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Make reading STEMsational!

Heather Wright

Heather Wright is a Primary teacher with 14 years experience. She has led many reading projects at her school, some of which have been celebrated with Educate Awards and a TES Award shortlisting. Heather brings together teaching colleagues from across the country at Reading Rocks, Saturday CPD events all about making reading rock for every pupil. She is passionate about building a love of reading in all children, and relishes an opportunity to share this passion with other teaching colleagues.

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Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

“All pupils must be encouraged to read widely across both fiction and non-fiction to develop their knowledge of themselves and the world they live in, to establish an appreciation and love of reading, and to gain knowledge across the curriculum.” National Curriculum

Reading for pleasure is high-profile in most Primary schools, but how many non-fiction books feature in this remit? Can you read non-fiction for pleasure? YES, YES, YES, you certainly can. The joy of curiosity, of discovering new knowledge, of asking questions and changing your mind, can all be nurtured with books - both fiction and non-fiction!

The idea of ‘Reading is STEMsational’ was born to build on strengths and do two jobs at once:

1. Those who are readers can use this passion to develop their interests in STEM subjects, which they may not be otherwise interested in.
2. Those who love STEM subjects, meanwhile, can use this fervor to nurture an interest in reading, for which they may be stuck or switched off by.

Win / win! This two-way approach is really just coming at activities from both angles: sometimes letting a book drive pupils into a STEM activity, sometimes letting a STEM activity drive pupils to a book. For example, take The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori. This book has a strong message of conservation. Enjoy sharing the story with pupils, then prompt them to make a STEMsational change! How can they “respect all earth’s creatures and cherish the land”? Or, take a discovery tray of local plants and flowers. Pupils will be interested in identifying them them. Now’s your moment to bring out the book to help with this. Try British Wildlife by QED.

The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori

You can unleash the power of STEMsational reading at its best with a whole-school focus, where there’s a buzz created about both books and STEM across the whole community. Try a focus on Dinosaurs, Space, Engineering or Conservation. Here’s your chance to really add a magical layer.

5 recommended STEMsational reads!

1. Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie - This oversized hardback is a great book to share with another curious mind. Get your bellies on the floor and pore over it together. Discover the diversity of species for many animals, including whales, owls and snakes. This book is great to use in Y4 and Y6 when studying classification.

Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie

If you love this book, try... Lots by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton.

2. Secrets of the Seashore - A Shine-a-Light Book by Carron Brown and Alyssa Nasser - Talk about a book to create a bit of awe and wonder! Grab a torch (a smartphone torch works well) and discover the hidden creatures. Young readers will be wowed and itching to turn the page to uncover more. This book works well in Y1 when identifying and naming common animals.

Secrets of the Seashore - A Shine-a-Light Book by Carron Brown and Alyssa Nasser

If you love this book, try... The RSPB First Book of the Seashore by Derek Niemann

3. A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long - This stunning book is so beautifully illustrated that if you weren’t a creepy crawly fan before, you may be after this read. A non-fiction book with a lyrical style, you won’t even realise you’re discovering new facts. This book is great for minibeast learning in EYFS, and will build intrigue and vocabulary.

A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

If you love this book, try... Insect Emporium by Susie Brooks and Dawn Cooper.

4. Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie - A perfect example of fiction to drive STEM interest. Sharing Izzy’s mistakes and her growing STEM-esteem as she learns from her failures is a valuable lesson for young learners. This is a perfect read-aloud that can be shared with the whole Primary school.

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie

If you love this book, try... The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

5. Bee by Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty - Take the journey of pollination through this narrative, along with gorgeous illustrations and peep through cut-outs, and you won’t fail to smile. This book is a wonderful way to share the scientific process through the power of story. Perfect for Y3.

Bee by Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty

If you love this book, try... Book of Bees by Piotr Socha.

Bring in the community!

So, you’ve got the children talking about STEM. They’re reading about it, asking about it, wanting to know more about it… Boom: bring in the real STEM experts. What better way to show them it could be them in the future, than making it real and tangible? Especially for our girls.

Now we know visitors into school can be pricey. So let’s look at other options. First stop, check out the families of your pupils. Do you have an engineer in the midst? Maybe a biologist or conservation expert? If not, never fear. The STEM Ambassador programme is here. Check out Ali Christoffer’s rundown on this programme below to discover how easy it is, that it’s free (yes, free), and how valuable it is to schools.

You may also be able to get funding to support STEM projects from The British Science Week grants, or partnering with a company in a STEM industry to get a Royal Society Partnership Grant. This will involve an application process, but can be well worth it.

Making STEM real, by Ali Christoffer

Who are STEM Ambassadors?

The STEM Ambassador programme, coordinated nationally by STEM Learning and managed on the ground by regional STEM Ambassador Hubs, enables 30,000 STEM Ambassadors from more than 2,500 different employers to volunteer their time, enthusiasm and experiences to encourage and inspire young people to progress further in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.

YouTube link

STEM ambassadors include people from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, such as engineers, designers, architects, scientists and technicians. Through a range of activities, including presentations, practical workshops, demonstrations and careers talks, STEM ambassadors play an essential role in inspiring the next generation with the world of STEM subjects and careers. Their support isn't just limited to the classroom - you can invite a STEM ambassador into your STEM Club, employer, or youth and community group.

How to engage a STEM Ambassador

To request STEM ambassador support, you’ll first need to set up a STEM Learning account at www.stem.org.uk. You’ll then be able to add an activity request that volunteers will be able to view. Interested STEM ambassadors can make contact via the site, giving you the chance to start a conversation about what you’re looking for.

Top tips to get the best out of a STEM Ambassador visit:

1. Be realistic. STEM ambassadors can bring a fantastic, additional perspective to your lessons and activities, but remember - they are volunteers!
2. Be clear about the aims of your activity. Is it about raising aspiration, providing an insight into the range of careers available, showing the practical applications of a subject or topic, or something else?
3. Be supportive of the STEM ambassador’s planning by communicating effectively prior to their visit and sharing ideas about what approaches work well in your particular context.
4. Be involved on the day - ask questions or guide discussion if needs be. Enable the STEM ambassador to concentrate on sharing their expertise rather than managing the classroom.
5. Be cheeky! Find out if there’s anything else the STEM ambassador, their company or their contacts could do with you or your young people.

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