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STEM in Primary Schools


In February 2017, Primary 7 classes from six primary schools in Belfast and Bangor participated in events hosted by St Mary’s and Stranmillis university colleges which included “Strictly Come Dancing with Robots”and “Game of Drones”. In the second of the two-day events, held as part of the STEM in Primary Schools research project, over one hundred and sixty Primary 7 pupils completed a series of STEM open-ended problem-solving challenges, which included programming the drones to complete coordinated aerial acrobatics.


Professor Peter Finn, Principal of St Mary’s University College, welcoming the participating schoolchildren to the College


These events were influenced by the results of research conducted last year as a joint venture between St Mary’s and Stranmillis. The aim of the research was to ascertain if engaging in “hands-on” practical activities could assist pupils better to understand elements of mathematics, such as measurement and time. The research team was also keen to establish if a practical approach that also involved creative activity would better engage certain types of learners who might be “turned off” by theoretical activity. While the two days were a fun experience for the pupils, a research element was embedded to focusing upon particular measurements of the educational impact of STEM experiences. Three research instruments were used:

  1. Two TIMSS-based tests were administered, one taken just before the two-day event and the second taken just after the two-day event.
  2. A second P7 class that was not attending the two-day event similarly took the two TIMSS-based tests to provide a direct comparison of the effect of the event.
  3. A learning preference survey was administered during the two-day event.

A student teacher helping children program a robot


Children from the participating schools and their student teachers


A child holding a drone


The research team was supported by over twenty undergraduate student teachers from each university college. The project provided an invaluable opportunity for the student teachers to work alongside their tutors as professional colleagues and collaborators. Within this potentially insightful perspective, the students additionally were able to develop, extend and hone their teaching techniques within a learning environment that rarely would be otherwise available during their undergraduate education.

The research team secured funding to cover transport costs and to provide hospitality over the two days.

The researchers are now focused upon completing an analysis of the gathered data. They will then consider the longer-term application of the project, perhaps by integrating the planning and delivery within the degree pathway for BEd Technology & Design and offering participating schools the opportunity to learn and to integrate new technologies within their classroom practice.


Children with their student teacher giving technology the “thumbs up”

Dancing Robot


The events were opened by Professor Peter Finn, Principal of St Mary’s University College, and Dr Anne Heaslett, Principal of Stranmillis University College, both of whom also presented certificates upon completion to each of the participating schools: Loughview Integrated School, St. Kevin’s Primary School, Bunscoil Phobal Feirste, Rathmore Primary School, St. Peter’s Primary School and Seaview Primary School. The events were also supported by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), and the research team was led by Dr Kieran McGeown of St Mary’s University College and Dr Michael Ievers of Stranmillis University College.


Professor Peter Finn (Principal of St Mary’s), Dr Anne Heaslett (Principal of Stranmillis University College) Dr Kieran McGeown (St Mary’s University College), Dr Michael Ievers (Stranmillis University College)