When young people are asked who has provided them with careers advice and guidance, the most common answer is ‘parents and family’, followed by ‘teachers’.
The Behavioural Insights Team (sometimes known as the Nudge Unit) apply behavioural economics and psychology to understand the choices that people make, and help people make sensible choices. They often run research trials which test out different interventions to see which is the most effective. They have worked with the Department for Education, National Health Service, with HMRC, with local councils, police forces, and many other organisations.
Now the team are looking to see if parents and teachers can help encourage their girls to choose STEM A-levels, and need secondary schools to sign up to be part of the trial.
The two interventions include:
- Sharing a website with parents that provides information about the usefulness of STEM and guidance on how to talk to their child about A-level subject choices
- Short classroom based activities targeted at students to overcome the perception that STEM is not ‘for them’
Both of these interventions link closely to what NUSTEM is doing in the North East, so we’re really interested to see the results of the trial.
If your school would like to get involved, there are more details in this pdf, and you can contact Kathryn or Jessica at the Behavioural Insights Team.
As part of the ESH Building my Skills programme each year, NUSTEM staff take part in a mock interview day with students from North East secondary schools. During the day, students have the opportunity to be interviewed once or twice by representatives from local businesses and other organisations. At NUSTEM we see the interviews as part-practice and part ‘behind the scenes’ to gives students an insight into what they might be asked and why in an interview.
I ask the students to tell me about themselves, and what career they might thinking about. As part of Building my Skills they will have already done some research into possible sectors of interest to them, so they all have something to say. There’s always an wide range of detail in their answers; with some young people knowing very clearly what they want to do and why, and others who have only a vague idea.
Regardless of their answer, my follow-on question is:
‘What is your plan B?’
This often throws the students as I suspect they’re not often asked what happens if they’re not successful.
What is most interesting to me is that, in their answers, students will often change the whole direction of what they would like to do for their plan B. For example, I’ve had students who had been interested in midwifery suggest that their plan B would be ‘something to do with drama’, or who wanted to be a tennis player, but their plan B would be ‘I dunno, maybe history?’. Very few give suggestions that are in a similar sector to the one they are planning for.
At this point in the interview, I’ll talk about other possibilities that the students could do that is not their first choice, but that is linked to it. Often I’ll suggest websites or resources that they might like to investigate. For example, if a student wants to study medicine, but their predicted grades make that look unlikely we’ll talk about what is it about medicine that interests them. They could study radiography, occupational therapy, Information management and so on. (Although I do have to admit that if it’s the salary that they find attractive, then the other options aren’t so well paid!)
I would encourage all students (and teachers and parents/carers) to think about their Plan B. Just in case.
Some useful websites:
Health careers from the NHS – an invaluable website for students that want to work in healthcare, and for their teachers and families to find out the huge range of careers.
This is Engineering from Engineering UK – looking at the opportunities in engineering from a range of different viewpoints e.g. design, space, fashion, sport
National Careers Service website – a government backed website which includes an A-Z description of over 800 different careers.
I know, I know – the education world is awash with competitions. Stick with it, this one’s a little different and it looks like it could be genuinely fun… and also smart.
Microsoft Research in Cambridge are running a competition which builds on students’ knowledge of STEM subjects, but also on their research skills and particularly their imaginations. The challenge goes:
- Pick one of these themes:
- Artificial intelligence and virtual reality
- Data security
- Now come up with an original technology idea which you think could exist in that field in 20 years’ time.
- Make a short film which showcases your idea.
- Submit the film.
Prizes and the experience for finalists look good, and there’s a clear information pack available at the challenge website. The competition’s open to teams of 4-6 students, in years 8-10.
What I like about this particular competition is that the central conceit is both accessible and clever. We all dream about what the future might bring, this is simply asking you to commit to (and describe) a specific vision. In doing so, you’ll have take what you know about STEM subjects and extrapolate that thinking twenty years into the future. This isn’t some well-intentioned-but-ham-fisted attempt to ‘make science relevant to our everyday lives,’ it’s an invitation to students to find the relevance for themselves. That’s clever.
Also, I’m a sucker for a schools’ STEM film competition.
The only thing I find a little surprising is that there’s no category for primary-age entrants. A pity for them, but also for the judges, who’ll miss out on genius like this. Ah well, maybe next year?
Anyway – secondaries: get your cameras out, sharpen your pencils, brush up on your tech skills and prop-making, and show us how the world’s going to be in 2037. Registration deadline is 8th December, with entries due by 10th February 2017.
Ooh, one last bit of advice: with our Technology Wishing Well we’ve collected about 800 wishes for future tech, from Maker Faire UK and Big Bang North-East. We haven’t yet done a proper analysis, but as a quick hint: lots of people want a flying robot dog which does their homework and tidies their room. Which would indeed be awesome, but you might not be the only entrants to suggest such a thing to this competition.
Today is World Book Day. Across the country, schools will be celebrating books and reading. Here at Think Physics we’re very keen to encourage reading too.
For our primary work with younger children, we’ve been looking for fiction books which feature science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). And if possible, a strong female main character. We’ve found a few. We’ve saved them onto a pinterest board for you to have a look at.
At secondary, we’d also like to be able to share fiction books which feature STEM with a strong female main character. It’s a bit harder to do though. For strong female main characters, there is of course, The Hunger Games trilogy with Katniss Everdene, but they’re not really STEM related. I also find that, as an adult, some of the themes in young adult fiction are really gruesome or disturbing. I’m not sure why that doesn’t seem to bother my children, but it doesn’t. There are some young adult books which have a link to STEM, but in general, it’s far less central to the story. There’s a useful list of books on the School Library Journal website, which gives some examples.
Finally, if you want to have a read of non-fiction popular science books, then have a browse through the shelves of the Science Teaching Library, curated by Alex Weatherall. There are some great books on there suitable for the general reader.
If you have any recommendations, please do let us know.
NWG’s Innovation Festival, now in its third year, is a fantastic showcase of innovative thinking and new technology at Newcastle Racecourse.
The unique event, takes societal and environmental problems and applies design thinking techniques to try to solve them in five action packed days. Once again, the focus on innovation will be mashed up with the feeling of a summer festival featuring a Marquee village and fun events every evening to engage various groups in the North East of England.
To find out what events are taking place at the festival click here.
Schools and students are invited to come along to a number of sessions over the Festival week to inspire the next workforce generation into Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) careers and design thinking. This an opportunity to practice those important personal skills which will make a difference in the workplace, such as relationship building, communication skills, resilience, problem solving and confidence.
Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis and will be free of charge.
To book a place or to find out more please contact Gilly Durkin at STEM@nwl.co.uk or 07411 050538 by Friday 26th April 2019.
The Optical Engineer
Do try this at home…
The Aerospace Engineer
How can I make my own codes?
How safe is my cipher?
In a simple Caesar cypher there are only 25 possible keys, so a decoder can try each possible combination of letters and see if it works. That might sound like a challenge, but even doing it by hand doesn’t take all that long. A computer program could unravel the code in a fraction of a second. So a Caesar cypher isn’t very secure.
That’s because each letter is shifted by the same amount, so there are very few combinations. Suppose you shuffled the letters completely – that would be a much more complex cypher code.
One way to crack ciphers is by using frequency analysis. Remember that some letters appear more often than others? You can use that to help read an encrypted message. The method goes someting like this:
- Count how often each letter appears in the encrypted message.
- The most-used letter probably represents ‘e’, so guess that’s the case in the cypher you’re trying to break.
- Now look for three-letter words which end with the letter representing ‘e’. The most common word is likely to be ’the’… so you have the letters ’t’, ‘h’ and ‘e.’ Fill in all the other places where those letters appear.
- Remember that the most common letters in English are, in order, e, t, a, i, o, s, h, r; you may be able to start working out some other letters…
- …pretty soon, you’ll be able to guess whole words.
Try writing a paragraph with your cipher and then getting your friends to crack it using frequency analysis. It takes time, but it’s very satisfying
If you and your friends use your cipher regularly to pass on secret messages, there is the risk is that someone will discover your key. You can help prevent this by changing the key regularly, to keep your secrets safe.
Do try this at home… computer code
The Environmental Planner
National Careers Week is upon us, 7th-11th March 2016! A celebration of careers guidance and a focus for activity across the UK. Be sure to explore the official website for resources, including the free-download 2016 digital magazine.
If you’re looking for a quick case study to inspire your students, here’s a role model who’s current, pushes boundaries, and is positively dripping in STEMness:
Elon Musk. Picked by business magazine Forbes as the 38th most powerful person in the world, Musk is a self-made billionaire. South-African born, Canadian-American, and a physics graduate, he’s made his name as an entrepreneur, building businesses like PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Elon’s back story is just as fascinating as what he is doing now, and as a leading visionary of the tech world, his work is likely to affect the lives of us all.
Messages to take away and reiterate:
Whether your students see themselves as the next Elon Musk or would like to work for someone like him, this presentation should encourage discussion about STEM careers as well as the characteristics and attitude to learning and life that Musk displays. His company SpaceX has a terrific careers page with a load of cool jobs like: commercial director, internship opportunities, propulsion development engineer (making rockets go fast), or software development. Yes, these job opportunities are in America, but if this is the type of company in which you’re interested, why let the Atlantic Ocean stop you in your pursuit of job happiness?
What’s happening in North East England?
Here’s a tiny handful of the most exciting and dynamic companies in our region. Have a look on their careers pages to gain an understanding of the types of jobs they offer, and the people they are looking for…
- Nomad Digital: A Newcastle based company providing wireless networking for trains, right around the globe.
- Hitachi Rail Europe: Based in Newton Aycliffe, Hitachi are fitting out trains to be used all over the world.
- Kromek: Based at Netpark Sedgfield. Kromek develop a range of radiation detection equipment used in the nuclear industry, medical imaging and for security screening.
- Sanofi – Aventis: a multinational company with a site in Newcastle who manufacture a range of pharmaceutical products for the healthcare industry. (Careers Page)
- Tharsus: helping other companies develop their products through a team of developers with skills in manufacturing, prototyping and managing