Running a STEM Club in your school

Written by: Dr Caroline Oprandi | Published:
Photo: MA Education/Lucie Carlier

Next week sees the national STEM Club Week celebration. Dr Caroline Oprandi, STEM centre manager at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy and a STEMNET Ambassador, offers some advice on running your own club

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA) has recently been awarded the prestigious STEM Club of the Year award by STEM charity STEMNET (the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics Network), with pupils travelling to CERN in Switzerland as part of their prize.

The school is also currently in the finals for the National Science and Engineering competition held by the British Science Association, and after a lot of hard work, our STEM education programme is going from strength-to-strength. Part of my role is furthering STEM initiatives within the school and I have been asked to give my advice on how to get started with your own STEM initiatives.

Get everyone involved

The most important thing you can do is talk to people and get them involved in what you are trying to do. I originally worked at Unilever before completing my PhD which ultimately led me to my current role. I think this background has really helped me in creating and maintaining links at both a national and local level.

It is really important to get as many people involved as possible – contact nearby universities and make links with their outreach department, establish which are the main industries in your area and enlist their help, work with local charities and involve parents and governors at the school who may have links to industry.

As well as my in-school role, I am a STEMNET Ambassador too, which also helps us to make these connections. It can help you too – STEMNET coordinates this network of volunteer Ambassadors in STEM careers who are on the ground in their local community engaging young people in STEM.

As well as providing free expertise to schools, STEMNET also partners with businesses to provide that link between schools and those companies in STEM industries which are interested in helping to motivate their potential future talent.

Once you start asking you will be surprised where help comes from – we have had the director of Brighton and Hove Bus Company donate a double decker bus to be converted into a STEM Club, NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox visiting the school for free, and our school receptionist brings in the seeds for the vegetables we grow for a local street kitchen for our Crossover Homeless Charity Club in partnership with RHS.

Tap into a breadth of subjects

There are so many opportunities in STEM and we have launched clubs and initiatives across the spectrum, from astronomy to coding and everything in between. With the current STEM skills shortage we feel that it is important to enthuse young people about STEM. We are developing the creativity, problem-solving and employability skills of the pupils, as well as widening their understanding and awareness of STEM careers, but ultimately we are all also having a lot of fun.

For example, we have the National Cosmetic Beauty Range project, where pupils have developed a social enterprise business, including their own website. There is the Greenpower Car Club where we are building a race car we will race at a professional circuit. And even the Dr Who Club, who are making a film in which we go back in time to rescue famous scientists!

Discovering STEM on their own terms

We are led to believe that pupils only want to learn if there is an exam or grade at the end of it. However, we have found that students are far more motivated when they are allowed the freedom to develop their STEM projects in their own way.

We teach STEM on the key stage 3 curriculum with a project-based approach where the only assessment is by their peers through a presentation at the end.

Not putting too much pressure or commitments on pupils allows them to really explore and get excited about STEM, so they develop a passion for it rather than being confronted immediately with having to learn difficult equations or the periodic table, which can be off-putting for pupils.

Our pupils enjoy these lessons, saying they open up the imagination, and they also help us to demonstrate the range of jobs that are available within the STEM disciplines beyond those that are immediately obvious.

Even if you cannot change the way you teach, you can make smaller changes to get people inspired, whether this comes from just leaving equipment out on display (if safe to do so) or focusing on after-school clubs.

  • Dr Caroline Oprandi is STEM centre manager at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in Brighton and a STEMNET Ambassador. Visit www.stemnet.org.uk

STEM Club Week

STEM Clubs, operating in 80 per cent of UK secondary schools, are out-of-timetable sessions that give students the chance to explore exciting aspects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Clubs come in all shapes and sizes, but the overriding objective of the STEM Clubs programme is to introduce students to STEM in a fun environment designed to excite and inspire.

Schools’ STEM Clubs often build close links with the local community and thrive when outside speakers, often STEMNET Ambassadors, come in and break down the barriers between education and the wide array of real-world STEM careers.

STEM Clubs Week, running from February 1 to 5 this year, recognises the fantastic work this network of clubs does to motivate the next generation of STEM graduates.
Anybody who is interested in setting up a STEM Club, can visit www.stemclubs.net


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