Students pair up to bring engineering to primary pupils

Issue date: 01 December 2016


School pupils engage in workshop

An integrated project which pairs engineering students with trainee teachers to bring hands-on science programmes into primary schools has received Calalyst funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

Led by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the project aims to develop an undergraduate degree module which can be rolled out across other universities. Using a paired peer mentoring model, it aims to address science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills gaps in primary schools.

The project sits against a backdrop of an urgent need for enough trained engineers to meet the country's future needs. Estimates suggest the UK will need 100,000 new engineers in the next 20-30 years to solve problems affecting society, grow the economy, and design products for manufacture. In particular, more girls and women are encouraged to take up engineering as a career.

The programme builds on a successful pilot which demonstrated wide ranging benefits http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/26053/ and http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/29111/. The undergraduate teachers studying an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) degree develop their understanding and confidence to teach STEM subjects and practice these in the classroom context in future. The engineering students benefit by developing their communication and presentation skills and creating a broad-based understanding of the relevance of their subject.

Pupils benefit from hands on sessions delivered by the students, where they engage in activities such as building mini-vacuum cleaners, testing floating platforms and exploring flight. Children aged between eight and 11 learn about the skills, challenges and excitement of engineering.

The HEFCE funding will also establish a Bristol Region Primary Schools STEM Outreach Network so that professional teachers are able to enhance their knowledge of STEM subjects and develop greater confidence in this area of the curriculum.

Laura Fogg Rogers, Senior Research Fellow, who is leading the project, says, “One very pleasing result of our pilot work was the children's enthusiasm and aspiration, especially girls, for STEM subjects in school. By presenting engineering as a creative problem-solving profession which can help to improve society, girls are encouraged to consider it is a career.

“Critical to that aim is working with primary school teachers, who can develop their confidence, enthusiasm and passion for science subjects. We have to encourage more women and girls and other under-represented groups to choose to study science and engineering and that means reaching them with the possibilities and excitement of these subjects before secondary school, when many assumptions and preferences are already fixed.

Teacher Asima Qureshi of Meadowbrook Primary school in Bradley Stoke says, “The Children as Engineers Project was a very successful project in our school. Children had the opportunity to be taught by both teachers and engineers and learn about the engineering process. The highlight was the opportunity to showcase their designs at the University and be able to explain the science behind it. It has hopefully inspired children to become future engineers. A questionnaire after the project revealed that 76% pupils had a greater understanding of what an engineer does.”

The project is believed to be the first in the country to pair university students in these two disciplines to enhance the learning of both groups as well as delivering real benefits to teachers and school pupils.

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