STIMULUS

The STIMULUS programme which sends University students out into local schools to support maths, science, technology and ICT teachers is celebrating 25 years.

“There is no doubt that volunteering for STIMULUS is an amazing start for a career in teaching...But STIMULUS is not just about that. Each volunteer tries to have a positive influence on at least one pupil. Most of us accomplish a lot more and in the end we manage to actually make a difference.”

Carina Negreanu

A very popular volunteer programme which involves Cambridge students acting as teaching assistants in local schools is celebrating its 25th birthday.

STIMULUS is a community service programme which gives Cambridge University students the opportunity to work with pupils in local primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges, helping with Maths, Science, ICT or Technology lessons. STIMULUS students work as volunteer teaching assistants in the classroom, alongside the class teacher.

The programme has grown enormously since its early days. When it was set up in 1987 by Toni Beardon, who was later awarded an OBE for services to mathematics education, it had just two students in the first term. By the following academic year, that number had grown to 20. Last school year (2011/12) STIMULUS created 245 placements for University of Cambridge student volunteers at 18 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, three sixth-form colleges, and one special school.

Volunteers are recruited from a wide range of disciplines: the majority are reading Mathematics, Engineering, Natural Sciences, Medicine, Computer Science, Chemical Engineering or Economics. Student volunteers have always been given time to talk about university life to encourage schoolchildren to think about taking up maths or science at university. For the volunteers, the benefits include gaining experience in the classroom and developing their communication and interpersonal skills. For schools, a STIMULUS volunteer offers not just a useful pair of helping hands for teachers but also a role model for school pupils.

A local primary school teacher commented recently in feedback on the scheme: “This term’s STIMULUS volunteer helped with small groups conducting many different Science experiments. He was amazing. We want him back please! The children loved him.” Another teacher commented: “The volunteer’s enthusiasm rubbed off on the whole class.”

STIMULUS was originally set up as a result of concerns about a shortage of maths and science teachers, and a key aim was to attract more students to consider a career in teaching. Latest surveys show that 56% of students feel that they are more likely to teach as a result of volunteering.

Carina Negreanu, a current volunteer, says: “There is no doubt that volunteering for STIMULUS is an amazing start for a career in teaching: you get to try teaching at different levels, in different environments and you will definitely find your place. But STIMULUS is not just about that. Each volunteer tries to have a positive influence on at least one pupil. Most of us accomplish a lot more and in the end we manage to actually make a difference.”

Jenny Earl, who volunteers at King's Hedges Primary School, says: "It's really good to feel more involved in the community, because as students we often feel as if we are living completely independently of the rest of the residents of Cambridge.”

Rob Percival, STIMULUS' coordinator and himself another former volunteer, says: “STIMULUS is a great opportunity for Cambridge students to share their skills and get out of the University 'bubble'. Over 25 years we have made thousands of placements in primary schools, secondary schools and sixth form colleges. For the school students involved, STIMULUS means an opportunity to work with a genuine Cambridge student, find out what the university is like and possibly consider whether university in general, and Cambridge specifically, is for them.

"Teachers enjoy having another helper in the classroom, especially someone with specialist skills. The university students themselves get to find out what it is like being on the 'other side' in a classroom, as well as develop their own teaching and interpersonal skills. The scheme has proved enduringly popular because of the benefits it provides to all parties, and we hope it will continue to do so for at least the next 25 years!”

STIMULUS is coordinated by the Millennium Mathematics Project. To find out more about STIMULUS please see http://stimulus.ucam.org

Picture credit: Nigel Luckhurst.


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