13 Jan 2016

You think your job is hard? Imagine a day in the life of one of your students…

Dave Gibbs, STEM Learning Ltd

Picture this: you’ve got a new job and it’s a weird one. For the first hour you’re a musician, then you’re a map-maker, followed by an hour each of being an engineer, a writer and a footballer. None of these jobs are linked to the others, and the management use conflicting language to describe the tasks and tools. Sounds difficult? You bet.

We don’t ask adults to be highly competent at five unrelated jobs in each day, so why do we expect it of our students? Does this prevent skills developing appropriately for a life of employment?

Now imagine, if you can, a previous job. This had lots of variety, but you called upon your skills and knowledge to focus on an all-encompassing theme. This helped you approach your work ‘holistically’, and you remained mindful of your goals as they didn’t change five times a day. You knew when your work was completed, and you moved onto something different.

What if we took the best of what students experience at primary, with thematic and project based learning, and applied it to the secondary timetable?

STEM subjects could, at the very least, be shaped to tessellate. Take robotics, for example, a cross-STEM theme in an area where growth of jobs is almost guaranteed. Where does it belong? Computing teachers are motivated by the programming aspects but, often, see the physical kit as an unnecessary complication that eats up lesson time. Design and technology teachers are interested in the mechanics – motors, joints, and so on – but have limited time to programming as it isn’t directly assessed in their subject. Mathematics is hugely important when deciding how far a motor should turn to move a robot a certain distance, but the skills are assessed on paper, not in the workshop. And science teachers use sensors and data logging, but have no incentive to put these into a robot. Wouldn’t it be exciting if STEM subjects were designed to fit around each other, giving students an opportunity to see how they are linked?

Schools now have a lot of flexibility to adapt the curriculum to their students’ needs. The ‘middle-years’, during which interest in school can nose-dive, offer an opportunity to phase the transition from thematic learning to specialised teaching. It needs brave school leaders with vision and an appreciation of the recent learning experiences of their newly arriving students. It also requires teachers prepared to expand their horizons - through CPD, industrial placements and team working with other departments. We have nothing to lose, and our students have everything to gain.

Author information:

Dave Gibbs is the STEM Computing and Technology Specialist at the National STEM Learning Centre, a provider of cross-STEM resources and professional development. 

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