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Created on Thursday, 06 April 2017 14:56 | Written by Dr Sharon Macnab

Bringing STEM to life: our immersive approach

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The concept of learning by doing is not a new one. As William Butler Yeats once remarked: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”Putting the theory into practice, the Centre in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Council, recently launched an innovative STEM Hub, the first of its kind in the UK. It has revolutionised the way that science is being experienced and learned at St. Patrick’s Primary in Dumbarton.

The unique design and philosophy of the STEM Hub is based on the fundamental principles that students learn best through hands-on activities and working collaboratively to build on a child’s capacity and appetite for learning, discovering and exploring. We believe that science is individually constructed but socially negotiated.

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The STEM HUb at St Patrick's in West Dunbartonshire.

Often primary school teachers don’t feel confident leading lessons in STEM to pupils, which affects the teaching quality and pupil engagement. Instead of a teacher delivering a lesson to the class, the Glasgow Science Centre education team encourage them to become facilitators to a child’s learning, allowing the pupils to experiment and discover for themselves, building them as scientific thinkers. Through upskilling teachers to deliver interactive sessions, we aim to give children a greater sense of accessibility and ownership over their own scientific education and development.

STEM is underpinned by numeracy and literacy and it is important that primary practitioners use their great strengths in delivering these subjects to enhance the Curriculum for their learners.Our aim is to help improve STEM teaching methods through innovative learning experiences, rather than book-led learning. As well as introducing a new physical space for scientific discovery, the STEM Hub is the embodiment of our philosophy on how STEM subjects should ideally be facilitated in schools, with the learner firmly at the centre.

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The Cave at the STEM Hub

The STEM Hub is an integrated learning environment that combines specially developed lesson plans, software and apparatus, which are housed in a physical environment and supported by training.

The physical space of the Hub becomes the environment in which our approach to social and cognitive scientific learning is implemented. Specifically designed to be as different from an ordinary class as possible, the Hub itself is comprised of three areas through which pupils physically move, and each is designed to encourage different behaviours.

The first is a nurturing, cave-like space where the pupils are made to feel comfortable and confident to explore and discover, to share what they already think. The class will then move on to the hands-on lab area where their scientific awareness and curiosity is activated, and the pupils can explore science in an experiential way. Finally, in the central area of the Hub nicknamed The Tree, children are encouraged to share their findings and theories with the teacher and their class verbally and through the use of a special app on tablets in the social space, enabling narrative building.


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Pupils using using tablets in The Tree area.

As well as the physical properties of the STEM Hub, an integral part of the initiative’s new approach to learning is the tailor-made lesson plans designed to be delivered in the immersive environment. Staff also benefit from professional learning sessions from Glasgow Science Centre’s specialists, including example experiments to engage the pupils, and guidance on how to best use the Hub’s technology.

Our very future is dependent on the uptake of STEM careers and encouraging this by demonstrating the many ways which STEM affects our day to day life is a clear focus for Glasgow Science Centre. Only by truly engaging children, getting them excited about learning and seeing STEM as something that they can contribute to and have ownership of, can we improve the uptake of STEM subjects and careers later in life.

When our education unit engages with teachers, science lessons are no longer a scary subject. We are flipping the teacher’s traditional role as a didactic on its head. I want teachers to be a facilitator of STEM and not a font of knowledge. Supporting pupils to broaden and construct their understanding of STEM, to become more scientifically aware and develop their ability to think critically and inquisitively about the world around them is the key.

This work, coupled with amazing facilities such as the new STEM hub, means that pupils are engaging with STEM in a more accessible and fulfilling way. One that can increase the pupil’s sense of ownership of science and the freedom to express themselves. This is critical to ensuring a healthy stream of future scientists, engineers and mathematicians; and in turn securing our future.

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Pupils at St Patrick's PS taking part in the Electric Detective workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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