STEM for all

Duncan Edwards shares his tips on getting every student engaged with science and technology

With women making up only 17% of the UK ‘STEM’ workforce, the low take-up of girls choosing STEM subjects continues to be a challenge for school leaders.   

Happy children succeed

With 220 pupils at Forres Sandle Manor, we educate girls and boys aged three to 13 who are a mixture of day and boarding pupils.  Located on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire in its own 35-acre estate, our school’s philosophy is ‘happy children succeed’. To really put this philosophy into action you have to invest to ensure that every lesson really engages every child, in every subject.

What were the issues?

In independent schools there is a need to deliver over and above the normal expectation in education.  As an independent school we are not forced to follow the government’s curriculum but on the whole it is the core of our teaching plan.  Our goal was to ensure that pupils at our school learn useful computing skills to take on to their next school and ultimately use in their careers when they leave school.  We looked at the various options available to us and settled on teaching Python.

Igniting a passion for Python

To deliver computing lessons in Python we needed the tools to enable us to hit the ground running as soon as we started back at school after the summer break. Selecting a provider was based very much on which course we could attend quickly and the course which would deliver exactly what we needed to get us up to speed. The one-day CPD for Teachers Python for KS3 course ticked all the boxes and matched what we needed in terms of timing and content.   

Immediate impact

Within two weeks of the start of term, the teaching team were delivering Python lessons based on what they had learnt on the course and pupils were well on their way to learning Python. The resources, online tutorials and links shared by the trainer included single- and multi-lesson plans. This was particularly useful when planning a cover lesson. 

Game play   

The resources included activities to get the pupils engaged straight away.  One of the first games we played, Sabotage, involved writing code then swapping places to break the code, then swapping back to see how you could fix it.  This got the children’s attention straight away and they loved the competitive element.  

Improving outcomes

We are bringing Python into our new STEM club as engagement from the girls in class has been much more active.  Excellent teaching coupled with these new delivery methods and the teaching of an additional programming language has resulted in a new-found confidence and ideas for both teachers and pupils. We’ve looked at what attracts different groups of pupils and discovered that variety is key.  For example, creating wearable technology will attract one group, whereas tasks which use Lego robots or have a Minecraft focus may attract another.  

The outcome is that we have seen a significant increase in the attitude to learning for the majority of the class which has delivered an improvement in both achievement and grades.  A great result all round.

Five top tips for STEM engagement

1:  When it comes to lesson planning, to engage pupils, think outside of the box.

2:   Look at what attracts different pupils to engage them, creating wearable technology or Minecraft, for example.

3:  Make it enjoyable, ignite that passion for programming.

4:  Make it competitive, set tasks which pitch pupils against each other.

5:  Get some good training; the results far outweigh any investment.

Duncan Edwards is Director of ICT at Forres Sandle Manor, an Independent Preparatory School. They chose CPD for Teachers to deliver their Python for KS3 training.

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