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Helping STEM Ambassadors get the most from practical activities

Published: Aug 7, 2019 4 min read

STEM learning

Online course: planning activities

STEM Ambassador, Natalie Cheung, writes about the STEM Learning free online course on Planning STEM Activities, available on FutureLearn.

Many of those who work in STEM sectors were inspired by interactive STEM activities as a child. This may have been a classroom experiment, a STEM-related project at home, a demonstration on TV or something else. As STEM Ambassadors, it is key to plan our activities to ensure safety and maximise the learning benefits for young people. STEM Learning’s free online course on Planning and Organising Practical Activities is useful training and guidance for all STEM Ambassadors.

Over the last 5 years, I have volunteered as a STEM Ambassador at school STEM Clubs, school assemblies, classrooms and science festivals. It is important to consider which types of activities are suitable for different environments and audiences. There is also opportunity to adapt activities to make it suitable for the organiser’s requirements. For example, I can run the same activity but change the number of questions I ask young people and how I can take their response, depending on the size of the group.

Activities that link to the curriculum

The course also explains why looking at the relevant school curriculum can help you to pitch your activity at the correct knowledge and ability level. I hadn’t previously considered looking at the school curriculum, but it is really useful to know what topics have been covered for the age group you are working with. Even though many school curricula split learning into different subjects, STEM careers and the activities you deliver are often cross-curricular. It’s important to consider how your activity uses a variety of skills and can relate to topics from multiple subjects. For example an activity related to structural engineering could relate to maths, science, design and technology, art, geography and citizenship and more! In non-school settings, employability skills and other frameworks, such as badge schemes, can be used.
Even though STEM Ambassadors are not teachers, and often activities are outside of the compulsory curriculum, the course showed me it’s really useful to consider the objectives of your activity – whatever type of activity it is. I have not included objectives in my past activity plans but will do in the future. These objectives could be what students will learn, skills students will develop and links they can make between their learning and the working world.

Planning to work together

STEM Ambassadors provide huge benefits to teachers and youth group leaders, sharing their experience and ideas. To maximise this partnership, both parties need to communicate to manage expectations and plan a good activity. This course has encouraged me to communicate more with the activity organiser to make sure the activity is designed to suit the audience’s level of understanding, any special educational needs and particular interests. 
It is also important to discuss potential risks with the organiser. I am accustomed to risk assessments in my work as an engineer, but there are also significant risks to assess and mitigate for every single STEM activity. Risk assessments are not just one form or document to complete in the preparation, but actually an ongoing process throughout all STEM Ambassador activities. Even if you are not the lead volunteer when preparing for an activity, it’s so important to remain vigilant during the activity for the safety of both children and adults involved.
There is a lot of guidance covered in STEM Learning’s online courses available for free on FutureLearn, some which I had considered before and also new tips I will apply in the future. Some of the steps from this course are available here:
Whether you’re a new or experienced STEM Ambassador, you can benefit from shared tips with other learners on the FutureLearn course who come from a range of backgrounds including chemistry, technology, manufacturing, engineers, youth work and teaching.
See which courses you could benefit from and develop your skills in your own time!