Annual report published

NUSTEM’s vision is:

A vibrant and sustainable STEM sector which meets the needs of learners and employers, reflecting the diversity of wider society.

 

Every year at NUSTEM we spend time looking back at what we’ve accomplished in the previous academic year, in light of our vision statement.

As part of that reflection, we write an annual report.

This year’s annual report documents how NUSTEM, and schools, have responded to ‘face to face’ activities, which is with enthusiasm. We also look at how we’ve been working with other researchers within Northumbria University, and with other organisations.

If you’d like to find out more about what we’ve been doing, you can read the full report.

2021_22-Numbers-v2

 

Exploring STEM Engagement with Engineering Students

Over the last few NUSTEM colleagues from NUSTEM have been working across the Faculty of Engineering and Environmental teaching on Foundation and Undergraduate courses. We’ve been helping students understand science communication and explored how to embed it into their educational practice. We’ve also been working closely with phd students on two of Northumbria’s Doctoral Training Partnerships: One Planet and RENU.

This year we’ve been supporting students on Northumbria’s Mechanical and Civil Engineering Foundation Year. We’ve worked with them to develop their skills in science communication and engagement with young people. Throughout their autumn module, the students have been thinking deeply about approaches to engagement, and how they might share the knowledge and understanding of sometimes complicated topics with different audiences.

Working in groups, the students designed posters which explained topics in the National Curriculum in a way that a primary school pupil audience could understand. They’ve thought carefully about their chosen topics and the two examples below are the best of an excellent set. Teachers can download them below and either print or display them on your computer to use with pupils.

Click here to download and view the posters.

Lessons from the National Pupil Database

Many years ago, when NUSTEM was still Think Physics, we developed an evaluation plan to look at the impact of the first three years.

It was a lovely plan, which would use information from the National Pupil Database (NPD) and follow groups of young people as they took their A-levels and then their degrees.

Sadly, as with all lovely stories, it didn’t quite work out as we planned.

However, along the way, we learnt a number of useful lessons about evaluation and using the NPD, and thought that they might be helpful for other organisations interested in tracking the impact of STEM Engagement activities.

We’ve just published our report, and an infographic which summarises our findings as well.

You can download the report from here

NPD Infographic

 

We don’t talk about Pluto

Poster: this class has gone 0 days without singing 'We don't talk about Bruno'If you haven’t seen this image doing the rounds – sorry, we don’t know who originated it – you very likely recognise the situation anyway. It’s been several months and this song is still everywhere.

Including, it turns out, space. Above, our favourite pastiche version, We Don’t Talk About Pluto. Very, very well done Jon Pumper (YouTube link).

Meanwhile: we hope you’re all having an excellent British Science Week. And if you’re not quite feeling it yet, maybe try talking about Pluto?

Improving diversity in STEM sectors Infographic

Diverse teams produce more creative and innovative solutions to problems.  Companies with diverse boards are more profitable.

Products created by organisations which have limited diversity will be less useful.  For example, Apple didn’t include a period tracker in its Health app for iPhone until 2015.

Many STEM sectors in the UK do not represent the diversity of the current UK population in terms of gender, ethnicity or social class.  In 2018 Engineering UK found that just 24% of  the Engineering workforce were people from a disadvantaged background, and in 2020 the ONS reported that 14.5% were female.

For over 50 years, Governments and companies have been working to improve the diversity of different STEM sectors, initially in terms of gender, but more recently in relation to ethnicity and social class.  And we can say that things haven’t got worse in most sectors, they also haven’t got much better.

NUSTEM’s research is exploring new, and more nuanced, ways of changing the diversity of STEM.  We published a research paper about our Theory of Change a while ago.  We’ve recently been working with the lovely people at Nifty Fox Creative to develop a useful infographic to summarise the paper so that we can share it with busy people.

You can see that it includes our five recommendations for all organisations that want to work towards increasing the diversity of all STEM sectors:

  • Start working with families and children from a young age
  • Use attributes of people working in STEM to help children to see what they have in common with them
  • Show parents and carers the different routes into STEM careers
  • Support teachers to include careers in their subject lessons. Showcase local opportunities.
  • Ensure that company culture is inclusive of staff from different backgrounds. Make STEM sectors good places to work.
Increasing Diversity in UK STEM Sector - NUSTEM

You can also download a pdf of the infographic here.

How do people who work in STEM describe themselves?

Does your work involve science, technology, engineering or maths?

 

If so, NUSTEM would like YOUR help!

 

NUSTEM has developed a list of 16 attributes that are often shown by people who work in STEM. You could also call them employability skills. This list was developed in collaboration with teachers, STEM colleagues and other projects.

We use this list in our activities with children, teachers and families. Showing children and young people how they already have, or can develop, these skills can help the children to see themselves as a ‘STEM-person’.

However, there is a gap in the research literature about how people who work in STEM sectors think about themselves and these employability skills. NUSTEM is therefore carrying out a short research project to find out more about this.

If you work in a STEM sector in the UK, at any level, then we would like you to take part in our research. You’ll be asked to answer some questions about the characteristics and attributes you think you have. It should take about 5 minutes to complete.  The survey is anonymous, and the project has obtained ethical approval from Northumbria University.

https://northumbria.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/attributes-of-stem-professionals

Please feel free to forward and share with your STEM colleagues – including apprentices and technicians.

 

Children’s early career choices

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Hamish Johnston from the Physics World podcast about how we can encourage children to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). During the interview, Hamish asked me whether there was research evidence to show that children were making career choices as young as eight. Those of you that know about NUSTEM will know that this is one of the areas that we have been researching for the past few years. I thought it would be helpful to outline the two different ways that we’ve used to look at the career choices of children in primary school.

Zone of Acceptable Alternatives

The first method we have used is designed to explore what is the range of careers that children would consider doing in the future. This work is built on a theory proposed by Linda Gottfredson
called ‘Circumscription and compromise’ which describes how from a very young age children will limit their possible career choices based on the societal norms and expectations that they see
around them. The diagram below (from Gutman and Akerman (2008) and building on Gottfredson’s work) shows how children’s developmental progress gradually circumscribes the careers that they will consider from even before they start school, and then, once they are in the school system and start to understand some of the requirements of different jobs, they compromise their choices based on attainment and expectations. This leaves the children and young people with a Zone of Acceptable Alternatives: careers that they would be interested in doing, or at least, willing to do.

Description of development of career choices for children

Children’s development of career ideas from Gutman and Akerman, 2008.

 

To measure young children’s Zone of Acceptable Alternatives, we developed a research game called STEMKAT (STEM Knowledge and Aspirations Tool).  We gave children 30 different job cards and asked them to short the jobs into two piles: those they knew about, and those they didn’t know about.  This gave us a simple measure of how many different jobs each child knew about.  The jobs were chosen to be a broad range with some that children should definitely know about (e.g. teacher, doctor) and some that they might not have come across (e.g. entrepreneur, engineer).  They were also chosen to have a range of qualification requirements and status.

Once each child had their collection of jobs that they knew about, we asked them to re-sort the cards.  This time we asked them to put them into piles of ‘jobs I’d like to do’, ‘jobs I wouldn’t like to do’, and ‘not sure’.  By looking at the ‘jobs I’d like to do’ and ‘not sure’ cards we have a measure of the children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

What we found:

  • Children in year 3 (age 8) knew about fewer jobs than children in year 5 (age 11)
  • Children in year 5 had smaller zones of acceptable alternatives i.e. they said that they wanted to do fewer of the jobs.
  • Job choices were strongly gendered, even in year 3. Of the STEM jobs on the list, boys tended to prefer jobs in the physical sciences, and girls tended to prefer jobs in the biological sciences.

You can read more about the detailed findings in our open access paper, including the positive effect that the work of NUSTEM in their schools has on children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

Possible Selves

The second method that we have used to explore children’s career ideas uses a more straightforward method. This time we simply asked children to write down three jobs they would like to do when they are older, and why. This allows us to explore in more detail the range of specific jobs children are considering and how they see their future ‘possible selves’. This method draws on a theory developed by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius (1986) who say that “possible selves represent individuals’ ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming, and thus provide a conceptual link between cognition and motivation.”

Many studies that look at what children would like to do tend to ask about only one possible self or future job (e.g. Drawing the Future, OECD The Future at Five). However, at NUSTEM we felt that it was important to look at the range of possible selves that children could envisage for themselves which is why we asked them to name three jobs they would like to do.

What we found:

  • Career aspirations were generally limited to a small range of options: although there were 81 different types of role mentioned, the top 20 jobs named account for 75% of those roles.
  • Career aspirations are strongly gendered, although there are some shared aspirations: teacher, you-tuber, police officer, and sport person.
  • We can also classify girls aspirations as being more realistic or achievable than boys. The job-market for professional footballers and you-tubers is after all, extremely small, and so the likelihood that a child will achieve success in those fields in also small.
  • Overall boys named a broader range of STEM aspirations than girls (28 vs 17), but that was still a small percentage of the jobs named.

Table showing the top 10 career choices for children

You can read more about this research in our paper presented at an IEEE conference in 2020.

Using these research methods in schools

Our second method is a very simple way of looking at the range of jobs individuals, and classes, are considering. If you are thinking about how to broaden the range of aspirations of your classes, then this would provide a quick way to track changes in aspirations over time. At the beginning of the year (or planned activity) ask the children to write down what they want to do (and why), and then at the end of the year you can ask them to repeat this. Looking at the range of jobs in the class will give a simple measure of the zone of acceptable alternatives, and looking at changes in individual children’s choices will see if there has been a broadening of an individual’s possible selves.

A note of caution: children will have developed their career ideas over a long time, and so short-term interventions may not cause an observable change in their choices. However, NUSTEM work with primary schools has shown that over the long term, sustained career activity can broaden the range of acceptable alternatives that children have.

If you’d like to talk to a member of NUSTEM about using the research methods in your school or college, then please email us nustem@northumbria.ac.uk

 

References:

Linda Gottfredson (1981) “Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations”. Journal of Counselling psychology, 28(6) 545

Leslie Morrison Gutman, Rodie Akerman (2008) “Determinants of Aspirations”,  Research Report 27, Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning (IoE)

Hazel Markus, Paula Nurius (1986) “Possible Selves” American Psychologist, September 1986, pp 954-969

 

Maximising impact of STEM outreach

There are many, many organisations that want to increase diversity in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths).  To help coordinate efforts and maximise impact, Engineering UK have recently launched the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code.

The Code is a framework for organisations to help them to improve the quality, exclusivity, targeting and reach of engineering and STEM outreach activities. Engineering UK is asking organisations to sign up as signatories of the code.

The Code has four pledges:

  • Ensuring programmes contribute to a sustained and rich STEM journey for all young people.
  • Ensuring all young people have opportunities to engage in engineering-inspiration activities, so that no one is left behind
  • Promoting a positive, compelling and authentic view of engineering, and showcasing the breadth of opportunities
  • Improving the monitoring and evaluation of programmes and activities to develop a shared understanding of what works

At Northumbria University, we’re pleased to be one of the early signatories of the Code.  After all, NUSTEM have been working towards improving diversity in STEM for children and young people for many years now.

We have got a lot of experience in STEM activities, and because we have developed an evidence-based Theory of Change which guides our activities and planning, we’ve created a guidance document to help others organisations gain from our expertise.  We think that the Code, and our recommendations, actually are relevant to all STEM activities, not just engineering ones.

Download your copy of Implementing the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code: An evidence-based, practical guide from NUSTEM

If your organisation is interested in becoming a signatory of the Code, you can find out more about it here.