Way back in the early ‘80s I used to love science at primary school. It was challenging and different from all the other subjects. We used apparatus, did experiments, made things burn, light up and explode. I loved it, until one particular lesson, which I recall vividly. Ever keen to take part, I had offered an incorrect answer to a question. Instead of saying “not quite”, or “good try, but that’s wrong”, the teacher yelled at me for “talking rubbish” and told me to stand in the waste paper basket, which was an actual basket, for the rest of the lesson. And while I stood in that basket, watching the lesson from the back of the room, my love of science was extinguished.
Roll on to the present day and I can fully accept that the teacher in question must have been having a terrible day, and that I do not need to let that experience tarnish my view of a brilliant subject. I’d like to think that we have moved on a lot from those days and that my love for the subject is well and truly rekindled.
The British Science Association, which works for a “future where science is more relevant, representative, and connected to society” runs British Science Week, which is “a ten-day celebration of thousands of events running throughout the whole of the UK with the aim of celebrating science, engineering, technology and maths.” It is an eclectic mix of events, and people of all ages can get involved.
British Science Week is a great opportunity to elevate the position of science right across the curriculum, at all ages and stages. Hannah Russell, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, feels that practical work is an effective way to get students learning about science, not only supporting their understanding of theory and of how science works, but also highlighting real-life applications of science, as well as supporting them to gain new skills and confidence which can provide a solid foundation for success across all subjects. She explained, “We know that hands-on, practical science is something that most students – particularly those who express the least interest in science – want more of. Wellcome’s 2019 Science Education Tracker found that practical work was one of the most motivating aspects of science lessons. Recently, however, Ofsted’s ‘Finding the optimum’ report found that there’s a large variation in the quantity and quality of practical science work taking place in both primary and secondary schools.”
Access to science
This issue of improving access to practical science clearly needs to be addressed in our schools. Russell suggests that one of the ways we can achieve this, and elevate the position of science in schools, is by introducing opportunities for open-ended and extended investigative projects. She said, “The British Science Association’s CREST Awards scheme [see below] supports more than 50,000 young people each year to carry out projects that enable them to see themselves as scientists and engineers, explore a topic for themselves and achieve recognition. Programmes such as this not only inspire young people and support science learning, but they also allow them to develop and apply skills like critical thinking, problem solving and time management to a project that’s relevant to their life and interesting to them - skills that are essential not just for school subjects but also their futures.”
With so much to get through in what some describe as a “shallow” curriculum, taking a cross curricular approach to science where appropriate just might be what we need to ensure deep enough coverage. Russell sees real benefits to be had from exploring science across the curriculum. She explained, “Science is a huge part of everyday life, and real-life applications can be brought into a range of other subjects such as geography, computing, citizenship, art and music. In addition, problem solving and analytical skills can be transferred from science lessons into others, and of course the opposite is also true. For instance, in our latest Future Forum (our youth voice programme) we conducted workshops and a survey to find out what young people think about creativity within STEM and its impact on global challenges. The 14-to-18-year-olds we spoke to saw very little overlap in the teaching of STEM and creative subjects, and felt that this limitation has a direct impact on the way young people see themselves, as it sets students on a path of being either a ‘creative’ person or a ‘STEM’ person. They rightly pointed out that this delineation does not reflect real life and that it supresses creative thinking in the STEM subjects.”
This is such a crucial point when it comes to enabling students to fulfil their potential. Integrating science into other subjects and vice versa helps to prevent children and young people from seeing individual subjects as silos, and helps them to explore a full range of future opportunities without being pigeonholed.
All of these opportunities help to inspire and enthuse young people about science and British Science Week is a great way to build on that excitement. Organising year group-wide activities can help, and the British Science Association has a range of resources and ideas available to support teachers on its website, from activity packs and stories of amazing everyday scientists in its #SmashingStereotypes campaign to encourage more people from all backgrounds to see themselves as scientists, to video content from British Science Week online events.
“Of course, resources like these can all be used beyond the week – we want to support schools, teachers and pupils throughout the school year to make sure science is relevant to their lives and to find links to topics that are interesting to them,” Russell said. “British Science Week exists to help people to see that science can be for them, and we hope to help inspire more pupils each year.”
There are such brilliant initiatives around encouraging and supporting young people in their explorations of science. It saddens me to remember those feelings that standing in a rubbish bin for talking “rubbish” gave me, but with such vibrant opportunities around science for children and young people now I have reason to hope that we have moved far, far beyond such an exclusive approach to the subject. Have a brilliant time this British Science Week and beyond!
Find out more…
- What's on? - British Science Week
- Activity packs - British Science Week
- Finding the optimum: the science subject report - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- CREST Awards
- Smashing Stereotypes - British Science Week
- Lack of connection between creative and STEM subjects is problematic, according to young people | British Science Association
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.