to get a STEM job

Sure, getting a university degree is one way into STEM. But it’s not the only way. Our October Workshops gave kids Skype connections to E.ON experts – so they could speak with a real person about what a career in STEM is like in real life, and how to get there. The kids learnt that you don’t have to go to university – you can try further education or go straight from school into an apprenticeship. The best thing to do is be informed about where you want to be, then you can find the best way to get there.

It doesn’t stop here. The challenges for getting kids into STEM are international, with companies like Microsoft weighing in on the debate and researching what can be done to meet the obstacles kids face. There are no simple solutions, but by educating children on access to careers and by making STEM fun, we’re making a good start. The number of applications to study STEM subjects at university rose by 8% last year – and is expected to keep rising. 

We’ll keep running our workshops throughout this year to make sure this trend continues. We’re also working with amazing people, like Maggie Philbin, to bring a recognisable face to that work. If you fancy holding an E.ON Skype session in your school, get in touch with us.

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