Archaeology and STEM in Primary Education

Poppy Hodkinson is a 3rd year PhD student at Cardiff University and University of Southampton. Her research is funded by South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWWDTP) and is investigating the potential impact of archaeology on STEM engagement in primary education. The following is a summary of her findings so far!

A shortage of people working in the STEM industry is well documented. Not enough STEM graduates are entering appropriate jobs, leading to employers looking outside of the UK to fill roles. This may become even more difficult in the future with changes to working visa policy.

Reasons for the employment gap are complex: gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status all play a role and often intersect. These factors are influential in A-level choices so it is crucial that interventions happen early as possible – in Primary School for example!

So why Archaeology? It’s a unique combination of science and humanities, giving it a wide appeal and making it a perfect way to demonstrate ‘real life’ applications of STEM skills. It’s practical and ‘hands on’ nature is particularly well suited to Primary level teaching. This project tried to see whether archaeological interventions could impact how primary pupils perceive STEM. It delivered 3 STEM-based archaeological workshops (with content relevant to curriculum requirements) to 233 Year 4 pupils at five schools in Cardiff and Hampshire.

Workshop 1: Pupils were set a zooarchaeological challenge. They identified and quantified animal remains, and used graphs to present their data. Pupils looked for patterns in their data to try and understand human/ animal relationships in the past.

Workshop 2: Pupils became ‘Pollen Detectives’ to study Climate Change in the past. They learned that different plants grow in different environments, so the pollen remains left behind can give clues about past landscapes. Credit to Rhiannon Philip (@rioannon) for the pollen ID cards.

Workshop 3: Pupils learned about Roman aqueducts and made their own out of recycled materials. Their aim was to transport as much water from one end of their design to the other. They wrote success criteria for their projects and designed a method to fairly test their work.

Questionnaires and interviews were used to observe pupils’ STEM perceptions. All pupils filled out questionnaires and four from each school were interviewed. Both methods encouraged pupils to reflect on how certain skills and personality traits might be suited to a STEM career.

The impact of workshops on questionnaire results was limited. The only significant change was to the percentage of pupils agreeing with ‘STEM is an important part of my life’ after Workshop 1. Pupils enjoying science but not wanting to ‘be a scientist’ mirrors findings of ASPIRES Research (@ASPIRESscience) https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/departments/education-practice-and-society/aspires-research.

Pupils used word sort activities to explore skills and personality traits that might be important to someone working in STEM. Over time, conversations shifted from vague statements, to thoughtful and specific considerations of how skills and traits might be applied in a STEM career.

While workshops appear to have had limited effect, this project introduced STEM to pupils who were not previously aware of it. Factors in STEM uptake are complex, and additional focus/ reflection on individuals’ skills and personality traits may be needed to effect change.

Links to resources/ packs:

Aqueduct challenge used some elements from Practical Action’s (@PracticalAction) resource packs, all available online:
https://practicalaction.org/schools/?taxCat=stem-challenges

WISE campaign’s ‘People Like Me’ activity has since been replaced with an online quiz (the pack no longer exists online, that I can find) which can be found at: https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/what-we-do/expertise/welcome-to-my-skills-my-life/

Science Capital Teaching Approach Teacher pack available from: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10080166/1/the-science-capital-teaching-approach-pack-for-teachers.pdf

Science Grrl Case for a Gender Lens in STEM:
https://sciencegrrl.co.uk/assets/SCIENCE-GRRL-Stem-Report_FINAL_WEBLINKS-1.pdf

Aspires Summary report:
https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ecs/research/aspires/aspires-final-report-december-2013.pdf

Most recent Aspires Summary report:
https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10092041/15/Moote_9538%20UCL%20Aspires%202%20report%20full%20online%20version.pdf

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