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Volunteering in the classroom

Consider the context of the young people you work with and any limitations due to the location of the activity.
Marcia: When I ask teachers about where the children are in the curriculum and their ability that will help me to gauge how much detail to go into with the activity, so it comes from primary.
Laura: My first lesson with them I asked them, “What would you like to do in science?” All of them said, “Explode things. See explosions.” The fact that you can do something to do with explosions will go down really well.
Marcia: Well, you see the issue is, is that health and safety.
Laura: Health and safety.
Marcia: The thing about doing a presentation is to know your audience. Know your audience and you speak appropriately to them. You got your canisters.
Laura: Check.
Marcia: You got acid.
Laura: Yep.
Marcia: Bicarbonate solution.
Laura: Bicarbonate soda is the powder.
Marcia: Yeah. The first time I went into a school for my first STEM activity, it wasn’t actually in a classroom. It was in a big hall, and that was even more daunting. Because, there were going to be lots of children, and so I had to think about the layout, and that’s the first time I realized, actually it’s not just a case of going into school. You’ve got to think about the space that you’re going to be using. There wasn’t any running water, and I needed running water, and so I had to ask them to provide them with buckets.. It’s a lot of logistics, which I hadn’t thought about… In, and then you invert it when they’re outside, not beforehand.
That’s a key thing. But, I made it work, and I made it work because I worked with the teacher, and I worked with the assistants, and the children were none the wiser.
Laura: Morning, can you get your stuff out for me? Yeah, plastic bottle.

In this video, Marcia Philbin, a STEM Ambassador, talks about how she considered the group of students she works with, the location and resources available on-site.

As you watch, what are some of the requirements of Marcia’s activity?

The setting for your volunteering

Practical activities may take place in a wide range of settings. Each will bring opportunities and constraints for the types of activities and resources you use.

  • In-school as a lesson, lunchtime or after school club.
  • Community groups such as Guides and Scouts.
  • Family events, public lectures and demonstrations.
  • Working with educational officers in museums and nature reserves.

The setting will impact the logistics and practicality of some activities. For example, you may have too many or too few young people to work with.

You may be indoors or outdoors, or in a room without water or power. If you are not running a structured lesson, you may have a drop-in activity that requires a short set-up time for repeated demonstrations.

How your volunteering links with curricula and other frameworks

Each set may have young people of different age ranges and backgrounds. Even within school settings, you may be volunteering in primary (ages 4-11), secondary (11-16), sixth form or further education. How your activity links with curricula and other frameworks are also likely to be significant.

We will look at how to address these considerations, particularly around links to curricula and logistics, in more detail in the next course. However, knowing the age range and setting for your volunteering will help you narrow down your choice of resources.

Health and safety

Though, generally speaking, the teacher or community group leader you work with is responsible for health and safety, you will still need to select resources and activities with safety in mind.

Risk assessments are introduced in the next course to help you think about this in more detail.

Schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be registered with and get health and safety guidance from CLEAPSS and in Scotland through SSERC. If you are based in another country, please ensure you check with your local health and safety regulator.

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Volunteering in the Classroom: Adapting Resources for STEM Activities

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