How to run a successful STEM club

Running a club is a great thing to do in school. You will develop a stronger relationship with the students, gain really useful experience in organising something within a school and can also raise your profile. I ran a STEM club during my second year and as well as really enjoying running it, I think the success of the club helped when I was being interviewed for an internal role a year later.

Why run a STEM club?

Out of all the club options, why run a STEM club? Firstly, there are a lot of really interesting things you can do in the club, from building and programming robots, to exploding pumpkins. Secondly, there are lots of resources and funding available to back you up. Additionally, there is a real need for STEM subjects that you will be helping to address, as explained by the National STEM Centre:

“the UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer, engineering turnover is around £800 billion per year … whilst the UK makes up only 1% of the world’s population, we produce 10% of the world’s top scientific research. Despite this, it is remarkable to note that even though STEM graduates have the potential to earn amongst the highest salaries of all new recruits, employers are finding it difficult to recruit STEM skilled staff.”

What staff to involve?

When running a club in school I think it is a good idea not to try and do it alone. One of the great things about running a STEM club is that it encourages you to work with people outside of your department more than running a science club would! In the first STEM club I worked with two Design Technology teachers and focused the club on using science and building things. We were hoping to involve the maths department but they weren’t able to.

You will also need the support from the relevant Heads of Department and the technicians.

How to get money for your STEM club?

STEM clubs don’t have to cost a lot. A lot of sessions we ran were essentially free, only using the Metro newspaper to build pyramid structures, or using resources found in the department to build Rube Goldberg machines. Click here  for running a club on a shoestring.

You can get some funding from the relevant Heads of department. You could also write a short pitch about the benefits to students and ask for some funding from the Head teacher, as promoting STEM within school is something they may be keen to do.

Because of the national drive to promote careers in STEM subjects, there are lots of funding options available and STEM Club have collated a useful list of these which you can find here. I found gaining funding far easier than I expected so do give it a go.

How to get students involved

Whilst we ran the club as open to anyone who was interested, we also asked science teachers to nominate students they thought would enjoy the club and spoke to them individually – this was particularly effective in encouraging girls to attend. We promoted the club using posters, talking at assemblies about the amazing things we were going to do, and visiting individual form groups to answer questions. The first session was a taster session involving flame tests and the Van de Graaff generator, and then we did a presentation about what projects the students could do. From this we got a core group of about 15 students who came regularly.

Promoting the club the second year was far easier – we had videos and pictures from the previous year, and students could go and speak at assemblies to promote the club.

You could either target one specific year group (we worked with year 8 in the first year) or combine years (one year we had year 12 students supporting lower year groups).

What to do in your STEM club

There is a major choice to be made: are you doing projects or one-off activities? This will depend on the type of school you work in and if students are likely to attend regularly. Longer term projects require more initial planning, but once started need less thinking about, and there is more funding available for this.

When we first started the club we did one-off sessions such as the Rube Goldberg machine, the transporting water challenge, bridge building, dissecting fish heads etc. Once the group was established we ran longer projects and started entering national competitions. In the second school I worked at students did not attend after school clubs consistently, so one-off sessions were more appropriate.

Here are some useful links:

One-off activity ideas: http://www.stemclubs.net/activity-categories/

Longer projects: http://www.stemchallenges.net/

Six week projects: http://www.merseystem.co.uk/stemnet/clubs/six-week-stem-club/

Including maths: https://nrich.maths.org/8975

Celebrating success

To meet your goals of promoting STEM subjects and careers in the school, make sure you celebrate success. This can be simple things like emailing some photos and testimonials, writing a short article for the school website (even better to encourage the students to do this) or announcing the success in staff briefings. Once the club is established, you can give out a ‘best team’ prize at end of term celebrations and gain a whole-school audience to promote STEM careers. External recognition really helps you to do this, so enter competitions! Last year’s STEM Club Week prize for best cross-curricular activity was won by Miss McLoughlin’s imaginative science and art collaboration on the science of make-up, which gave the club more status in school.

If you are thinking of running a STEM club then go for it! I hope these thoughts are useful when getting started.

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