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STEM teaching tips for primary teachers

12/03/2018 Anthony

Teaching remains an occupation that is both appealing for professionals and in high demand across the nation. The number of primary teachers and teaching assistants in UK schools is at a ten-year high, according to government statistics, with 74,500 more pupils in primary schools across the nation in January 2017 compared to January 2016. As school roll numbers creep higher and increased scrutiny falls upon the efficacy of curriculums in preparing students for life post-education, the spotlight is on STEM subjects and their popularity among pupils.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have a profound impact on everyday lives, yet students haven’t always pursued them as subjects beyond the core curriculum requirements at school. This means primary teachers have a profound responsibility to make STEM subjects as engaging, interesting and rewarding as possible, nurturing an interest in students that extends beyond the classroom. If you’re a primary teacher looking to brush up on your STEM teaching techniques, the following tips should help you to engage your audience.

Make it practical and fun

While the theory behind STEM subjects is important for pupils to understand, at primary level the easiest way to communicate concepts with students is often through practical applications – doing, making, touching and playing. When teaching students about states of matter, for example, experiment with ice, air and water to help students understand the differences between solids, liquids and gas. Introduce materials that have states which are harder to identify – such as sand, jelly and foam – to provoke discussion and debate and extend students’ understanding.

For mathematics, engage students by using them as your resources for illustrating and solving problems. Groups of pupils can be used to solve equations visually – for example, if you have one group of five children and another group of seven children, how many children are there in total? Playdough is another tool that can be used when teaching mathematics – have students roll balls into circles to then divide into fractions and partitions. Many young students are hands-on learners, so use props and tools to help them work through concepts and problems.

Get girls interested

One of the biggest challenges for teachers of STEM subjects at any level is encouraging girls. In the UK, there’s a significant drop-off in the number of girls studying STEM subjects from the age of 16, when just 35% of females go on to choose maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification, compared to a whopping 94% of boys. If we can improve this number, more girls will be able to make the most of the increasingly attractive career opportunities in engineering and technology. Much has been said about the shortage of women in STEM careers worldwide, and while strides are being made to make these subjects more accessible to girls (such as female-only coding schools), there remains a strong need to develop the future of females in STEM.

Studies show that achievement gaps in science are apparent as early on as at pre-school level, highlighting the importance of early intervention and exposure to STEM concepts. With a lack of female role models in STEM careers and a perceived competence divide between boys and girls, it’s crucial that your lessons are engaging and thought-provoking for all students. If particular pupils are quiet in STEM lessons, ask them privately how they are finding the classes and if there is anything in particular that has interested them. Watch out for negative language used in the classroom – especially girls who declare themselves “bad at maths”. Praise effort and reasoning as well as achievements – even if students don’t always get the right answer. A variety of teaching methods, such as book work, group exercises, games and practical applications, can help girls to identify how they learn best and may trigger a deeper interest in the subject matter.

Be a role model

Primary teachers of STEM subjects can suffer confidence issues just as much as their pupils. Just because you don’t have a science, engineering or mathematics degree doesn’t mean you can’t be a brilliant teacher of concepts from these subjects. Look for activities that are inclusive and spark curiosity, inviting conversation rather than becoming too focused on the ‘right answer’. To develop your own skills and knowledge, consider continuing professional development courses as well as independently improving your own subject knowledge. There are a variety of online resources that can help you get started, such as BBC Terrific Science, tes and STEM.

Are you a primary teacher looking for your next career opportunity? At Teaching Personnel, we have a range of opportunities for teachers at all levels. Take a look at our latest vacancies here.

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