How volunteers can maximise their impact in the classroom

Natalie Cheung is a civil engineer, STEM Ambassador, STEM Ambassador coordinator and online course mentor.

STEM Ambassador online courses

As a member of the STEM London Hub team which helps deliver the STEM Ambassador programme in London, I meet lots of STEM Ambassador volunteers with different backgrounds and careers. They have different levels of experience with working with young people – and different levels of confidence! A frequent concern that volunteers raise is about their ability to engage and inspire young people through practical activities.

The best resource I can recommend for these volunteers is the STEM Ambassadors online course all about communication in STEM activity delivery. Being aware of your vocabulary, body language, tone and active listening is key to engaging and inspiring young people in your STEM Ambassador activities. The course covers all of these areas, plus how to incorporate presentation and discussions in your STEM workshops – and more!

As a mentor on the online courses on FutureLearn, not only have I supported the learning of STEM Ambassadors but also that of volunteers, teachers, technicians and students all around the world. The courses all have multiple join dates throughout the year so you can manage your learning and development in your own time. By joining a course while the discussion is open, you will have the support of a mentor, pick up tips from other learners and be able to share your own experiences!

I always tell STEM Ambassadors that once you learn how to engage a group of disinterested teenagers or explain your job to a 6 year old, you can use those same skills for any audience. Adapting your communication for different people is a crucial skill which STEM Ambassadors develop and bring back to their workplace.

When I started volunteering as a civil engineer STEM Ambassador, I found that I used jargon when speaking to young people. I was so used to using terms like “Quantity Surveyor”, “Bid Management”, “Programme” or “Quality Control” but these terms created confusion. It is crucial to get language right not only to help young people understand, but to get them excited about the subject, and enable to them to see the bigger context and potential careers this subject could lead them to. Using tips from the online course, I am now able to explain the terms and check understanding using questioning techniques.

You will also learn communication guidance for behaviour management and giving instructions, which is crucial for delivering hands-on activities. Over time and through experience, you can refine the way you deliver STEM Ambassador activities to maximise the impact on young people and the future generation of people working in STEM!

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