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Inspiring young people through activity

Example of a STEM Ambassador activity and how volunteering may inspire young people.
[Jamie, STEM Ambassador] My name is Jamie Pinell and I’m an advanced mechanical apprentice at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories near Harwell in Oxfordshire. We’re a government-based laboratory, and currently I’m on the ISIS Neutron and Muon experiment. My job is to help design, manufacture, install, and maintain the scientific equipment for both scientists and the facility as a whole. I get a picture that when I’m told I’d be going into a DT (design and technology) class to give an engineering talk, I imagined a group of boys and for a whole group of girls to turn up was a bit of a surprise for me. [Presentation] I’ve been asked to come and do just a tiny little talk.
Just introducing some of the subjects that I talk about when I’m at work. [Jamie] When it comes to trying to get children interested in what you’re doing. I find that the best way is to try and be relaxed about the subject whilst, as much as it sounds kind of childish, blowing stuff up and throwing things is generally a good way to get children involved. I’ve seen a lot shows where people have been throwing around paper as a particle interaction example or they’ve been breaking stuff as part of engineering. And it’s really something that kids can enjoy things that make bang, things that they can really get involved with that makes them learn. We take something like concrete.
As you can see it’s all cracked. It’s very very strong, but if you stress it too much and try and bend it, it will crack. So what we’ve done is we’ve added something that bends, something that compresses, that you can pull, steel. [Britta, Teacher] The group is a textiles enrichment group. And we’re learning about the properties of textiles which, actually very usefully, brings us on to Jamie’s activity and how the properties of certain materials will lend themselves to certain jobs. [Jamie] So the activity I’m planning is one that demonstrates material properties and how they might not become so apparent to the outside viewer.
Shows that I’ve done before have involved gases and liquids that I can bring from various other places on the lab and prove how they’re all different. But now I’m in a school, I’ve got to choose something else. [Presentation] Now that reminds me a little bit of wafer chocolate, I don’t know about you guys that looks a lot like wafer chocolate. [Jamie] So I’ve decided the chocolate bars would be the best way, as they’re all built of many different properties, like the kind of materials we use for building and engineering. So you’ve got all the ingredients in it that make it more of a composite material to give it all sorts of different taste properties is what they go for.
But I’m looking at the mechanical properties. How I can break it, set fire to it, crush it, things like that. I find when I’m working at the labs that I do have a whole heap of resources at my disposal. I get on well with a lot of people on site. So I have got pretty much everything that I am allowed to use with my students at my disposal. So when it comes to leaving and going to a school I find my resources are much more limited but it’s so easy to find the science and the engineering in everyday life. So you can take something that seems so simple and put an idea behind it that you wouldn’t usually think about.
Such as building a bridge out of chocolate. [Presentation] What we need to do. I want you to put some weights on it until it breaks. [Jamie] I’ve never been given a full class before, I’ve been given an auditorium full of students. But I’ve never had to try and involve everyone and try and get them all thinking at the same time. Whilst having a demonstration, whilst having a PowerPoint, whilst trying to load up a graph. So hopefully, it will teach them something and myself. The best way to approach a school for new ideas would be to have an idea already on the table, an activity, maybe half planned.
But something that you can really grab the teacher’s attention with, something that would make them excited about it, not just have another person convince their class. [Presentation] All right, let’s try crushing some stuff then, shall we? [Student] Crushing? My gosh! [Presentation] Now somebody wants to crush something. [Student] I want to crush something!

There are many ways you can engage in with young people about STEM subjects. For example, you might want to consider talking about your career or doing a presentation on the industry you work in. Alternatively, you may wish to be a school governor, to indirectly influence young people by having a direct influence on the curriculum.

In the last step we asked you to identify what influenced your choice of career or interest in STEM. However, in order to inspire young people it’s not enough just to convey your own experiences. You will need to find ways to relate your enthusiasm for STEM with the interests of the young people you volunteer with.

Activities provide a structured way of doing this.

In the video above, Jamie Pinnell, a STEM Ambassador, used a practical activity to engage a group of young people about properties of materials. Understanding this topic was a key part of the students’ studies and is also core to Jamie’s role as a mechanical engineer.


You’ve seen extracts of Jamie’s activity above. What approaches did he use in his session? What stood out to you about the way Jamie’s activity was put together to engage the group of young people he was working with?
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Volunteering in the Classroom: Adapting Resources for STEM Activities

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