EDUCATION LINKS CASE STUDY
Enabling students to study engineering
Taking the right Science and Maths is a major stumbling block to students enrolling in and succeeding in engineering. At Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, however, a higher than average number of girls go into engineering. What’s the difference? Empowering them to make choices – because they have taken those subjects – and showing them the end goal.
A higher percentage of girls from Epsom Girls’ Grammar School study engineering at tertiary level than from other schools around New Zealand. While there are, of course, many factors influencing students’ aspirations and opportunities, encouraging them to continue with Science and Maths and raising awareness of engineering makes a significant impact. The school’s Year 11 Science programme is structured to prepare students for study pathways which require NCEA Level 2/3 credits in Science.
This, combined with raising awareness of engineering and engineering careers, enables students to not only enrol in engineering study but to succeed in it.
A General Science course with alternative pathways
As in many schools, it is compulsory for Year 11 students to take Science. However, at Epsom Girls’ it is done differently. Introduced some 18 years ago, the compulsory General Science programme is structured as half-year courses. Students choose two or four subjects from:
Investigation & Carbon
Human Biology (a full year course)
Environmental Science (a full year course).
In each half-year course, students work towards two NCEA Achievement Standards. In the Physics course, for example, they learn Mechanics (from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) NCEA General Science standards) and Electricity (from the Physics standards). Those girls wishing to go in for medicine, engineering or a career which may require them to do all the three sciences are able to take four courses in two ‘option lines’.
Science is optional for Year 12/13 students who can choose from Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science, all of which are offered as whole-year courses.
It is usual in schools for Year 9-11 Science to be taught by any Science teacher available in that timetable slot – they cover all aspects of the curriculum regardless of their particular expertise. Along with restructuring the Year 11 Science programme, Epsom Girls’ made a commitment to providing specialist teachers for each course at Year 11 – so students are taught by subject specialists at this level and into Years 12/13.
HOD Science Susan John teaches Physics and notes the difference in student attitude towards study when it’s a subject they have chosen rather being compulsory for Year 11 Science. “The girls who do Physics actually want to take the subject and they want to do well. Some might struggle but we’re there to help them, and we offer tutorials in all the Science subjects.”
The high number of students opting for Physics and continuing with it into Year 12/13 is, again, higher than average. The 2015 Physics classes:
Year 11 – 300 (12 classes)
Year 12 – 200 (8 classes)
Year 13 – 150 (7 classes) out of approximately 400 students.
Promoting engineering careers
Encouraging students to continue with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects at senior level helps set them up for success in related careers. At the same time, careers advisers and teachers try to raise students’ and parents’ awareness of pathways and opportunities in engineering.
The Careers Education department runs a series of careers talks every Monday for Year 13 students. Tertiary institutions present information about their courses and return in Term 3 to run course-planning sessions.
All students can attend Thursday lunchtime presentations by tertiary providers and other organisations. Futureintech Ambassadors, for example, discuss why they got into engineering and what they do. Parents and students are invited to the annual tertiary information evening and Maori and Pasifika careers evening, where they can find out about courses and get advice on the requisite school subjects.
Every year, a representative from the University of Auckland School of Engineering visits the Year 12 Physics classes. This, Susan says, exposes them all to the different engineering disciplines, “They find out what happens in engineering, look at video clips about engineering and find out about the jobs that are available out there.”
Year 13 students have the opportunity to attend the university’s Women in Engineering event in Term 2, where they’re involved in hands-on activities. Later in the year, Year 11-13 students and their parents are invited to the Engineer your Future evening at the School of Engineering where they find out more about engineering study and careers. Students can also attend STEAM Ahead (for Year 13s) and BEAMS (for Maori/Pasifika Year 10s) events at the university, where they learn more about engineering and related fields.
Smaller numbers of students may be involved in activities which involve them in engineering, such as the CREST Awards. And in 2014, Susan took a group of 25 Year 12/13 students on a trip to Florida where they participated in Maths, Science and Technology learning activities and visited NASA, the Kennedy Space Centre, Astronaut Hall of Fame and science museums in Orlando and Los Angeles.
Our thanks to Susan for her time and advice. If you have questions, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Images courtesy of Futureintech