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Developing our future workforce with hands on STEM activities

Published 23/06/2021 by Dr Emma Robertson 3 min read

Primary age pupils carrying out an experiment with the Science Skills Academy

Since we started delivering sessions in 2019 through the Science Skills Academy, it's amazing to think that we have already worked with over 7,500 young people, their families, teachers and communities - looking at engaging and interactive ways to spark interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in the Highlands.

With thousands of high-quality jobs on the horizon for our region in biosciences, digital skills, renewable energy and the space sector, the Science Skills Academy (SSA) is an Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal project which is all about raising awareness of STEM careers and developing the skills of our next generation.

We’ve been developing the Highland Newton Room Network that provides state-of-the art facilities where young people get hands on experience with STEM activities. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown our sessions, exploring topics like robotics, electricity generation and renewables, had been in full swing in the Thurso and Fort William Newton Rooms. As soon as we can welcome groups back, the Dingwall Newton Room is also ready, and the Inverness facility is being planned. We also have a Pop-Up Newton Room which will be touring Skye, Wester Ross, Badenoch and Strathspey later in the year.

We have been able to continue working throughout the pandemic. Working with Maths Week Scotland, we sent out 174 maths kits to every primary school in Highland. These had 17 different numeracy, problem-solving and data-handling games which teachers could do outdoors.

In Spring this year we’ve run more outdoor sessions. Around 1,600 secondary school pupils have been exploring the crucial role peatlands play in the fight against climate change.

With studies showing the critical time for the development of young people’s attitudes to STEM is between the ages of 10-14, the project targets pupils in primary 6 and 7 and early secondary school years 1 and 2. ​Our aim is to stimulate the interest of young people before they pick their subjects at secondary school and to increase the likelihood of them studying STEM.

Learning comes in the shape of Newton Modules, and with the focus very much on practical learning. The content complements the Curriculum for Excellence and reflects STEM sectors relevant to the Highlands and Islands.

We also engage directly with employers in a range of ways:

  • working with local STEM employers to shape our Newton Module activities so as they incorporate skills or real-life applications from STEM sectors;
  • in collaboration with SDS, one of the project partners, we are developing marketing materials that go into detail on the wide variety of career pathways that are linked to our Newton Modules;
  • complementing the Newton Modules that we deliver, we have created a series of films that again highlight both STEM sectors that are key to the region as well as local STEM employers, such as European Marine Energy Centre Ltd (EMEC), MOWI, BSW Timber and Lifescan.

SSA brings together key organisations including HIE, Highland Council, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Skills Development Scotland, High Life Highland and NHS Highland, all working together to demonstrate this model of STEM delivery in a large rural area. We want to encourage more young people in our area to study STEM subjects at school and beyond, have the skills to enter employment in STEM sectors, and raise awareness of the wide range of STEM careers, pathways and employers, in particular those in the Highlands and Islands.

You can find out more about the Science Skills Academy on our website.



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