Professor Hamsa Venkat, Naughton Family Chair in STEM Education at Dublin City University
Professor Hamsa Venkat, Naughton Family Chair in STEM Education at Dublin City University

How messiness, imagination and group work can help young students have more positive experiences of STEM subjects

Hamsa Venkat delivers inaugural lecture as Naughton Family Chair in STEM Education at Dublin City University

Giving children a sense of the messiness of the world, and showing them how to solve problems with STEM-related reasoning is key to giving young students the best early start with STEM, according to Professor Hamsa Venkat, an expert in mathematics education who this year has taken up the newly created Naughton Family Chair in STEM Education at Dublin City University.

Professor Venkat made the remarks at an inaugural lecture in the Seamus Heaney Theatre on DCU’s St Patrick’s Campus yesterday, 26th May 2022. Her role is the first in Ireland to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education at primary level and in early childhood education, and she is based at DCU’s Institute of Education, Ireland’s only University Faculty of Education. 

As part of her new role, Professor Venkat will work with colleagues in the DCU Centre for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning (CASTeL), DCU Institute of Education, DCU Faculty of Science & Health and DCU Faculty of Engineering & Computing to build up the competence and confidence of primary and early-years teachers and their students across STEM subjects.

“Better disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning may be achieved by more openness to 'non-disciplinary' approaches – where teachers offer problem situations with fewer expectations of students applying prior disciplinary learning,” explains Prof Venkat. “Instead, we place more emphasis on sense-making and creating problem-solving processes and solutions, through consultation and negotiation, while dealing with multiple variables and constraints”

The Institute of Education at DCU is already home to the LEGO Innovation Studio, which leads pioneering work on robotics for girls and young women, and the world’s only Minecraft Education Suite focused on the development of engineering mindsets.

Prof Venkat also spoke about the importance of group-based learning, drawing attention to evidence in early childhood literature that says communication in pairs and groups “produces richer images and language than working alone”.

Prof Daire Keogh, President of Dublin City University said: 

“I am delighted to welcome Prof Venkat to the DCU community, and look forward to working with her. There is no doubt that the appointment of such a world-renowned researcher will greatly enhance the excellent work already being conducted at DCU’s Institute of Education in the area of STEM education. The creation of this position would not have been possible without the support of the Naughton family. On behalf of DCU, I want to thank them for their vision and continuing generosity.”

Prof Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the Institute of Education, said:

“Prof Venkat brings a global reputation in mathematics education to this new position, the first chair in STEM education in Ireland with a focus on primary and early childhood education and one of only a handful of such positions across the world. But it is a growing field as more and more research becomes available pointing to the significance of early and primary education in forming children's views about and interest in STEM. With the support of the Naughton family, DCU has been able to place Ireland as a leader in this increasingly important field of research and policy. The Institute of Education, and the DCU CASTeL Research Centre extend an invitation and a warm welcome to students and researchers who want to work with Prof Venkat and her colleagues. And of course we want to welcome Prof Venkat to her new home in Ireland and to the DCU community. Fáilte romhat, Hamsa! Let the work begin!”

Martin Naughton from The Naughton Foundation, supporters of the new Chair in STEM Education role, said: 

“The Naughton family has been supporting initiatives in STEM education for more than a decade, and we are we are very happy to support the dedication to STEM education show in DCU - the research and planning carried out here on campus will ensure that the excitement of science and technology will be carried into our classrooms and will inspire the next generation of STEM leaders for Ireland and beyond.