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Connecting with Physics

When I did my A-levels a couple of decades ago, there were only two or three girls in my physics class. The situation has got a little better since then, but many girls still find they are in a minority in their physics class. Whilst this doesn’t stop the students enjoying physics and doing well, it can sometimes feel a bit isolating.

To help the situation here in the North East, Think Physics is running a second year of our Physics Connect Network. This aims to allow girls from different schools to connect with each other through on-campus meetings and an online support group.

The network kicks off on January 28th with a Saturday morning session. Award-winning physics communicator Dr Jess Wade will be talking about her research at University College, London, on flexible solar cells. We’ll also look at where physics can lead to in terms of careers.

Later in the term there will be sessions on practical work using K’Nex, an Easter revision morning, and a visit to a local physics-related industry (watch this space for details!).

You can find more about the network sessions here, and the timetable for January 28th, including a booking link, here.

Reece Engineering Summer School

As well as Physics Connect, Think Physics organises a three-week summer school for Year 12 female Physics and Engineering students. Funded by the Reece Foundation, the course provides an introduction to engineering in its many forms. It’s an intense and hectic few weeks, with industry visits, challenges, individual and group research, presentations… everything we can cram into the time.

Applications are now open for the 2017 school: for more information and the application form, click here.

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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’