Aramco donation provides boost to STEM education

Energy leader Aramco has donated £140,000 to allow hundreds of teachers to get involved in continuing professional development (CPD), improving STEM teaching for tens of thousands of young people across the UK.

The funding, which will support activities managed by STEM Learning – will provide invaluable support to a total of 392 teachers, with more than 30,000 young people benefitting as a result.

Part of the funding sent 50 newly qualified teachers (NQTs) back to school for hands-on, intensive, residential summer CPD at the National STEM Learning Centre in York, which is STEM Learning’s HQ. The courses involved both secondary and post-16 teachers.

Research shows that teachers who benefit from CPD are twice as likely to stick with their careers - and quality of teaching has a greater impact than any other factor on young people’s engagement, enjoyment and grades.

A year after his experience of the CPD, science teacher Jack Richardson has already been able to use learnings from the course to improve his teaching.

An NQT in his first year when he attended the course, he jumped at the chance of some STEM classroom coaching to help with Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 lessons.

He said: “Our Head of Department announced the opportunity to apply for the summer school and I was offered a place. I’m a great believer in CPD, so I got my name straight down.

“We had the most amazing mix of experienced lecturers,people working in industry and teaching experts whocame together to help us with enquiry based learning.

Jack Richardson - Science teacher

“Practical experiments are a massive part of that, and the labs were literally filled with different ideas for us to try and advice sheets to take away. It would have been impossible to leave without loads of great tips and advice.

“The number of practicals I do now compared to before the summer school is staggering. Before, I was very much theory, theory, theory. I always tried to make lessons engaging with slides and quizzes and fun facts, but I would save up practical experiments as a whole day’s lesson.

“They showed me it doesn’t have to be like that.”

One practical Jack has adopted was from a biology specialist in KS3 who suggested a simple way to demonstrate magnetic fields.

He said: “My magnetic field practicals used to be a massive hassle, so if time was short, I often just used pictures.

“Now I just drop iron filings into a jar of baby oil and attach the magnet to the jar. The filings form themselves into magnetic field lines which brings the experiment to life for the class. It’s a really simple but effective visual aid - that’s what it’s all about.”

He also picked up useful ways to dispel misconceptions commonly held by students – that eyeballs are squishy (they are hard in the middle) and that dissolving is disappearing (evaporate salt water and you’re left with a load of salt).

“I have lesson plans at my fingertips now to help deal with misconceptions. I knew a lot of theory after my degree, but this course has given me so many tools to help put that knowledge into accessible lesson forms.”

Jack said he also got great advice about where to actually source useful equipment and is now able to put in very specific requests to the school’s lab technician.

“I’ve improved my KS3 and KS4 Physics lessons thanks to the fantastic course facilitator at STEM. When I taught ‘Lenses’ I would usually just have slides illustrating how light and refraction work. Now I use lasers from a little £3 gadget – I put a lens on a piece of paper, switch off the lights and the kids can actually see the rays bend from the focal point. It was a superb tip.”

Jack said he can see an improvement across the board in his science classes thanks to the advice and help provided.

“Some topics can be a bit dry, but my classes are much more hands-on and visual now. I think if the students know there's a good fun practical coming up with the promise of plenty of reactions in the experiment it gets them excited - so they turn up eager and ready to listen.

“I think my new strategies have really improved the way I teach and I can see my students have genuinely benefitted from my experience - their assessment scores have improved. Better engagement, better attainment.”

Jack has set up a STEM account so he can access useful teaching resources at any time, and on returning to school he pushed to start a STEM Club too.

“Now we have a very busy club which does lots of fun experiments - everything from Rainbow Fizz using Universal Indicator to setting fire to Methane bubbles!

“The course has had a huge impact on the way I teach and given me a tremendous confidence boost.

“I would jump at the chance of another Summer School or STEM teaching opportunity – there's always more to learn, and it was massively useful spending three intense days with colleagues who teach the same subjects. “I am very keen to keep my CPD going. I think it's so important to be constantly learning and improving ways of teaching.

“I want to thank Aramco for providing me with the opportunity to develop my teaching practice at the National STEM Learning Centre. The experts at STEM Learning who delivered the course I attended have had a huge impact on my ability to implement effective practical sessions with my students, and I highly recommend the service provided.”