What is STEM Education?
STEM Education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning, where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons.
Students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.
What is the STEM Challenge all about?
STEM Challenge is now in its seventh year and continues to attract more interest from the engineering world. The Challenge is for girls only in order to promote participation and raise aspirations in industries that young women often see as masculine and not for them.
Why this challenge?
It is nationally and internationally recognized that there is a shortage of girls choosing STEM subjects as degrees, and a growing body of evidence about barriers to subsequent careers. We have created this challenge to inspire girls and encourage them to overcome these barriers.
Who sets the Challenge?
Soroptimist International is a worldwide, dynamic organisation for professional and business women. Through awareness, advocacy and action at international, national and local levels, we are committed to a world where women and girls achieve their individual and collective potential, realise aspirations and have an equal voice in creating strong and peaceful communities.
What do the girls do?
Soroptimist International challenge the girls to create a solution to help people in the poorest parts of our world. Their ideas and designs need to be:
- Sustainable: energy and materials affordable with minimal impact upon the environment
- Fit for their intended purpose
The girls are asked to think about:
- What problem your solution is going to help overcome?
- Who is going to benefit from your solution?
- How and where it is to be used?
- How many people is it going to help?
Teams consist of up to five girls and schools may enter as many teams as they would like to participate. The required elements of their project are:
- The design brief outlining the perceived need
- Evidence of research into possible solutions
- A plan of the final project
- A demonstration model to support the plan with some indication of how it should be scaled up for its intended purpose
- Demonstrate all elements of STEM
The Challenge Timetable
Every year, the Challenge starts in October - shortly after the beginning of the new academic year.
Girls then have until the end of February of the following calendar year to submit their completed project.
A team of judges from locally STEM based industries volunteer their time at the Heats and the Finals which take place at Bournemouth University during March.
The STEM Challenge and Magna Academy
At Magna Academy, we have been fortunate to have a gold-standard STEM champion in Mrs Shepherd, Teacher of Science She is pictured here on the left of the group with our 2019 team. Left to right, they are Lily, Katie and Eve.
Such is her dedication, Mrs Shepherd has entered Magna teams into the Heats for the past five years. This is Lily, Katie and Eve's second outing to BU - having competed previously in Year 8.
We are very proud to have at the academy a champion for persuading and encouraging more and more young women to engage in and enjoy the STEM disciplines.
The 2018-2019 Challenge
This year, Magna entered one three-girl team into the Challenge and we met up with them at Bournemouth University on the evening of the Heats in March.
Here's what we discovered when we sat down and talked with Katie, Lily and Eve:
Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the STEM Challenge...
"It started in Year 8, really. Mrs Shepherd spoke with everyone and made it sound so interesting that we signed up and took part."
"To be honest, we were attracted by the idea of a £50 prize but that's not what it was really about. We've so enjoyed making things and conducting experiments throughout the projects."
Did you know each other well?
"Oh no we hate each other (laughs)... no, we were already good friends. We got into STEM as a group because we enjoy each other's company."
What are your individual super powers as a team?
"Well, Eve's the bossy one... no, only joking... she is a good leader. She has lots of drive and helps organise us."
"Lily is the practical one. She gets things done and is very hands-on whenever there is a problem."
"Katie is more... conceptual, I suppose. She's our ideas woman. She's great at imagining new approaches to a problem."
And what about Mrs Shepherd? Her super powers?
"Oh, that's easy... she is our 'School Mum'. She is always open and approachable. She treats us like we are equals and that means an awful lot."
So, what was your project about?
Our year 9 STEM project was a hand cream made from natural supplies which are found abundantly within third world countries.
Our main purpose from the start, was to provide third world countries with a way of preventing the spread of bacteria through direct skin contact to reduced the amount of skin diseases spread.
We did STEM in year 8 and we looked into the lack of filtered, clean water in these countries. This lead to think about the issues surrounding basic hygiene.
Due to our many experimental trials, we soon produced our final product which after testing for bacteria gave a positive result.
Our final version included a range of natural resources such as coconut oil, shea butter, castor oil, rice and lavender essential oils, which are all obtainable in countries such as Sri Lanka and Ghana.
Will you stick with STEM subjects? What STEM do you think you might study at A-Level?
Eve: "Biology maybe. I think I'd like to be a marine biologist when I leave education. I love dolphins so that seems like a good career to follow, doesn't it?"
Lily: "I'd like to work in engineering or hospitality. Something practical like that. Not getting stuck at a desk all day. Nothing boring of course."
Katie: "I'm less of a scientist than my friends. This Challenge has definitely got me interested in STEM but I'm definitely a creative person. I think my goal is really to work in a field like journalism."
And, finally, what do you think being involved in the STEM Challenge has given you?
Katie: "I'm a more confident public speaker. I was never comfortable doing that but it has helped me a lot. Also I manage to learn how to quickly scoff down a cookie in 5 seconds before we had the judging session. "
Eve: "I was always confident speaking. (looks at friends) I guess that's why I'm called 'the bossy one'! (laughs). But it has improved my confidence. Definitely."
Lily:"I developed my ninja skills by coming up with our team signature move. But seriously I actually acknowledge my interest in science and all that jazz."