Joe Bradbury is a STEM expert with over 18 years’ teaching experience, specialising in science. He is currently the lead Education Product Designer at Primary Engineer, a not-for-profit organisation that brings engineering into the classroom and trains the next generation of educators as an Associate Tutor at Edge Hill University.
As technology evolves to match the drive for sustainability and greener products, AI and automation, career prospects in STEAM industries (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) continue to grow. Research predicts that the number of STEAM roles will double in the next ten years.
The STEAM world is vast and varied, and so many exciting opportunities will exist for young people in this area in the future. To equip them with the right skills and mindsets for careers that may not exist yet, our teaching approaches must adapt.
Building an Inclusive Learning Environment
Encouraging more young people into STEAM industries starts with creating a thriving STEAM environment at a young age.
Allowing learners to test and challenge their ideas in the classroom is key to unlocking their potential. Particularly with children who thrive on challenge and those often labelled as low attainers judged predominately on their performance in maths and English lessons.
Some key things to consider are:
- How much hands-on learning do the children get?
- Are the children able to tinker or ‘have a go’ at solving problems?
- Do we allow them to recognise that there are multiple ways of solving a problem?
- Do they see ‘FAIL’ as the First Attempt In Learning?
In practice, this may involve allowing more time for children to talk through their ideas with each other; testing, refining ideas, problem solving – and helping them see failure as an opportunity to learn.
While allowing time to create something that works, rather than allotting a set time frame may go against the time-pressured test conditions learners are used to, it can work wonders in helping to raise their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
Science and Engineering: STEAM Experience and Exposure
Teaching STEAM in a classroom environment is only one part of a child’s learning experience. Much like cultural capital, ‘STEAM capital’ is built through a person’s real-world experiences.
Opportunities for making real-life science and engineering experiences might include playing with Lego, trips to museums and zoos, experimenting with science kits, using microscopes and telescopes, watching educational science programmes, creating and building, reading books about STEAM.
Building a solid STEAM capital and changing children’s attitudes towards STEAM subjects is vital for worldwide economies. One of the challenges is how to help young people view aspirational career prospects as attainable.
Research into 15-16-year olds attitudes to science found that while 75% thought scientists do important jobs, only 14% of those aspired to become scientists.
The same questions were asked to 10-11-year-olds, 12-13-year-olds and 13-14-year-olds, and they all said more-or-less the same: ‘science isn’t for me’. This suggests learners don’t always see science as a feasible career choice – i.e. it is elitist and they must be super-clever to achieve success.
Answering why this perception exists requires thinking about representation and bias. Consider for a moment if the exports you reference in class or the displays in your classroom showcase a range of scientists of different ages, genders and ethnicities. Are they all wearing lab coats? Very few scientists are lab-based all the time. Therefore a stereotypical image of a scientist in a lab coat doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
Raising Awareness and Changing Perceptions
If a child doesn’t show any interest in any STEAM subjects, neither teachers nor parents can forcibly change their opinion. But the questions we can ask ourselves are: have we given them the whole picture – not just a tiny subsection or representation – of a STEAM industry? Have we inspired curiosity?
Have you ever asked your class what they think an engineer is? Almost half of 11- 19-year-olds know little or almost nothing about what engineers do. Research by the Institute of Engineering and Technology found that most children (and their parents) associated engineering with machinery, grease, factories and thought it was a job for males.
Challenging these beliefs and bringing engineering into the classroom in a way that allows learners to unleash their creativity is key to encouraging more young people to pursue engineering.
Raising awareness of the variety of different routes into STEAM subjects – including both A-Level and apprenticeships – may also spark children’s interests, particularly those who are less academic or respond better to hands-on training.
Find out more about how STEAM will prepare the workforce of the future >>
Practical Tips for Implementing STEAM
Any time-poor teachers or parents reading this may be thinking, ‘I don’t have time for STEAM’. But with some simple tweaks and consideration, STEAM can be easy to incorporate.
- Consider ways to get the children involved in some hands-on learning, some tinkering, some ‘imagineering’
- Get involved with STEAM projects or sign up to some free STEM competitions
- Invite some free STEAM ambassadors into school – perhaps individuals that have taken a less traditionally academic route into one of the STEAM industries
- Instead of following a ‘one-size-fits all’ curriculum, look at ways in which certain topics and themes fit together to create great opportunities for cross-curricular project-based learning where children can utilise all manner of skills, increasing their self-esteem, their enjoyment and STEAM capital.
Take a project based on renewable energies and all the curriculum areas that could be included, for example.
- Design and build solar-powered cars or solar model houses in design technology
- Learn about recyclable materials in science
- Study emissions statistics in maths and present findings in ICT
- Design an infographic in art
- Create code in computing to turn on/off appliances to help reduce carbon footprint – the possibilities are endless.
All of this will help raise the STEAM capital of the young people we teach and make learning so much more meaningful.
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