10 tips for starting a STEM club in your school

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A STEM club can offer so much to your students. As well as crucial practical experience, STEM clubs encourage investigation, collaboration and discussion – especially if the activities don’t work quite as you expected!

Interested in setting up a club but unsure where to start? Here are my top 10 tips…

Tip 1: Start with your Year 7s

In my experience, younger students are the ones who will be the most interested. Get the new Year 7s firmly involved, then when a new cohort arrive, you will have your ambassadors ready to go out and do the advertising.

Tip 2: Don’t get your Bunsen burners out too soon

Science lab image from the blog How to a STEM club'

Your science lab may be the first place that your students experience ‘real science’. I love a Bunsen burner but it can eclipse other valuable items of equipment in the lab. Start gradually and don’t use Bunsen-fuelled practicals at the beginning of the school year because once you get them out there seems to be no topping it. Which we know is not true as there are endless practicals out there!

Tip 3: Don’t forget your GCSE students

Your STEM club could offer GCSE students a masterclass. Pick a required practical, show them different methods of carrying it out, and put the science element into the real world for them. Give them different ways of remembering things! Make sure that it is clear that the club is open to all, not just the ones struggling, or the ones who enjoy science. A science club should be a safe place to get the help and the practical experience they need.

Tip 4: Plan ahead and think differently

Ripe tomatoes image from the blog How to a STEM club'

Have a few activities ready-to-go while the group establishes itself. These could be activities that avoid the curriculum completely unless your group asks. You could even have a theme. ‘Astronaut training.’ ‘The science of your day.’ ‘Life under a microscope.’ These themes could last a couple of weeks or a term, but they are outside of topics covered in the classroom.

Don’t forget that sometimes it is nice for the students to be able to take things home. You could think about growing Christmas decoration crystals or show them how to make a 3d hologram projector.

There are loads of places on the internet and in books where you can find practical ideas. Make sure to risk assess all activities, but don’t forget you have CLEAPSS and your science technicians to ask for help too!

Tip 5: Let the club lead the direction of the activities

STEM club image from the blog How to a STEM club'

Don’t be afraid to take your lead from your students. If they have done something in Science that week and loved it, then get it back out! There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students understand better, or perfect a technique. We did owl pellets and pond dipping for nearly a whole term last year, just because the students wanted to! Now, they can identify living animals and even which bones would go where.

Tip 6: Practice makes perfect

If you can, practice the experiments before doing them with the students. There is always a chance that it won’t work so just make sure the method is right for you, and be ready to have a discussion if something doesn’t work as you’d expected. Not all activities take under an hour, either, so plan accordingly!

Tip 7: Take every opportunity to advertise the club

Start promoting the club a couple of weeks before first meeting. This gives students time to get in touch with you, get parental permission and gear themselves up for something new. With the advert imagery, go for real world and real science: relatable and meaningful. Emphasise that they will get to do things not seen in school on a normal day; that the club is a place that encourages curiousity. Advertise the club and what you are doing weekly.

Tip 8: The best time to have the club is when your Year 7s are already in the classroom!

Image of an arrow sign

Year 7s do not want to worry about finding you on the day of the club. So if they have science last period on one of the days, make that the club day and they are already here! Have some signage with arrows around your school site so they can easily find their way.

Tip 9: Fundraise, re-purpose and apply for grants

Depending on your plans, you will find some weeks that you have everything already, but others were there are things that you need to buy. There are grants out there. Look into the Royal Society of Biology and of Chemists, the Institute of Physics and Grants4schools. For further funding, try asking the governors or the Head of your school. Lean on your school community through fundraising and asking other departments or even parents if they have things you are looking for.

Tip 10: Take it further with a CREST award

You may find that some in your group wants to take their learning even further. If so, they can do something like a CREST award. It is extra curriculum learning and is proven to improve GCSE grades. As well as teaching them how to layout a project, they also get experience in how to research and plan an experiment.

A STEM club can go a long way in helping students see a different side to science and how they can have a place in a STEM world. Make sure that the purpose of the club is clear and accessible and that they don’t have to be Marie Curie to join! Students just need to have a spark of curiosity!

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