By Felicity Liggins and Huw Lewis of the Met Office
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are at the heart of what the Met Office does. Without continued expertise in these fields, the Met Office would not be able to maintain its position as the national weather service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), and a leading centre for climate research. The Met Office needs to attract the brightest people and to enable employees to develop their professional skills during their careers. The UK’s prosperity and technological development depends on having an available pool of motivated and highly-trained scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.
Met Office STEM outreach activities aim to interest youth in its work.
What is STEM outreach?
STEM outreach enables learners of all backgrounds and abilities to meet inspiring role models, gain an understanding of real-world applications of STEM subjects and experience motivating hands-on STEM activities that bring learning and career opportunities to life.
Organizations across the UK engage in STEM outreach activities. A leading coordinator of this outreach is STEMNET – the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network. It runs three core national programmes, including the national STEM Ambassador scheme, which has over 26 000 volunteers who give their time to inspire young people. Offering outreach in creative, practical and engaging ways, STEM Ambassadors come from a wide range of careers and professions. They demonstrate how vital STEM is in everyday life, provide free curriculum resources for teachers and promote careers in STEM.
Met Office STEM Ambassadors
From 10 active STEM Ambassadors just four years ago, the Met Office now has more than 120. The STEM outreach programme is embedded into Met Office culture, bringing benefits to both the Met Office and its wider communities.
Community engagement – For the Met Office, STEM outreach is about community engagement. But this means much more than the local communities surrounding its Headquarters in Exeter. It includes people around all of its offices in the UK and abroad. Community engagement also refers to the wider UK population, particularly with reference to the Met Office’s public weather service work, and to the broader global community through its work with WMO, international forecasts and climate research.
To help measure whether they were successful, three years ago the Met Office included a number of STEM Ambassador activities as a metric within its Business Performance Measures.
Enhancing staff motivation and enthusiasm – Participation in STEM Ambassador events, particularly homegrown activities such as Met Office Science Camp, has given staff volunteers huge satisfaction and pride, an effect that lasts beyond a given event. Staff members view the activities as an opportunity to get involved in something different to “the day job.”
New and different opportunities for staff learning and development – Preparing for and delivering STEM activities give staff the opportunity to learn more about the Met Office, to develop planning and organizational skills and to test communication skills in presenting to audiences that are often non-specialist and challenging. STEM activities also provide opportunities for staff to meet other colleagues with whom they would not normally interact and to learn about the wider science of the Met Office.
Enhanced reputation – The feedback shows that the youth-oriented activities are extremely well received by the participating children and their supervisors. The Met Office has forged stronger links with its local communities and developed skilled ambassadors to promote its work. Word-of-mouth is spreading about Met Office STEM activities, and more schools are approaching the Met Office about getting involved in future events.
Providing new STEM activities for young people – The more Ambassadors, the more ideas generated for fun and inspiring activities to engage young people in STEM subjects. Events such as the Met Office Science Camps, new in 2013, have led to the development of activities which allow participants a more immersive view of the Met Office’s work. They also provided a focus for developing new content, which is already being applied in other school activities and visits by STEM Ambassadors.
Met Office Science Camp
In the summer of 2013, the Met Office ran a series of pilot events, providing an educational science night for young people aged 11–12 at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter. These Met Office Science Camps were a great success. Over the four events, 176 children from local schools and scout/guide groups got hands-on with STEM at the Met Office and camped overnight in its conference rooms, helped along by a team of over 100 staff volunteers.
The event engendered cross-office support and engagement. The volunteers had different levels of experience – from months to decades spent in the organization – and represented almost all areas of the Met Office’s work.
All the students who submitted evaluation forms said that they would recommend Met Office Science Camps to a friend. The feedback from staff was equally positive, saying that they would recommend volunteering to colleagues and would take part again. A significant proportion said they would be happy to help organize future events.
Building on the success of Met Office Science Camp 2013, the Met Office will again run four events over the summer of 2014, endeavouring to make each one bigger, louder and more fun.
What’s it like being a Met Office STEM Ambassador?
The work of Met Office STEM Ambassadors varies hugely. Activities include visits to local schools to talk about science or careers; weather balloon launches; and code clubs. Ambassadors also take part in national events such as The Big Bang – an annual science fair that hosts over 65 000 young people. There are active Met Office STEM ambassadors across the UK.
The Met Office also gets involved with other organizations’ STEM-related activities. For example, over the last three years, it has been collaborating with EDF Energy to educate young people on climate science. EDF Energy has created The Pod.
– a website where registered schools and community groups can access free teaching resources, download activities, blog and share ideas on sustainability. The Met Office is explaining the science behind phrases like “the greenhouse effect” and “climate adaptation”
– helping to ensure that children using The Pod have a good understanding of the climate science underpinning the other sustainability topics they study.
On the site, teachers are able to download hands-on activities, designed by the Met Office, which help young people get to grips with climate science, covering topics such as natural variability or the carbon cycle. To date, over 17 700 schools are registered on the site with more than 26 000 users. Collaborations such as this enable Met Office science to reach as wide an audience as possible, build on its wider educational offerings, strengthen its collaborations and enhance its reputation.