Motivating female students to engage with STEM

D ShineDaniel Shine is 26 years old and originally from Ireland, but has been working at Passmores Academy in Harlow, Essex for the past four years.  At Passmores Academy, Daniel teaches Science, as well as being the also the STEM coordinator and a Deputy Head of House. Here, Daniel shares his Lightening Talk from SER17 topic about how we can motivate females to engage with STEM.

 

 

“Over the past year I have taken on the role of STEM coordinator in my school. Whilst the role came about as a result of various collaborative projects within the school and the wider local community, it was also encouraged by the increasingly high profile of STEM based subjects/activities and, perhaps even more so, by the subsequent career opportunities afforded to students by a holistic approach to STEM in schools.

It was during the planning of my vision and action plan for my new role when I was confronted with an unexpected challenge.  A majority of students, and quite a lot of staff, were blissfully unaware what STEM stood for or what outcome it aimed to deliver.  How could such a topical feature of today’s education agenda and such a focal point in the discussion around the future of business and enterprise be so unfamiliar?  This shocked me and motivated the first objective in my action plan – to increase the profile of STEM across our school community.  Through a variety of trips, activities, enrichment days, assemblies and presentations in tutor time, the profile and message of STEM slowly started to bloom amongst the school population.

Girl and Magnet © Nano Simbox

The next stage of my action plan was to establish a STEM club that would consolidate in class learning with real life applications, something that it currently squeezed out by an exam focused, overbearing curriculum.  To achieve this the aim was to deliver engaging activities and projects that would be supported by representatives and volunteers from local industry.  This would help to emphasise the real career opportunities available to students should they choose to immerse themselves in STEM.  However, this endeavour unearthed my current sticking point.  Where are all the wannabe female scientists, technologists, engineers, artists and mathematicians?  Historically, our female students outperform their male counterparts in terms of exam performance yet our STEM clubs, trips and activities have become overwhelmingly male dominated and that raised the question; what can we do to motivate our female students to engage with our STEM programme?

For me, the biggest challenge in science education at the moment is consolidating in class learning with real life applications of the knowledge and skills acquired.  Students struggle to see past the terminal assessment and view their learning as a secondary consequence of achieving the minimum entry requirements for their first preference college destination.  Students are developing no meaningful appreciation for how their in-class learning can be implemented and extended in the real world.  Students are memorising definitions and formulae for no practical purpose but to regurgitate them on an exam paper.  I strongly believe that a holistic STEM programme in schools that involves all the necessary stakeholders (the student, the school, the family, the wider school community and local industry) in equal measure will ultimately lead to an increased engagement amongst students and this will facilitate greater progress and attainment.”

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