STEAM

Lauren Wallace, Physics teacher and STEAM Lead from Bishopbriggs Academy, shares why she sees cross-disciplinary collaboration between Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths as an integral part of her students' development

As a sector, we’ve happily moved beyond the belief that Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts or Maths (STEAM) should sit isolated in a vacuum. It’s self-apparent that the most impressive, important and engaging developments in society are taking place at the convergence of these fields, with new initiatives in business, environmental conservation, healthcare and much else drawing on the knowledge (and talent) of people collaborating across these different areas.  

All the STEAM subjects can creatively complement one another, each offering different tools and perspectives to address an enormous range of challenges and opportunities. Science and Technology might combine to create new diagnostic tools for health issues, while Arts and Maths might enable people to better understand important numeral information through beautiful illustrations. In the real world, these opportunities for creative cross-disciplinary collaboration are truly unlimited (just think of the internet or the aeroplane) but are only possible when we can take step back and use creative thinking to conceive of how they might be successfully combined.

To thrive professionally in a future workforce, students must develop an appreciation of how all the STEAM subjects can interact to produce new innovations – and vitally, must also recognise the fundamental need for creativity in order to make this happen. 

That’s why as a STEAM lead, I’m interested in UNBOXED. Creativity sits at the heart of the UNBOXED Learning Programme, which is designed to support schools in developing these skills within young people in their classroom.

This free programme, for young people aged 4 – 19, is an example of placing creativity centre stage in a STEAM-based learning environment. From a bio-diverse forest in a city centre to an epic scale model of the solar system, schools can experience first-hand these creative successes when engineering and art, scientific research and technological innovation come together.

What drew me to the UNBOXED Learning Programme was how its various projects, and the resources available, showcase what can happen when creativity and STEAM are combined. It is evident both inside and outside the classroom, from digital learning to in-person experiences. As an educator, you’re teaching the same curriculum. The variety of this programme gives teachers the chance to add excitement, real-world learning and innovation into our lessons to inspire students. 

The barriers to teaching STEAM are that teachers don’t have the time or confidence to build and deliver a lesson. As a Physics teacher, my specialism is in the ‘S’ part of STEAM but the range of activities from UNBOXED gives teachers more confidence in broader STEAM teaching whilst not needing to be a specialist in any particular area. The quality of the resources from high profile artists and scientists is also to a very high standard which means that staff feel confident in presenting the material. 

UNBOXED’s Dandelion project has been empowering students in Scotland to learn about growing, share in community harvests and work together for a more sustainable future. We are currently running the project with over 200 students in our school. To date, the feedback has been that it was their favourite part of the year for many students. 

One of the questions I often get asked is how other teachers can build STEAM into lessons. My response? Let young people explore their creativity. With STEAM learning, you’re facilitating this. Using the ready-made activities from the UNBOXED Learning Programme can be used to support those conversations.

Created for young people aged 4 - 19, the UNBOXED Learning Programme is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that brings together digital and in-person learning experiences across STEAM from March to October 2022. Learn more here: https://unboxed2022.uk/learning-programme 

 

Young people’s perceptions of engineering are strongly associated with their parents’ opinion of engineering, according to EngineeringUK’s latest Engineering Brand Monitor. For the first time, the Engineering Brand Monitor (EBM) has linked the responses from over 4,000 young people and their parents. It highlights:

  • Young people whose parents said they know what engineers do were more than twice as likely to express an interest in an engineering career than those whose parents said they did not
  • 78% of young people whose parents said they regularly do STEM activities with their child said they were interested in a career in engineering
  • Nearly 9 in 10 young people whose parents said they were confident giving their child advice about careers in engineering said they were interested in a career in engineering.

It also suggests knowledge of what an engineer does and how you become an engineer as well as perceptions and interest in the profession, varies by not only by gender, but also socio-economic background, ethnicity and region. The report found:

  • Only 48% of girls say they know what engineers do, compared to 61% of boys
  • Young people from lower income families are less likely to be interested in engineering, with only 43% of young people from a lower income and level of education family reporting interest compared to 65% of young people from a higher income and level of education family.
  • Where you live can influence your knowledge of engineering pathways. Teenagers in London are twice as likely to know what subjects or qualifications they need to become an engineer than young people in the West Midlands (60% compared to 30%)

The engineering sector currently draws its skills from a very narrow section of society: only 16.5% of the engineering workforce are women compared to 47.7% of the entire national workforce and 11.4% are from minority ethnic backgrounds compared to 13.4% of the overall workforce.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, said: “As the world emerges from the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for engineering talent is intensifying. Ambitions to ‘level up’ the country and make the UK a science superpower and an innovation nation will be hugely dependent on our engineering and tech workforce, as will achieving net zero by 2050.

“Our research continues to highlight the need for more to be done to ensure engineering is, and is seen as, an inclusive career for all.

“Showing parents and young people first-hand the breadth of exciting engineering careers available will be paramount if we want to encourage more young people from all backgrounds to join the engineering workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

The report findings show there is a strong association between engagement in STEM activities and an interest in a future career in engineering, but access to such activities varies between schools, with those with higher numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals less likely to run STEM activities. In particular, 1 in 5 young people had not taken part in any careers activities in the past 12 months.

Evidence shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to perceive the profession in a positive way and to consider a career in engineering. It also shows that STEM outreach and education activities are critical in this context. Students who had attended any (one or more) STEM careers activity were 3.5 times more likely to know about what people working in engineering did than those who hadn’t attended any. They were also 3.4 times more likely than those who hadn’t attended a STEM careers activity to consider a career in engineering.

Other factors highlighted in the EBM include:

  • Just 56% of parents agreed they know about the different types of things engineers could do in their jobs
  • More than half of young people say they know about the things engineers do, and that they are interested in pursuing a career in engineering - but only two-fifths know how to get into engineering
  • More boys than girls see engineering as a good ‘fit’ for them, with the research finding that two-thirds of girls felt that girls face more barriers to getting ahead in engineering than boys
  • Similarly, more barriers were perceived for those from ethnic minority backgrounds and socially disadvantaged groups than their counterparts

The Engineering Brand Monitor is an annual survey of the knowledge, perceptions and understanding of engineering of young people, their parents, and teachers. For the first time responses from parents and young people aged 7 to 19 were linked together and the association between them examined. The survey was completed by 4,317 child-parent pairs between April and May 2021.

A separate report on the responses of teachers can be found on the EngineeringUK website

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