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Inspiring the next generation into STEM

Rather than having them slog away with their noses in textbooks in every lesson, we need to enable students of STEM to see a tangible pipeline straight from learning to an exciting career or real-world application of knowledge. It helps them to realise how much power and influence they have over their futures.

Recently, I had an email drop into my inbox about an outreach opportunity allowing two of our students to take part in the Tomorrow’s Engineers Week Future Minds Broadcast and I set the gears into motion which allowed them to take part. During the event, students from across the country were encouraged to discuss and present their own ideas for how new innovations could improve the world around us over the next decade.

Witnessing how inspired and motivated my students were as a result of this event, I was reminded of how crucial it is for young people to have access to varied learning opportunities such as these. Tomorrow’s Engineers Week allows students to add their voices to these vital discussions, thereby making a career in STEM seem not only inspiring, but accessible. I sometimes receive these emails with outreach opportunities on them and just don’t have the time to organise them, however, I know I need to find the time as they are crucial and really do inspire our students. I am also an advocate for getting more girls into STEM related careers, so it was great to have two of our girls partaking in the event.

STEM fields are changing constantly, and it’s important to schools and parents that young people are given the opportunity to think independently and be a part of conversations that not only concern the current state of engineering, but also the future roles that STEM will be instrumental in.

The difficulty of being a teacher in STEM is that you must always be up to date with the industry, which is of course constantly changing and evolving. This is why interactive group learning events such as Future Minds work so well for STEM subjects. My students heard directly from professionals working in sectors such as the environment, technology, entertainment and sport, who are at the forefront of engineering innovations in those industries. This allowed them a glimpse of where STEM is headed in the future, and what kinds of projects they could be working on if they choose to follow this career path.

During the event, the students were asked to discuss and present their own ideas on what they would like to see engineering achieve in the next 10 years. The ideas they came up with included the development of mechanical bees to increase pollination levels, and an increased focus on rewilding to increase biodiversity in more areas. The students were also determined to see improvements in accessibility in sports for people with physical impairments, arguing for the advancement of prosthetic technology. The younger generation clearly prioritise the use of STEM to save the planet, and to level the playing field by creating opportunities for people with differences. The plethora of new ideas which were drawn out by students gives us an incredibly optimistic outlook for the future of this vital industry.

As a teacher of STEM, you have several objectives to achieve with your students. Getting them to pass their exams is the most obvious, but teaching STEM also involves encouraging your students to think critically and question the norm. After all, this is the catalyst for innovation and advancement. An engineer looks at the way things are, and asks: “Could this be improved? Do we have to do it this way?”. Many of the issues we face in our world today, such as climate change, inequality, and disease, can be alleviated by the work of engineers. These problems will become the problems of the next generation, and the generations after that.

Young people have a natural instinct to discover and invent. As teachers, it is our job to encourage and inspire students to harness this natural creativity and curiosity, not only to pass exams, but also to think outside of the box. If we allow our students to voice their own ideas and get involved in conversations surrounding future innovation, we will be developing future generations into creative and bold problem-solvers, who could even end up finding the solutions to our world’s greatest problems.

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