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Inspire the next generation: how to encourage your students’ STEM potential

In a recent survey of parents from a lower socio-economic background, over half (51%) believe that their children are unlikely to have a career in science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM).

Many share the sentiment that they “don’t see STEM as a subject for somebody like them”. Moreover, just two-fifths of secondary pupils from a disadvantaged background would ever consider a career in STEM.

We know that STEM fields can provide diverse, bright, and fulfilling careers. So why do so many students shy away from STEM subjects, and how can we as teachers inspire young minds to consider a future in STEM?

What makes students steer clear of STEM?

Maths is “too difficult”

Although maths is for everyone, some people simply believe that they “can’t do” maths. It is thought that over 10% of students suffer from maths anxiety, creating avoidance for STEM in general, and this seems to affect girls more than boys.

A perceived lack of real-world use

We’ve all heard that dreaded question in the classroom: “When am I ever going to use any of this?” But the perceived lack of transferable real-world application can really affect attitudes towards learning STEM subjects.

The stereotype that STEM isn’t for girls

Although more and more female role models emerge within STEM fields, it remains a male-dominated sector. This leads some girls to overlook their own potential within STEM.

Encouraging their potential in STEM

As teachers, we have a responsibility to help maximise student outcomes through our subjects. Here are three things that you can consider which may help your students to realise their potential in STEM.

Channel your own enthusiasm for maths and physics

Enthusiasm is infectious and will influence your students’ enjoyment of a class – so don’t hide it! Although our Scholars are all subject specialists, many secondary maths and physics teachers did not study these subjects at undergraduate level. Our Scholars can therefore allow this natural passion to shine through their teaching practice, which can inspire a class to consider a future career in STEM.

Create an environment where mistakes can happen

Maths anxiety in the classroom often stems from a fear of being wrong. In a past Scholar-to-Scholar Event, Maths Scholar Tia shared her advice about how removing such barriers had a significant effect on her students’ enthusiasm for learning:

“I find what helps a lot is using whiteboards,” Tia commented. “A lot of [students] are too scared to make mistakes – and when it’s in their book, to them it’s permanent. If it’s on the whiteboard first, they have the confidence to show me their work… and we can talk through any errors.”

Make learning relatable

Wherever possible, try to use examples that are rooted in day-to-day life or something familiar to most young people. For those subject areas that can’t relate clearly in this way, try making examples engaging in other ways. Simply integrating students’ names at random into your questions can boost engagement significantly.