Case Study: Careers Talks in the Primary Classroom

Cardboard Benz: Careers Talks in the Primary Classroom

Thirty-four P6 pupils at Doonfoot Primary School are seated in groups around the classroom, waiting patiently for the presentation to begin. George Burns, a retired engineer, holds up a cereal box with wheels and tells a story about a man named Karl Benz. He later reveals that the cereal box is a model of Karl Benz’ original idea for the Benz Patent Motorcar and how engineering brought cars to the road.

Today, George Burns is giving a careers talk that is geared specifically towards primary aged pupils. As many primary teachers will tell you, it is difficult for younger pupils to sit for longer than a few minutes listening to a speaker. However, Burns was able to give a careers talk for over thirty minutes during which all of the pupils were captivated. The talk was engaging and sprinkled with jokes, but also covered complex topics like electrical safety, apprenticeships, and gender equality in the workplace. George personalised his presentation by referencing Doonfoot Primary School several times, relating to his own experience at school. He emphasized how the teachers prepared him to be an engineer with learning of reading, maths, science, and soft skills like how to get along with others.

STEM Ambassadors often give careers talks to pupils to engage their interest in choosing a STEM career later in life. Many times, these careers talks are given to secondary pupils. However, research indicates that the earlier we intervene in pupils’ conceptions about STEM careers, the more likely they are to follow through on those choices. For this reason, careers talks at the primary level are crucial in helping students understand the real-life application of work skills.

Doonfoot Primary School in Ayr has increased its focus on STEM in the past few years. Abby Anderson, one of the primary teachers attending today, believes that the STEM Ambassador program is an important supplement to the STEM education of her students. “It's great for the World of Work focus and it would be good to see other careers, too. There are so many possibilities.” Anderson, now in her second year at Doonfoot, shares that students have been designing inventions for the Leaders Awards and Burns has agreed to return to the class to give feedback on their designs.

George Burns is an experienced STEM Ambassador with many activities under his belt. “We live in a time when children may get the impression they won’t be required to work,” says Burns, who believes that early intervention is key to building up a skilled workforce. When asked how he prepares for a primary age careers talk, Burns considers the age of the pupils and uses what he knows about the local authority to scale the presentation accordingly. Burns encourages teachers to prepare the pupils by having a class discussion about his line of work first, then to come up with questions to ask before his arrival.

At the end of his presentation, Burns left several minutes to answer the pupils’ questions about his life as an engineer. Pupils were encouraged to listen actively to each other's question so as not to repeat the same ones. This type of preparation kept the conversation flowing

Before having had a STEM Ambassador in her class, Anderson didn’t know what to expect. “The STEM Ambassadors really engaged with the pupils,” Anderson says, noting that professionals often have anecdotes to share and can readily answer pupils’ questions about work experience. After having a few visits from STEM Ambassadors, Anderson now believes that Ambassadors are a valuable teacher resource who can help provide different STEM experiences for pupils. “It’s so worthwhile,” Anderson notes. “It so much more engaging for them to hear from an engineer who has real-life experience than me standing up and talking about it. It brings it to life for the kids.”

Of the seventeen pupils who were surveyed after the activity, 94% rated this careers talk as “Good” or “Great.” Of this group, five students indicated that their biggest takeaway was that  “girls can be engineers.” The overwhelming favorite aspects of the talk were that pupils enjoyed learning about what an engineer does and the many visuals shared in the presentation. It is clear that Burns left much for pupils to ponder after today’s discussion.

Anderson’s advice to STEM Ambassadors considering giving a carers talk is to not be afraid to give pupils lots of information. “You don’t need to break things down as much as you think,” Anderson encourages. “It’s likely that what they are presenting to secondary can be edited slightly.”

Burns also has some advice for STEM Ambassadors who might be hesitant to give a primary careers talk, such as building relationship with pupils by sharing some personal details. “Show the children that you are friendly by introducing your family background but keep it simple and relative to their circumstances,” Burns advises. “Always involve them at all times by being able to stop and answer questions at any time.”

Careers talks are one of the many important activities that a STEM Ambassadors can offer. While it is important for these talks to occur at the secondary level, when pupils are choosing their course of study, careers talks at the primary level have a significant impact in changing pupil attitudes towards STEM before they must make a choice.

First published: 11 April 2018

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