How do you engage pupils, students and young people in STEM? Make their environment a place where they want to learn, says Craig Riley.
Are pupils excited by science and technology in your school? If they’re like most secondary pupils in the UK, the answer is, probably, not enough.
Today’s students are increasingly choosing to drop STEM subjects in favour of other courses at A Level, leading to a potential skills shortage in the next generation. So, the pressure is on for schools to find ways to make STEM subjects more attractive.
Dedicated learning environments designed especially for the study of science, technology, engineering and maths are an important and effective way to achieve this.
What’s turning them off?
There seems to be a combination of different reasons why young people are turning away from studying science and technology, despite these subjects leading to some of the most interesting and well-remunerated careers around. These include:
- Perceived difficulty. Many young people consider STEM subjects to be harder work than options in the arts or humanities.
- Stuffiness. Despite technological innovations shaping the world around us, some pupils perceive subjects like science and maths to be the preserve of boffins and professors. They may not see its relevance to the real world, or feel it is something that they can do.
- Gender imbalance. STEM is currently an overwhelmingly male career path, making up almost 80% of the STEM workforce. So girls may not see STEM subjects as an option that is realistic for them.
So, what can schools do to change these perceptions and encourage more young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths? One factor that can make a big difference to pupil engagement is to have dedicated learning environments provided for STEM subjects from age 11+.
Well-equipped classrooms and labs
There’s no doubt about it: the quality of our learning environments can have a significant effect on our levels of motivation and engagement, as well as sending an unspoken message about the value invested in the subject.
…all the gadgetry in the world is no substitute for high quality teaching, which can be known to inspire interest from the most indifferent of students.
It’s hard to muster enthusiasm for a subject taught using outdated equipment in an ill-adapted classroom – whereas cutting-edge, modern facilities boasting the very latest technology can help to inspire students to explore new topics and methods of learning.
We know that the perceptions of a subject at an early age can ‘stick’ with students for life; so if at 11, a child feels that science is not for them, they are unlikely to change their view at GCSE or A Level.
Of course, all the gadgetry in the world is no substitute for high quality teaching, which can be known to inspire interest from the most indifferent of students. But hand in hand with stimulating direction from engaging teachers, well-equipped, purpose-built classrooms and labs can help to make STEM subjects more inclusive and enjoyable for all.
Bespoke modular STEM education buildings
What are the ingredients of an inspiring STEM learning environment? For schools looking to engender enthusiasm for STEM subjects, modular science labs and classrooms boast all the facilities you would expect of a modern and high-tech learning space.
Built to bespoke specifications and engineered to suit exact requirements, modular classrooms can be designed to feature all the specialist equipment needed for learning science, technology, engineering and maths. Typical features of a modular STEM classroom might include gas burners, sinks and lab tables for small group work.
Purpose-built education buildings can also be equipped with the technology to enable all kinds of teaching media, with wifi connections and ample power outlets included as standard, and other technological learning aids available as required.
Finally, design features like natural light, open spaces and temperature control all make for a comfortable environment that promotes learning and concentration.
Addressing negative perceptions of STEM
To overcome the obstacles and get young people to engage with STEM subjects, schools need to work to address the negative perceptions that are putting pupils off, by presenting a positive view of STEM from an early age. Inspiring learning environments can play a big part in helping to draw students in and get their attention.
From there, it’s possible to give students a more rounded impression of science and technology, opening up a world that may not have been accessible to them before.
- Enjoying the challenge. If the subject matter is compelling enough, students will relish the prospect of mastering its challenges.
- Making it relevant. By capturing their interest in the classroom and showing how learning can be applied in adult life, purpose-built STEM education buildings can inspire young people to continue studying these subjects at A Level and beyond.
- Redressing the balance. Modern classrooms equipped with everything required for a hands-on education can help to make STEM subjects enjoyable for all.
Making science accessible
STEM subject qualifications are non-negotiable for many careers in science and technology. They’re also fantastically rewarding to study in their own right, and in this age of technology, there’s unprecedented application for the knowledge and skills they impart.
For many reasons, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are not always a popular or attractive option for secondary pupils. However, with a positive and inspirational dedicated STEM learning environment, schools can take measures to make science more accessible for all.
About the author
Craig Riley is the managing director of Green Modular.
Read more on STEM here