The E in STEM stands for engineering, but how many students know what engineering is? If you ask secondary school age students what an engineer is, they will tell you it’s a car mechanic or heating engineer, and usually male. Whilst these are sectors of engineering, they are a very narrow section of careers available in the industry. The Institute of Physics found in a survey that students and parents alike imagine an engineer to wear overalls and wield spanners, where as the reality is very different.
Students don’t recognise engineering as it isn’t a curriculum subject in schools. The website whatisengineering.com states that “Engineering combines the fields of science and maths to solve real world problems that improve the world around us.” This means that engineering is a truly cross curricular subject. The lack of understanding of engineering in schools is because subject areas are kept separate taught in separate areas of the buildings, with each subject area concentrating on achieving grades.
http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/ go further with their definition of engineering, adding that “Engineers shape the word we live in, by designing, creating, testing, and improving almost every product or process you can think of! The deodorant you used this morning? Chemical engineers will have tested out the product in a laboratory. What about your new tablet computer? Electronics engineers have had a hand in making it. The car you travelled in? Automotive engineers have worked in a team to make it happen.” Engineering is not something that can easily be defined or explained, especially to students who still in school and have no real perception of career paths available to them.
At a recent local Imagnineering event, I spoke to a student studying engineering at degree level. She said she had no expectation on what engineering was, and had just hoped for the best. Thank fully for her, she enjoys the content of the course and relishes the challenges set as projects. Unfortunately, a friend of hers didn’t have the same enjoyment and swapped to study physics in her second year, incurring a large cost in terms of fees for choosing the wrong STEM subject to study as well as becoming de-motivated and losing a year of education compared to her peers.
How can we put the E back into STEM?
It is up to us as educators to put the engineering back into STEM in schools, and here are a few ways to start.
STEMNET have many STEM ambassadors from within the engineering sector that volunteer to work with schools; male, female, young and more experienced, from many areas of engineering, practical and technical. These volunteers can share their own stories of what engineering means to them, and how they reached their careers as well as running simple activities that demonstrate engineering skills.
Imagineering Fairs are a gathering of engineering industries and professionals, aiming to introduce young people to the possibilities in engineering. The National Big Bang Fair takes place each year, and also has regional events across the country. Schools can visit these events for free, and again they are celebrations of the STEM industry in the UK.
The Institution for Engineering and Technology’s Faraday website is a collection of STEM education resources to support teaching by giving real life examples of engineering that students can recognise, such as programming robot arms. These resources are free to download and contain full instructions and even worksheets.
If teachers already have an idea to run an engineering project, but lack funding, the School Grants Scheme can help. The Institute of Physics website has guidelines on how to apply and what to include in the application.
More information can be found at: