When I became Head of Biology I was surprised at how few medical students we were producing. I investigated the situation and it appeared that very few of our most able students were applying for medicine in the first place.
Looking further it seemed that students were either not well enough informed, or not confident in putting themselves up for medicine. I decided to set up a MedSoc to better support these students towards medicine and related courses. It was through setting this up that I found out about STEM Insight.
STEM Insight is a placement programme that takes teachers out of the classroom and shows them the world of STEM-related work taking place in universities and industries. My placement was at the University of Exeter. I spent time with the School of Biomedical Sciences and the Medical School.
My placement was incredible. I had a clear idea about what I wanted to achieve – making links with the medical school to help my students apply successfully. I also wanted to bring back some inspiring stories and teaching ideas. I hadn’t realised that the deep immersion of the week-long visit meant I would become inspired to rethink the whole way we deliver A level Biology.
I was able to develop and share ideas with course leaders and students from the university. The experience was all the more powerful because it was reciprocal. The university benefited from finding out about the experiences of our sixth-formers as well as the experiences of us as teachers. It felt as if everyone benefited from the placement.
Since my placement, I’ve arranged regular inspiring visits and workshops from the university’s current medical students. I have also been developing a new way of teaching A level Biology. Exeter Medical School are very effective practitioners of the problem-based learning (PBL) process – something that began development a number of years ago specifically for use in medical schools. PBL offers the opportunity for students to study through full immersion in complex contexts that encourage independent study whilst developing core scientific skills.
I am now developing a scheme of learning that enables PBL to sit at the centre of teaching and learning. The process has not been easy and I simply wouldn’t have had any success were it not for the opportunity to experience PBL in action, whilst having the space and time to develop my own approach. Whilst still a work in progress, I am continuing to develop this approach alongside feedback from colleagues and the students themselves.
I would highly recommend the experience of a STEM Insight placement – it is hard work but massively rewarding. I feel much better equipped to support our students in developing careers in the sciences since the STEM Insight opportunity, and I am extremely grateful for the chance to experience something so inspiring.