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Booklet: What is So Exciting About Physics?

Question: What do the following people have in common?

Answer: They all studied a physics degree, and are all in a new booklet called What is so Exciting About Physics?

Put together by a group of students at Cambridge University called Cavendish Inspiring Women, the booklet introduces a range of people discussing what they find exciting about Physics, and where it has taken them in their careers so far. The booklet’s a quick, punchy read that introduces a diverse range of role models, several of whom are working outside what you might think of as traditional physics-related jobs. Teachers, it’s well worth passing this one on to your students.

You can download a copy of the booklet from the CiW website, and follow the project via Twitter.

Embedding Careers Advice in Schools

On Monday 2nd March the BBC published an article called  All schools need trained careers teachers, says charity. The article reported on calls from Teach First that more needs to be done in schools relating to careers advice.

All schools in England should have a teacher trained to give high-quality careers advice, particularly to poorer pupils… Without a fresh effort, careers advice in schools will remain ‘fragmented and ineffective’.”
Teach First.

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan responded to the report saying that there were many schools and colleges doing “fantastic work” but there was also too much provision that was “patchy and in places inadequate.” She also mentioned that in many cases teachers did not have the time to dedicate to careers nor the training to deliver good careers advice. Ms Morgan then commented that the government’s new Careers and Enterprise company, announced late last year, would help schools to develop links with employers and improve pupils employability.

This reference to the new Careers and Enterprise company is interesting – it’s being sold as if it will make careers advice in schools magically better.

The new enterprise company sounds like a good idea, but as yet we don’t know much about it. With the best intentions in the world, employers still won’t be able to link to every child and young person. They do not really have the time to… they have businesses to run! Similarly, I don’t believe that a visit from one employer is going to create a school full of young people wanting to do whatever it is the company are encouraging pupils to consider. The Careers and Enterprise company may be part of a solution, but interventions and engagements need to be sustained and meaningful: there is not a quick fix.

Another part of the answer may lie in better training for schools and teachers, and a careers strategy from primary school age through to post-16 which lies at the heart of the national curriculum. I think careers advice needs to be central, embedded and expected in most lessons. It should become second nature to teachers, providing meaning and context for what is being learnt.

You have a maths lesson, with no idea why you are learning certain topics; would it not be better to show how maths, and the skills you are developing, apply and will support you in the future? Engineering, accountancy, hairdressing, plumbing or sport, all require a mathematical understanding. Would this not help pupils better understand why they are learning something and how they can apply it, as well as introducing the many different careers out there?

For me, this is one of the problems with careers education, that we do not make enough use of careers examples within our lessons. Yes some teachers do, but not consistently and there is no guidance or expectation that teachers should make careers links consistently.

My personal opinion is that careers advice should be incorporated in the majority of lessons, not bolted on or exclusively discussed in citizenship and similar lessons. Teachers should be able to go to a website for example for this information, carry out regular personal CPD, and easily find role models/employers they can use to clearly highlight careers links from their lesson topics. These should be included in lessons, and examples and challenges set around them.

Currently career guidance is compulsory from Year 8. This is too late. Some young people are fully aware of what they want to study, and have a career in mind by 13 years of age, but the majority don’t have a clue! Also, how can you have high aspirations if you are not aware of the careers available to you?

We should be introducing pupils to careers earlier to inform the choices they need to make from year 9. Whole schools need to take some ownership of their role within careers advice, rather than leaving one person to deal with careers and progression (a problem shared, is a problem halved as they say)! If not, we may keep witnessing the year 11 head or teacher with careers responsibilities firefighting a situation which could be much more easily and effectively dealt with earlier on.

This whole school approach is backed by the research carried out by ASPIRES (2013) which suggested that STEM careers advice should be embedded within science lessons, as well as much earlier interventions relating to STEM careers information in primary school. Otherwise, we risk secondary careers information, advice and guidance being ‘too little, too late’.

 

School Deliveries

Year 8 STEM Assembly 30th April

It was lovely to meet year 8 this morning and introduce the Think Physics project and STEM careers.  We’re looking forward to working with Cramlington Learning Village over the next couple of years and sharing the fantastic reasons to consider a future in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  We’ll be running activities for all the different year groups.

This morning in assembly we played ‘I’m a STEM Pupil, Get me out of here’.  Everyone got involved with working out the answers, and the volunteers were excellent!

We found out that STEM is interesting, challenging and shapes the world around us.  We saw that the skills developed while studying STEM will be in high demand in the future, and that there are companies here in the North East which offer great career possibilities.

Next year students will choose GCSE subjects as part of year 9 choices.  Some STEM subject choices are compulsory (Science and Mathematics).  However, it is worth considering additional STEM subjects such as computer science or Design and Technology.

Here is a copy of the ‘5 Reasons to choose STEM’ postcard that we gave out during the assembly. Choose a future in STEM Postcard 

See you all soon!

Emma

STEM Quest Club: Tumblewings

Today at STEM quest club we were looking at flying things in general, and Big Mouth Tumblewings in particular.  These are fascinating objects which can float on an updraft of air.  They are easy to make, but can be quite challenging to fly.

The session was led by Gracie and Amy, who did a good job of explaining the activity.  The Cragside children and Year 9 STEM Quest leaders worked very hard, and everybody was able to fly their tumblewing by the end of the club.  It was also lovely to see the World Book Day costumes as well.

You can try out tumblewings at home – the instructions are on our tumblewings page.

One of the things that engineers and scientists learn quite quickly is that sometimes getting things to work isn’t always easy, and that you have to stick at things and keep going.  Of course, that’s true in many careers, not just science related ones.  Today, the children were practicing that skill very well and kept going cheerfully until they could fly!

Resource

STEM Quest club

One of the aims of the Think Physics project is to show young people that studying science, especially physics, leads to careers that they would want to do.  At Think Physics we’re piloting a programme we’re calling STEM Quest club, which we hope will support this aim.

The research from the ASPIRES project identified that many young people between the ages of 10 and 14 like science, but don’t see it as something that they would want to do as a career.

As an ex-teacher, my experience of secondary school students is that they generally enjoy working with younger children.  When my son was looking for work experience in year 10, he thought that it might be nice to go into a primary school to work – only to find that all the available places had been snapped up weeks before, mostly by girls!

We’re going to put these two ideas together in STEM Quest club.

Working with a partner secondary school, a group of year 9 students will be trained and supported to run an after-school club in a local primary school. We think this will have a number of benefits:

  • will give the year 9 students experience of successfully explaining science and some leadership experience,
  • the opportunity to work towards a CREST silver award,
  • strengthening links between the secondary and primary school,
  • supporting the experience of science in the primary school
  • appeal to girls (whereas a STEM club might not).

During the training, students will try out the different activities they’ll use in the primary school, discuss presentation techniques and think about how best to explain the activities to younger children.

As well as this, we’ll also be doing some ‘consciousness raising’ activities to look at issues of gender equality in STEM subjects and possible career options.

Typical activities we’ll do will be:

  • use the Science Museum Mystery boxes to think about how we can approach problem solving, and also to talk about science not knowing all the answers.
  • To look at how different disciplines are seen in the media by looking at image searches for ‘physicist’, ‘chemist’, ‘biologist’, ‘engineer’ and ‘mathematician’ **.
  • Look at images of real people who work in STEM, and think about what skills and attributes they might need.
  • Identify how STEM careers make a difference to our lives.
  • try and give clear instructions on how to build origami structures, and how to deal with the frustration of not understanding the instructions.

Through the club, we hope that the leaders will gain experience of doing science which will encourage them to continue to study science, hopefully to A-level and beyond.

You can see what we’ve been up to at our first STEM Quest Club here.

 

**It’s worth having a go at this – the results are quite disappointing. When we tried it out, the year 9s came to the conclusion that, if search engines are to be believed, then you have to like wearing ties or scuba gear (for biologists!) to work in science.

Search engine result for images of 'scientist'

Search engine result for images of ‘scientist’

ASE 2015: Using Physics to Inspire Young People

It’s a common cry from businesses and government that the UK needs more engineers and scientists. During my session at the ASE I looked at the number of students studying GCSE and A-level Physics to see what the scale of the issue is. Looking at the subject choices at A-level, there is a very clear gender divide. At NUSTEM we think this matters, and we’re aiming to do our small part to try to rectify that. We’d like to see more girls study physics and engineering, but also more boys study subjects that are predominantly female dominated. Obviously, we’re focussing on the physics at the moment – hence the name of the project (formerly ThinkPhysics)!

Why does the gender divide exist? Look around and it’s easy to see that a child’s world is split into ‘girl things’ and ‘boy things’ from an early age. The campaign ‘Let toys be toys’ regularly highlights the lengths to which companies go to label objects as suitable for one gender or another.

Lego on display. Note the colours and guess who it’s marketed at.

So what can teachers do? The Institute of Physics commissioned research which looked at what schools with higher proportions of girls were doing to encourage that. Amongst the findings of their research was that teaching of physics content was within a context of real life applications, or with career links, encouraged greater gender equity in physics.

As part of the session I asked the teachers present to think about the analogies and illustrations that they would usually use to introduce the topics of electric current, pressure and speed and acceleration. I then asked them to come up with other, more gender neutral, ideas. One teacher asked whether it’s possible we might go too far the other way – after all, fast cars are a good illustration of speed and acceleration. In that case, I suggested, make sure that the images you use include female racing drivers.

How far do we need to go? The Institute of Physics report ‘It’s different for girls’ looked at gender equality in different types of school in England. They found that, on average, independent girls schools sent around 7% of their students to do A-level Physics. What would that look like in other schools? Doing some simple calculations, for an average sized school, if they have a class of twenty A-level students, they would have five girls doing physics. Just five. Put like that, it perhaps doesn’t sound too bad. And yet, the Institute of Physics also found that 49% state maintained schools sent NO girls to do A-level physics. There is still a lot of work to do.

The pdf from the session includes more details of the data, and also some practical ideas for teachers to use in the science classroom. It also explains why there is a picture of the Gateshead Millenium bridge illustrating this post.

Key report: ASPIRES

One of the key reports upon which NUSTEM aims to build is ASPIRES, a five-year study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Conducted by King’s College, London, the project:

…sought to shed new light on our understanding of how young people’s aspirations develop over this 10-14 age period, exploring in particular what influences the likelihood of a young person aspiring to a science-related career.

The final report spans a few dozen pages and is highly readable, and it challenges several assumptions. The headline findings are:
•Most young people have high aspirations – just not for science.
•Negative views of school science and scientists are NOT the problem.
•Family ‘science capital’ is key.
•Most students and families are not aware of where science can lead.
•The brainy image of scientists and science careers puts many young people off.
•The (white) male, middle-class image of science careers remains a problem.

As you’d expect, there’s considerable detail and nuance behind each of those findings, and for the implications and recommendations the ASPIRES team articulate. NUSTEM’s emphasis on interaction from early years and primary onwards, our enthusiasm for embedding careers messages throughout our work, and our inclusion of family interactions in our plans are all informed by ASPIRES.

The ASPIRES team are continuing their study, exploring the older 14-19 age group, with ASPIRES2.