10 tips for running a successful STEM club

Lisa Thompson

Lisa Thompson is the STEM advisor for East London schools in the STEMNET London Team. She works with over one hundred schools in nine boroughs to promote enrichment and engagement opportunities for students across the STEM disciplines. She previously taught Science at a secondary school in East London.

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A lot of pupils are going to be enthused by STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, and plenty of teachers like to run clubs around them. STEMNET’s Lisa Thompson gives her top tips on how to get a great STEM club running.

Many teachers would love to run an after school club with a handful of enthusiastic students where they get to explore all the fun things they just don’t have time for in the curriculum. The problem is many teachers just don’t know where to start. There is a dizzying array of enrichment opportunities with relatively low uptake from schools because many teachers are just too busy to engage with them, or never even hear about them in the first place! So here are my top tips for setting up a club and maintaining it throughout the year: 

1. Be clear about the focus of the club

Do you want to run a cross-curricular club that encompasses all the STEM subjects, or do you want to do something more specific such as an astronomy club, environment club or robotics club? Having a clear idea to begin with will help you plan and help students get an understanding of what they will be doing.

2. Think about the students

Which year group(s) do you want to come, how many students will you be able to realistically accommodate? Will the students actually come back after school or should you run a lunchtime club? What sort of activities will they enjoy? Some schools run STEM clubs by invite or application only, whereas others encourage as many students to come along as possible; think about what will work for you and your students.

3. Be realistic

Teachers are busy. Students are busy. Only plan for what you think is realistically achievable. It may take a few years before a club is doing all the things you would like, which is fine. It’s better to build it up slowly and create a sustainable club than try too much at once and end up doing nothing.

4. Long term projects vs. one off activities

Do you want to involve the students in projects and competitions that will require them to work (often in teams) on something for a number of weeks, or do you want to wow them with fun, one-off activities? There are pros and cons of both; long term projects can develop students’ teamwork, broaden their knowledge and instil a sense of commitment and perseverance; however, they can fall flat if students are unwilling or unable to commit or if the project doesn’t capture their imagination. One-off experiments/activities are great especially for younger students and can help them see the fun side of STEM subjects. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a pool of committed students, however higher attaining students might get bored by weeks of disconnected short activities.

5. Plan ahead

It is worth spending a day or two in the summer term planning a broad overview of what you want to do in the club for the next academic year. This could also be done in consultation with some students, especially if you’ve already started a club and want to make sure it continues. It can be quite nice to have termly or half termly themes to give a sense of continuity even if you are doing one-off activities in the club.

6. Don’t do it alone!

Most clubs require an enthusiastic individual to drive them forward, but this does not mean that you have to do all the work on your own. Discuss your ideas with other teachers in your department as well as others; you never know what ideas they have until you ask. Also, particularly if you are running a science or technology focused club, make sure you get the technicians on board. The club could end up being a lot of extra work for them, which you need to make sure they are willing to do. You can also encourage leadership skills in older students by having them help you to run the club for the younger years. This helps take the burden off you and many students will really enjoy working with younger ones.

7. Don’t reinvent the wheel!

You may have a clear idea of a really specific project that you want to do and so you may need to plan this from scratch. However, in most cases, whatever project/activity you want to do will have been done before by someone else. Here are some good places to look for ideas:

8. Take part in competitions

These usually have resources associated with them, as well as promotional materials that you can put up around the school. The competitive element won’t suit all students, but will give them a goal to work towards and encourage consistent attendance at the club.

9. Think about funding

Some schools will give club leaders a small budget to cover cost of materials, but this is by no means guaranteed. Many schools do not run clubs due to a lack of funding, but there are a range of organisations that have grants for schools to help them run projects. All of these grant schemes will have their own eligibility criteria so it is worth reading through the information carefully before deciding which to apply for.

10. Raise the profile

Some clubs seem to become part of the very fabric of the school, and this is often due to support from senior leadership and a high profile in the school community. This can be achieved through advertising within school (posters, notices in registers, flyers etc.), writing features in school newsletters, assemblies to update other students on the work of the club, stands at open evenings for prospective students and parents.

Do you run STEM clubs in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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