by Yvonne Baker
Everyone has a right to their view on education – and boy, do most people like to exercise it. But this weekend, I saw things which I wish others of all philosophies, persuasions and mindsets could see, with a group of the hugely committed teachers, technicians and enthusiasts about STEM subjects coming together – literally through snow, blizzards and everything else mother nature could chuck at us. They came to share ideas, experience and inspiration as well as just the occasional bit of frustration – and in doing so, put the Myscience Alumni conference firmly on the map.
A bit like when you are throwing a party, we planned the conference, for teachers, technicians and others who have used the National or regional Science Learning Centres and/or the National STEM Centre resource centre and eLibrary, more in a spirit of hope than expectation. Would anyone come? If they did, would they enjoy it, find it useful, think it worth the bother? As the date drew nearer, the weather tipped the balance against us – but still our pathfinder alumni came, threw themselves into everything and left asking for more. What else could you possibly want?
We discussed curriculum change, communications, recognising CPD, what makes inspirational STEM teaching and how we can further support STEM teaching and learning across the UK. Attendees spanned primary, secondary, FE, teaching staff, technicians and those interested in apprenticeships and beyond. The conversation over Friday’s dinner and into Saturday was so interesting, entertaining and enthusiastic that I would gladly work every weekend, if only I could be guaranteed such positive and inspiring company! And contrary to some views that talking education always has to be intense, ‘worthy’ and serious, we laughed a lot – educating young people is an important subject, but if you can’t do it with humour as well as gravitas, surely something is wrong.
What I wish people from all sides of the education debate could have witnessed is the simple, but absolute commitment of all those who participated to the young people with which they work. Many talked about how they choose to work in challenging situations. Even in schools which are not so challenging overall, several described how they assign themselves to difficult groups to alleviate the pressure on others. Everyone agrees on the crucial importance of subject knowledge – but also that it has to be communicated in a way which has meaning to today’s students, in a world where technology and science moves at an alarming rate.
Education debate is rarely without rhetoric, ideology or sometimes plain ignorance. What this weekend proved to me is that the simple truth spoken by those ‘at the coal face’ is far more powerful – that, whatever flashes and bangs we use to get young people interested in STEM, the quality of teaching is key; and that STEM subjects are different because they move so quickly, making it vital that teachers, technicians and others have easily accessible support to help them reflect accurately new technologies and discoveries as well as established bodies of knowledge.
Perhaps the most humbling feedback from the whole experience was the number of those present who thanked us ‘for listening’, suggesting that all too often those actually working with young people feel ignored in debates about what works and what doesn’t. That’s not just a waste of talent, it’s just plain daft.
So an enormous thank you to everyone who came – we owe you a huge debt of gratitude for not only battling through the weather but also reminding us of what a privilege it is to support you in your crucial roles. Keep in touch and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
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