STEM careers: Do we need a shift in classroom culture?

Written by Andrew Vear on 6 February 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

Back to school: Andrew Vear argues that the classroom culture needs to change to entice more students. 

Reading time: 5 minutes.

The internet has revolutionised our lives - improving the number of jobs, giving the public a voice, bringing us the powerhouse that is social media and even inventing the mighty email. But to create all of the brilliant things that the internet has given us, we need talented people with the correct skills.

Step forward STEM subjects. 

Yet despite an often attractive salary, high job satisfaction rates and STEM skills being appealing to recruiters, there is a major issue in the UK right now - people aren’t opting for it as their career route. Not everybody has an underlying passion for STEM subjects, but how can we better encourage people who may have that underlying desire or a skill that they haven’t realised yet? 

Group workshops 

As opposed to more traditional teaching methods, peer-to-peer learning can bring many benefits. Maths, engineering and ICT for example tend to be mostly solo subjects with low interaction and collaboration, so why not change this?

Now more than ever, with so much of our lives relying on connected or smart solutions, STEM leaders and experts are critical.

Collaborative learning has been found to have a strong correlation with psychological health, confidence building and inclusivity. If students link a subject to enjoyment and fulfillment, surely they are more likely to want to proceed in it? 

STEM Clubs is a programme which has rolled out something similar, and does it well. Dedicated to engaging pupils in STEM subjects in a fun and exciting way, teachers and trainers can take advice from STEM Clubs which offer support and guidance to those who want to think of inventive ways to increase interaction and enjoyment. 

Give them realistic role models 

Showing 12-year-old Olivia a male CEO from a Silicon Valley tech company as a role model isn’t going to work if she can’t relate to him. It’s easy to show a 'one-size-fits-all' case study to all the class for efficiency, but it’s highly likely that it isn’t going to resonate with all of them. 

 

Research from Microsoft has revealed that in Europe, girls who are interested in STEM doubles when they have a role model who inspires them. Create different personalities and different people who have made it in STEM. Take the time to do this, and you could be surprised at the increase in interest to people who have similar backgrounds to them. 

Create a rewarding culture 

We’ve all seen it in sports classes where you mark a specific length swum or metres run with a badge to recognise achievements. It’s a tried and tested method for good behaviour, collaboration and improvement in effort, because it works. 

Why don’t we relate to this more in STEM subjects? Once they’ve achieved a certain task or milestone, give them a badge, or reward the best student of the week. Small gratitudes go a long way!

Again, not everybody will want to pursue a career in the sector as it just won’t be for them, but if one person is rewarded for their fresh idea now, it might just be the extra nudge to get them into the industry later down the line. 

Failure isn’t bad 

Learn, improve, fail, learn, improve, fail, learn, repeat. Some students might already have the idea in mind that they want an all-singing, all-dancing career in STEM, and then hit a brick wall at their first failure and give up. 



STEM subjects aren’t easy, and they’re not designed to be, hence why the salaries are often higher. But maybe the skills gap is not just down to its difficulty, but to the fear of failure? Teach them that they haven’t just failed, that they have learnt something, no matter what that is.

Very few inventions come from zero failures - focus on how they learn and improve and how they can continue to grow in the future. 

Tackle gender imposter syndrome 

In a world heavily dominated by men, girls can feel under increased pressure to prove themselves. A study from as little as 10 years ago says that when girls are told that boys are better than them at maths, they tend to perform worse. How do we make sure our female students don’t feel like a fraud or that they 'got lucky' if they succeed and have an increased pressure to prove themselves? 

Attribute their success to their specific, unique traits that gained them their success, rather than 'luck' and they will thrive. Compliment them on their problem-solving skills or good work ethic early and whenever you see it, and they won’t feel like they were undeserving of their achievements. 

Now more than ever, with so much of our lives relying on connected or smart solutions, STEM leaders and experts are critical. They’re making the world a greater place and having an impact on almost every single aspect of our lives. 

 

About the author

Andrew Vear is owner of eBadges.

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