New research from the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol has shown that pairing student engineers and teachers could help improve the teaching of STEM subjects in schools.
The ‘Children as Engineers – Paired Peer Mentors’ project was funded by the Engineering Professors’ Council, and examined a new way to boost primary school teachers’ confidence in science and engineering. Only five per cent of primary school teachers have a STEM-related degree and so engineering outreach is a vital way to improve children’s perceptions of these topics. Second year undergraduate engineering students were paired with primary school teacher training students and respectively trained in public engagement skills or the engineering design process. They then worked together to mentor eachother’s abilities and develop outreach materials to deliver in local primary schools.
The hands-on sessions were adapted from the EU ENGINEER materials and were aimed at informing and exciting primary school children about engineering. Pre and post evaluation carried out by the UWE team showed that all parties benefitted from the experience. In particular, engineering students felt they had improved their ability to undertake public engagement and reported that by communicating about engineering to different audiences, they had improved their own understanding of core engineering principles. The trainee teachers showed significant improvements in their confidence to teach science and engineering subjects, and reported that they would continue these improvements in their subject knowledge into their teaching careers. The 267 children involved in the project also described how they had changed their perceptions of engineering, indicating that they thought engineering was a subject relevant to the real world and appropriate for girls and boys to take part in.
The project will continue at UWE and has been expanded to include all students in the first year of their initial teacher education. UWE is looking to expand the model into other universities to help improve engineering and teaching undergraduate education.