Why I love Chicks with Bricks


By Yvonne Baker

Today the wonderfully named ‘Chicks with Bricks’ – a group celebrating women in construction roles and industries – are having a celebration event. Unfortunately I can’t make it this time but I went to one not so long ago, meeting a vast range of women, and men, working on major and not so major projects, and all with great stories to tell. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a wonderful location, overlooking the mall. Not a hard hat in sight – just loads of bright young, and not so young, people working in construction, networking with huge enthusiasm and loving what they do.

The main reason I love Chicks with Bricks, however, is their name. At last, an organisation celebrating women in engineering and associated roles that doesn’t feel the need to err from a bit of gentle humour, and is confident enough to poke just a little bit of fun at itself. Perhaps that’s the secret of its success – capturing the spirit of today’s young women where it isn’t a question of whether they believe they can do these things, but a question of whether they want to.

How much better is that than the constant digging over of the ‘barriers’ young women – or young men for that matter – might face in an engineering or other STEM job. How many more reports do we really have to have, detailing the issues that MIGHT be faced by a young woman on a building site when she is the only female engineer there?

The points is, it is easy to highlight the difficulties people might face in any walk of life, and I’m not disputing that some women (and again men) find issues in engineering or construction environments. However, let’s not lose sight of the other (often inconvenient, to the naysayers) realities, including:

  • Engineering and construction offers great opportunities for women at all levels – FACT.
  • An increasing number of women have been making great careers for themselves in all kinds of engineering and other science & technology related environments in recent years, so making it easier for others to follow suit – FACT. Two things arise from this – firstly, if they can do it, so can you; secondly, they have worked hard to be pioneers so don’t let their trail-blazing go to waste.
  • Many more people – men as well as women – in engineering, science and technology environments want you to succeed than you would ever believe listening to some of the doom-mongers – FACT. To believe otherwise is doing these supporters a huge disservice and robbing yourself of opportunities that can lead to so much more.

And, before you ask, I’m talking from some experience – as a female engineer on chemical plants in the mid-1980s onwards, I had a huge variety of experiences, mostly great and some quite difficult. What they taught me was a range of skills – including resilience, tenacity and a belief in my own abilities – which have served me well throughout a varied, exciting and at times hugely challenging career.

So, good luck to Chicks with Bricks! I really hope you go from strength to strength, inspiring women and men in construction but also being proud of being just a little bit different, making it into a selling point rather than almost an apology.

Let’s face it, we don’t see much else sold in this world using messages that concentrate on difficulties and challenges – so why do some people seem to insist on this when it comes to discussing women in science, engineering, construction and technology? Perhaps a little more ‘chutzpah’ rather than talk about barriers would be good for us all….?


For brilliant resources on careers in STEM and women in STEM industries, visit our easy to access eLibrary at the National STEM Centre.

For teachers and technicians, why not try our ‘Careers in STEM with STEM day‘ for some high quality CPD for more knowledge in STEM careers.

Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme | teacher experiences

By Gemma Taylor

Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme (TIPS) enables teachers of science, design and technology, computing and maths to attend a two week work placement with a local employer. This scheme connects companies and teachers together to help expand the knowledge of the potential careers available to pupils, with the main aim of educating and inspiring the next generation.

After this two week placement, individuals who have taken part in this scheme then have the opportunity to network and share their experiences with other TIPS participants over a two day event at the National Science Learning Centre in York.

There are many companies which offer placements as a part of TIPS, such as BP, Babcock, Thames Water and IBM.
A number of teachers have done, or are currently doing, placements with these employers and are continuing to share their experiences throughout their two week placement via daily blogs.


One such individual is Helen Scott, a science teacher at King Solomon Academy in London. For the past week or so, Helen has been doing a placement at BP. As part of this scheme, she has been working in various different departments within the organisation, such as IT, development and trading, all things which are very different to her normal day job. Helen has been overwhelmed by the passion and drive of every single employee who works at BP and is very much looking forward to sharing her ever-increasing knowledge with her pupils on her return.

Keep up to date with Helen and her day to day experiences at BP.


Susan Bayes is another teacher taking part in the TIPS placements, and is currently undertaking two weeks work at Babcock, the UK’s leading engineering support services. In her normal day job, Susan is a computing and business teacher at a University Technical College (UTC). Despite being very nervous about her placement initially, she is very impressed with the professionalism of all the staff at Babcock and is looking forward to the rest of her placement.

Keep up to date with Susan and her day to day experiences at Babcock.

Babcock have taken on another individual, Arran Webb, who normally works as a maths teacher at a University Technical College (UTC), like Susan. So far, Arran has been taken on a tour of a Royal Navy warship, the HMS Argyll, and was fascinated by the amount of knowledge the employees have about the boat. As he has just started this placement, Arran is intrigued about what the rest of his time at Babcock has to offer.

Keep up to date with Arran and his day to day experiences at Babcock.

IBM are another big organisation which take part in TIPS. Dee Thrussell is one teacher currently doing a placement with this company and is nearing the end of his/her time there. The past few days have seen Dee learn a lot about the technology which is readily available to be introduced into the classroom. From this placement, Dee has already collected a large amount of knowledge and resources which could positively benefit the future of pupils at his/her school.

Keep up to date with Dee and her day to day experiences at IBM.

A chemistry teacher at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, is doing a two week placement at Grontmij, a leading consulting and engineering industry. Within this placement, she is shadowing many different employees within the organisation, such as highway and water engineers and a variety of different apprentices. Dr Fei Wan Lee appears to have gained a large amount of information about the roles of employees within the organisation, and is excited to learn more about what the company does.

Keep up to date with Dr Fei Wan Lee and her day to day experiences at Grontmij.

For more information about TIPS, or how to apply for your own work placement, please visit the TIPS page on the National Science Learning Network website.

How my teaching evolved to the flipped practical approach

paul weeksBy Paul Weeks, Biology Teacher of the Year 2015

The penny dropped in the second half of my first term of teaching. I was preparing a lesson on white blood cells for the sixth form. I had some awesome images of phagocytes in action, a terrific diagram that I had photocopied for the students, with which I planned to project onto the board so that the class and I could label it together. A short video clip of a phagocyte chasing a bacterium to the Benny Hill theme. A longer animation of the mechanism of phagocytosis. It was classic talk and chalk, classic information delivery – tick the box, job done, notes complete, bingo. And it was, I blush to confess, unutterably dull.

And then, tidying up a filing cabinet, I found an exercise left behind by my predecessor. It looked ancient, tatty and blurred, and would win no prizes for slickness of presentation. But it flipped everything upside-down.

Instead of giving the students the information, it told them to use a prepared blood smear, a microscope and a Histology book to find, identify and draw a phagocyte and a lymphocyte. It asked them to label and annotate the key features of each cell. It then asked them to find out about phagocytosis and produce a cartoon outlining the process. The teacher didn’t have to do anything, apart from order the slides, microscopes and histology books. The students had control and, critically, ownership of their learning. By finding things out for themselves, they became invested in the outcome and excited by the process.

So simple. So obvious, yet it transformed my teaching. My CPD, if you can call it that, is based on seeing how far I can push this “flipped practical” approach.  I’ve found that Year 9 students can work out the principles of diffusion and osmosis for themselves. I’ve found that Year 12 students (and bright Year 10 students!) can work out the Mendelian laws of inheritance with regard to dihybrid crosses based on their own experimental data. I’ve found that Year 13 students can design a pregnancy testing kit using their own biological knowledge and understanding. I’ve found that the quality of microscope drawings improves beyond recognition if the students don’t know what it is they’re meant to look for – they’re discovering it for themselves. I could go on, and in my blog, I do! But it all comes down to enabling my students to experience the most exciting words in science – “that’s funny…”

If you are interested in learning more about practical approaches in teaching science, take a look out the National Science Learning Centre’s range of CPD activities.

Here are a list of the our upcoming CPD activities:

Practical work: planning, preparing and practising

Creating a buzz about science

Towards outstanding in Science

Related resources for practical science:

Embedding Pedagogy in Practical Science

Module 2: Models of Student-centred Inquiry

The art and theatre of delivering scientific demonstrations

Every day should be National Women in Engineering day – because it is!


By Yvonne Baker

Tuesday 23 June was the second National Women in Engineering Day and, by all accounts, a resounding success – as long as, that is, you knew it was taking place in the first instance. OK – a world record for a gathering of female engineers was broken in Horseguards Parade, and Women’s Hour featured it, but as I announced it to a roomful of committed Heads of science from secondary schools across the UK attending a conference in Cambridge, I was met with a sea of blank faces. What an opportunity missed!

Hats off to WES for introducing and organising a National Women in Engineering Day, and the lack of awareness among those I was speaking with should in no way deflect from their achievements. However, if we are to make inroads into the knotty problem of attracting more girls and women into engineering in the UK, it will take more than an annual day; it will take a step change in our culture and society – not just piling more pressure on an already overburdened education system under which, except when it comes to this crucial area, our girls tend to thrive.

The facts are there for everyone to see: even in 2015 only 7% of chartered engineers are female, a figure which has increased by a phenomenal whole percentage point since 2010, which still compares badly against so many other nations including most of our closest neighbours and competitors. Indeed, the ratio of female to male students on most engineering courses has shifted remarkably little from those days back in the – erm – early 1980s when I began my degree. Despite the efforts of WISE, WES and many others, the UK still has an identity problem when it comes to women and engineering – seeing it as something somewhat alien and ‘difficult’, despite the wonderfully positive experiences that many of us had and still have.

So, what’s the solution? Well, let’s face it – if I knew that I wouldn’t be writing this, but would be sitting on a private island having solved most of the other woes of the world. But, for what it’s worth, and as a female engineer who has been around long enough now, albeit in consultancy and education as well as manufacturing environments, to be able to say it ‘as it is’, here are some thoughts.

Engineering is a great profession

  • Through an apprentice, technical or graduate route – for anyone, and those women who pursue it are great at it too. The problem is that too often the debate on engineering is monopolised by the ‘skills shortage’ issue (i.e. your country needs you) or for women, the ‘well, it’s difficult but we’ll help’ approach (i.e. you will need additional support). I’m still to be convinced that either of these is the way you would try to sell any other product, proposition or service on the planet (if you wanted to do it successfully), so why do we do it here? Firstly, I can honestly say that at 14, 16, 18 or 21, I’m pretty convinced I didn’t take the country’s skills needs into account when making subject or study choices, and I’m not convinced many people (if any) do now. Secondly, of course, as a woman in a traditionally male environment, engineering can be tough and a bit of a shock to the system – it certainly was in chemical plants in 1984! However, it was also a matchless formative experience, where I met an amazing array of people, all of whom added to my experience of life in one way or another, and a springboard to a wonderful varied career. And that is an experience shared by the many, not just the few – so isn’t it about time we started highlighting the positives, not (inadvertently) trying to put people off?

Engineering changes lives

  •  Many engineers will impact more lives in a single project or working week than most other people will change in a lifetime. There seems to be a notion that in order to help people, improve quality of life or ‘make a difference’ the key routes for young people, and dare I say particularly girls, are medicine, teaching or perhaps even law. Whilst these areas of work are vital and, we all know from TV or personal experience what they look like and what we could expect, this misses a simple but incontrovertible truth: that without engineers we wouldn’t have the hospitals, schools, court rooms, transport or homes upon which and all these things rely. Every day engineers save lives through activities from food manufacture, to ensuring the safety of buildings or bridges, to maintaining the telecommunications infrastructure that enables us to call on help when we need it.

Engineering is a fantastic springboard

  • For me, the reason we want more young people, including girls, to pursue engineering studies and engineering careers, is that it gives you so many options. Through my studies and early work experience, I developed problem solving, team working and project management skills which have been the very things that have enabled me to move first into consultancy and then into education support. You only have to look at the CBI Education and Skills reports to see how many organisations value engineering skills, whatever their sector, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account the many engineers who have started their own businesses and are successful entrepreneurs. Indeed, a great friend of mine, the inimitable Michelle Dow, began her working life as a British Gas apprentice, becoming a gas engineer and a service manager. She then became a business owner, and now spends her life inspiring young people in STEM throughout the North West (before moving on to taking over the world!). Too often in the engineering debate, people talk about the ‘leaky pipeline’ of engineers moving out of engineering-related activities to other things. Whilst I see the point where people are moving on for negative reasons, it is often the case that this ‘leakage’ just shows how flexible and valuable an engineering education really is.

Engineers come in all shapes and sizes

  • There is something for everyone. Engineering is a subject which encompasses all of our lives, from the water that comes out of our taps in the morning, the trains or cars in which we travel, the medical treatments that we sometimes need, to the research going on into materials and technologies which will shape our lives in fifty years time. There is probably not a day when you don’t come across an engineer of some sort – you may just not realise it. For years there has been an on-going debate around whether we should try and protect the title ‘engineer’ to denote those who have pursued engineering through a more academic route. Some think this will help raise its status in the UK, but personally I am as proud to be called an engineer alongside the man or woman who ensures my boiler is safe, as those engineers doing academic research (boy, that will get a reaction I suspect!). And when it comes to female engineers, we are a mixed bunch too. We range from glamorous fashionistas, to those of us who would like to be glamorous but have never quite managed it (guess which one I am!). One female engineer has the largest collection of Jimmy Choos and designer handbags of anyone I know. We also come from the widest range of backgrounds and routes you can imagine – apprenticeships, returners to work, career changers, graduates, late developers, the lot! What we do have in common is a desire to do something creative, which makes a difference and which gives us options and possibilities (oh, and often pays well too).

When it comes to celebrating women in engineering, let’s do it continuously, loudly and always with positive messages that might actually make people want to do it – not frighten them off before they have even started! Let’s make every day a ‘women in engineering’ day and indeed, an ‘engineering is for everyone’ day.


Related resources:

Women into Engineering

Investigation into Why the UK Has the Lowest Proportion of Female Engineers in the EU

London Engineering Project: Girls into Engineering

Tomorrow’s Engineers

Top five tips for teaching primary science


Primary School Science










By Helen Spring

Are you about to start your first year as a primary school teacher?  I’m sure you are currently both excited and terrified at the same time!  Many NQTs are daunted by the prospect of teaching practical science lessons.  Primary science needn’t be a scary concept; in fact, it can be one of the most enjoyable lessons to teach.

Here are some top tips to help with teaching practical science lessons:

Top tip number one

Keep it simple.  Don’t try to do too much in one lesson.  Pick one or two objectives and think carefully about how you are going to ensure that your children can meet those objectives.  It is usual to ensure that you cover one objective from Working Scientifically and one objective linked to subject knowledge.  Make sure that you start from the objectives and choose your activities to suit these, rather than thinking of a really cool activity and basing your lesson around that. It sounds like common sense but it is quite an easy mistake for even experienced teachers.  Keep the success criteria clear in your mind.  What do you expect most children to know or be able to do by the end of the lesson?

Top tip number two

Plan properly.  Take the time to think about the logistics of the lesson. Chances are that you are going to want children to be moving around the room.   You need to decide how to manage this.  Do you want to spread resources out so that children don’t all run for the same cupboard at the same time?  Do you want to set the experiment up for the children?  This isn’t ideal as promoting independence is an important part of child development.  It also takes an awful lot of time if you have to set up every lesson.

Keep thinking, do you have all the equipment you need?  Does your activity work?  Do you know what results to expect?

Top tip number three

Make sure that every child understands your expectations.  To that end, know what your expectations are.  Depending on your individual style of teaching, this may be something that you want to agree with the children in advance.  You may wish to have an agreed set of rules.  You may wish to allocate the children with role cards.  Remember that your expectations for behaviour in science shouldn’t need to differ massively from your expectations during the rest of the curriculum.

Top tip number four

Make assessment easy for yourself.  There is an excellent book which I would recommend to any teacher – The Lazy teacher’s Handbook, by Jim Smith.  There are some brilliant tips in this book.  Think back to your objective(s).  What do you want the children to know or do?  How will you know that children have achieved this?  Make sure that this is the only thing which you are assessing.  Do you really need to mark diagrams and methods if your lesson objective focused on writing predictions?  Remember you are assessing their science, not their English skills.  Can the children assess themselves?  Train them!

You are a good teacher.  You need to know which children can do XYZ at the end of the lesson so that you can decide what needs to be focused on in the next lesson.  You don’t need to cover every piece of written work with red pen (or green or pink or purple!).  In fact, this is a science lesson – do the children need to write anything at all?!

If they’re not writing, can you assess everyone by asking a particular question?  By observing?  Could you use an app such as Plickers to assess the children’s subject knowledge?  Could you record comments?  Could the children record their own comments?

Make sure you plan how you are going to know that your children have met your objectives.

Top tip number five

Get the children to ask the questions.  What do they want to find out?  Can they design their own investigations?  Set a problem (my pet rabbit gets too cold at night; how can I keep it warm?).  Ask the children to design their own investigation to solve the problem.

And finally

Don’t worry if it all went wrong!  Science is about enquiry.  Have the children thought of questions that they want to know the answers to?  Have they started to try and find things out for themselves?  Then you are starting to create little scientists!


Here are some resources that might get you started:

Differentiated Primary Science

Encouraging Primary Science

Ideas for the Primary Science Curriculum

Practical Primary Science

Teaching courses that are related:

Working scientifically in the new primary curriculum

Primary science conference

Teaching key areas of primary science for Y6 teachers

Triple science teaching support

By James de Winter

Whilst many of you will have been teaching triple science for a number of years, you may not know that there is a whole wealth of free support and resources on the National STEM Centre site designed support your teaching with ideas and suggestions.Triple Science groups home page

The main triple science homepage provides an overview of all that is available in terms of resources and CPD, but if you want ideas, suggestions and resources then the best place to start is the Triple Science Community Groups. There are four community groups, one for each of the science subjects and one called Triple Science Eye which is designed to support more general cross subject issues including management and curriculum design. They are all free to access once you are registered with the National STEM centre site.

I’ve put some direct links and highlights below to help you navigate through the resources;

Community Groups

Across the four groups there are hundreds of posts, many containing resources and lesson materials, all available free at the click of a mouse.

Has the Eclipse stirred you or your students’ interest? Pop over to the Astronomical Observation and Measurement, Life of Stars and The Universe topic in the physics group and have a look at the 20+ downloads, free software ideas including a massive Astronomy masterclass written in Prezi that someone has written and is sharing for free.

Can quantitative analysis be fun? Apparently so, go have a look at the posts on the Quantitative Analysis topic in the chemistry group and take your pick from the 10+ downloads and collection of links.

Teaching Biotechnology and need some ideas? – This topic in the biology group has 8 different lesson ideas and downloads as well as a whole host of links

Support on iTunesU

iTunesUIf you are an ITunesU user or fancy trying it out then go to iTunes and search for Triple Science Support and you’ll find a whole selection of resources there. Some of these resources are available for PC and Mac and others for Mac OS only.


The eLibrary

And, don’t forget the wonderful eLibrary at the main National STEM Centre Website  websiTS Listste. We have had a look through what is there and put together some subject lists that highlight the best resources for each Triple Science Topic – you can find these lists here.


Supporting STEM Education

By Yvonne Baker

As we welcome new and old ministers back into the halls of Westminster and they are no doubt identifying their key priorities for the first one hundred days, may I suggest something a little radical?

Girls soldering circuit board

Girls soldering circuit board

In terms education, and especially the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), perhaps they should take time to look carefully at what already exists, is making progress, and is revered worldwide. In other words, continue to invest in the existing support that is making a difference, and is making the UK a model for many other countries around the world.

World-wide demand for STEM

Concerns about STEM skills, of course are neither new, nor UK-centric. Whilst the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated a few years ago that the UK economy needs an additional 100,000 engineers per year to achieve its full potential, other countries tell a similar story. France, for example, is estimated to train around 30,000 engineers each year, whilst there is a demand for at least 40,000; it may be an even greater surprise to learn that Germany estimates a shortfall of 200,000 STEM graduates each year.

What is unique for the UK is the strategic view that has been taken around STEM skills by successive governments for some time. Professor Sir Gareth Roberts’ ‘Set for Success’ report kicked off a chain of events which now places us in a position which many other countries wish they could emulate. This includes a strong, established infrastructure supporting those teaching STEM subjects to young people from early years to post-16 comprising of: the National Science Learning Network; the National STEM Centre; the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics; and the STEM Ambassadors programme. In addition, we benefit from a wonderful array of enhancement and enrichment schemes ranging from the CREST Awards and the Big Bang Fair, to smaller local efforts.

Continued collaboration is key

What makes this possible is unparalleled collaboration between successive governments, employers and organisations, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. A partnership which, united in ensuring all young people have access to a great STEM education, has lasted for over a decade. This has been crucial in enabling those supporting teachers of STEM through high impact subject-specific professional development. A good example of this is Project ENTHUSE, which has enabled the National Science Learning Centre to work intensively with over 14,000 teachers and leaders of science, in the process impacting many hundreds of thousands of young people across the UK.

Impact of CPD at National Science Learning Centre 2013-14

Impact of CPD at National Science Learning Centre 2013-14


What is also unique about this is the focus put on supporting teachers of STEM, not just targeting support directly at young people which, whilst vital, will not result in the systemic change that education systems worldwide require if the STEM skills challenge is to be addressed. As McKinsey stated in their 2007 report

“No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers”.

Nowhere is this more true than in science and other STEM subjects – as the Wellcome Trust says:

The future of science depends on the quality of science teaching today.

And whilst there is still much to be done, the results of this long-term investment and faith of governments, employers and charitable trusts are really beginning to come through. This includes;

  • an increase in both the number and proportion of A levels being taken in STEM subjects over the last five years with chemistry and mathematics showing particularly positive rises
  • 98,000 students beginning STEM undergraduate courses in 2014, the highest level ever recorded

Underpinning this, we have a much greater awareness of the importance and value of STEM subjects for all young people across the school and college system, with STEM enhancement & enrichment activities, as well as teacher on-going development, reaching further into the school and college sector than ever before.

Challenges remain

We need to get better at communicating the opportunity and satisfaction of the whole range of STEM-related careers to young people, their parents and their teachers. Campaigns such as the Your Life initiative are helping pull together communications and signposting opportunities. Project ENTHUSE is enabling teachers to spend up to two weeks with a STEM employer, opening the lid on the variety of roles, from the more traditional graduate path to the equally important apprenticeship and technician routes. As one participating teacher said:

It completely blew my misconceptions about manufacturing right out of the water.

We also need to ensure that supporting primary teachers, and engaging primary aged children, is given the priority it deserves. Research such as the Aspires project shows that, whilst young people are positive about science and STEM as a whole, they form ideas very early on regarding whether they ‘see themselves as a scientist’ (or engineer, or technologist). At the same time, we know anecdotally that a perceived lack of focus on science from Ofsted, even though it remains firmly a core subject at primary level, has encouraged some primary heads to see it as ‘second best. In some cases this relegates it from the regular timetable to a single science week, or even worse. This perception is not necessarily ill-founded – an informal survey of around 100 primary Ofsted reports found just one mention of science. Just one!

But perhaps the biggest challenge to the progress that has been made is the tendency of funders, including governments, to always be looking beyond what is in place and – whilst always capable of further improvement – is making a difference, in favour of ‘a better mousetrap’. After all, with something as ‘now’ as STEM, there is always someone coming to a Minister’s door offering a new magical, overnight solution. However, as Marc Durando of European Schoolnet, who sees efforts to support STEM education all over the world, says:

“It is important not to reinvent but to support and strengthen what has already proven its success and to work on successful mainstreaming mechanisms”.

As Ian McDaid, Head of Science at Balby Carr Community Academy in Doncaster puts it:

“Don’t take away the support upon which so many teachers depend. Every day, we see it helping ensure our STEM teaching changes lives.  There is a greater need than ever to increase the support and profile of STEM subjects nationally if we are to compete in the global market.  This is important enough to command cross party support to enable the National Science Learning Network to further expand and improve the essential support provided for teachers”.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,133 other followers

%d bloggers like this: