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May 21 BigDug
May 21 BigDug

How to promote STEM education at your primary school

May 10, 2021, 12:56 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Alex Ladbury discusses the benefits of building awe, curiosity, skills and life aspirations through STEM...
How to promote STEM education at your primary school

STEM-based education teaches children far more than science, technology, engineering and mathematical concepts – with a focus on hands-on learning and real-world applications it develops life-long skills such as curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication and collaboration.

STEM builds connections across the curriculum giving a firm foundation to support learning. With exceptional provision, pupils can, and do, achieve the highest levels of success. At Park Lane, pupils from the very beginning of their school career begin building STEM skills and understanding, with free inquiry, exploration and discovery in our Early Years. As they progress through school they develop more complex skills and understanding through exploration and explicitly taught science skills – identifying and classifying, understanding and following the scientific process, fair testing, analysing and presenting data and forming conclusions.

Discussions

It is crucial to promote scientific excitement and engagement with hands-on practical, integrated experiments. We create mini-projects and incorporate them into wider subjects, uniquely embedding other subject areas and skills. For example, a Year 6 project based around British Science Week’s theme, ‘Innovating for the Future’, focussed on improving the quality of life with assistive devices.

A visiting speaker with a prosthetic leg was interviewed by the pupils who asked about his challenges and needs and the benefits of his prosthetic leg. The conversations with our visitor inspired the pupils and led to many more questions being asked. Discussions about the impact on mental health, after suffering an injury requiring prosthetics, and how innovation in prosthetics improves the quality of many people’s lives created a natural link between science and PSHE.

The pupils then continued to research online about current assistive devices and presented their findings to the class. They went on to design and create their own assistive devices, planning the logistics required to create their innovative devices. One single project incorporated all aspects of STEM, and provided strong cross curricular links, clearly connecting science to the real world.

Passions

We take every opportunity to embed this real-world context into our pupils’ understanding of science. During the Mars landing there was a real buzz around school, pupils were excited about the mission and it sparked great conversations and discussions with plenty of opportunity for them to reflect on what the future of space travel might hold.

High aspirations are always encouraged and nurtured at GST. Every Friday afternoon Park Lane transforms into Griffin University, with every pupil selecting from a wide variety of options for exciting activities in which to take part. Giving pupils agency enables them to develop and follow passions they may never have discovered without these opportunities. High quality activities help raise aspirations and a love of learning that will last a lifetime.
We also offer fun, engaging workshops for the whole school cohort, with the pupils exploring STEM concepts through virtual workshops, creating their own prototypes by following a virtual presenter.

There are plenty of opportunities outside the school gates too that help promote a love of STEM and make direct connections to the world. We have The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry, which promotes engineering and STEM and supports diversity and inclusivity in the STEM community. The MTC volunteers provide stimulating, exciting activities and workshops for our pupils, including team challenges, building cooperation and iterative design, virtual reality demos to explore the virtual environment, and coding challenges. Tours of their cutting-edge workshop which features the latest manufacturing technologies and state of the art 3D printers, leave our children with a sense of awe and wonder around STEM.

A STEM environment

Providing a rich environment for discovery is an important consideration. At Park Lane we have several natural areas for pupils of all ages to explore – from the mud pit in our Early Years area, a seasonal woodland and a Forest School. Our wildlife areas encourage exploration and give pupils agency over their learning.
Pupils can also choose to dip into our ‘Science Lunchtime Boxes’ and independently investigate and experiment without guidance from a teacher. This allows pupils to follow the enquiry process at their own rate, test their ideas and form conclusions.

The boxes were originally suggested by our Science Ambassadors, whose role is to give the pupils a voice in decision making across the Trust. Our Pupil Leadership Teams play a pivotal role in provision: we pride ourselves on them being at the very core of all decisions made, with class ambassadors sharing their classmates suggestions and ideas for new equipment or experiences. Seeing their suggestions become reality promotes responsibility, respect and excitement. 

Aspirations

Computing is a high priority and we have a collegiate HUB across the three GST schools in Warwickshire, which we use to share the expertise of specialist scientists and computing experts as well as resources. A class set of VR headsets has widened pupils’ horizons with new experiences – from descending to the depths of the ocean, to viewing and manipulating a 3D image of a beating human heart. Pupil voice about these sessions is overwhelmingly positive and there is always high excitement when sessions are scheduled.

Building aspirations and widening horizons are at the heart of the Trust’s ethos, and all the schools offer extensive, free extra-curricular activities, providing quality experiences outside the usual expectations of pupils. At Park Lane we offer multiple STEM choices in our extracurricular activities: Lego We Do, coding, computing, model making, stop motion animation, cooking and other investigative science clubs. High attendance levels in the clubs shows the interest pupils have in STEM, given the choice – they want to immerse themselves in science!

STEM education highlights the importance of problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision making, leadership, entrepreneurship, acceptance of (and learning from) failure and many more. The skills gained through STEM extend beyond science, technology, engineering and mathematics, they extend throughout the curriculum, encouraging innovation and exploration and providing pupils with a varied and valuable skillset for success in life.

Celebrating STEM

  • Annual science events – World Space Week, National Stem Day, Maths Week, British Science Week and International Women in Science Day – provide the perfect backdrop for STEM to take the spotlight and allow pupils to discover and develop their talents and passions.
  • Each year all 13 Griffin Schools celebrate STEM at the Griffin Science Symposium, one of GST’s proud traditions.
  • All pupils look forward to a week packed with STEM activities and exploration. This year we were keen to ensure this important event went ahead – there were no limits for pupils and staff in our Virtual Festival of Science. Keynote speaker, Dr Anne Edwards, Plant Research Scientist at The John Innes Centre, Norwich, was joined by fellow plant scientists from around the world; they interacted virtually with our pupils delving into real-world issues, both current and future, through live-streamed workshop sessions.
  • The festival ignited excitement, awe and wonder, amongst the 1,000 Year 6 and Year 7 pupils from across all 13 schools, who were there for one purpose – to be young scientists. We encourage all our pupils to follow their dreams – their futures are limitless.

Alex Ladbury, Headteacher at Park Lane Primary and Nursery School, Nuneaton, Warks, part of Griffin Schools Trust