Bringing science outside of the classroom

At the end of last year, we at the British Science Association (BSA) launched our new vision – we want a world where science is seen as a fundamental part of our culture and society.
Science touches all of our lives – think of the cars, buildings, mobile phones, aeroplanes, people, animals, and plants that surround us. Science is an integral part of our culture, it’s just that so many of us are oblivious to it. A key part of us being able to achieve our vision is getting young people to engage with, and really feel a part of, science in the UK.
Science, and more broadly STEM subjects, have an unfortunate label too often than not, that they’re difficult to do, a bit nerdy, and boring in the classroom. This is not the case, and we at the BSA are on a mission to rebrand science as something that we are all a part of, all of the time, and if we want to, can have the chance to speak out on what science means to all of us.

Practice makes perfect
Practical work is at the heart of science, with experimental discoveries having proved vital in shaping Britain’s science community, industry and heritage. I think there’s truth in the proverb ‘Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand’, and it really captures the key value of participatory teaching and learning methodologies.
That is why we strongly questioned the proposed changes to the science curriculum relating to the assessment of practical science, since changes were being hastily implemented without the opportunity for reviewing the potential implications with experts or piloting approaches. The BSA believes that practical science is an essential component in enabling young people to engage with, and gain a greater understanding, of science.
Since then, the changes have been confirmed, so we now need to make the most of the new system. Acknowledging the previous ‘jumping through hoops’ approach wasn’t fit for purpose, there is the potential to look for ways to emphasise the principles and values of practical science at this time of review, whilst teachers look to apply the new assessment requirements.
But it’s not just about assessment. Science demonstrations, particularly ones that have a bit of a ‘wow’ factor or get people thinking about how on Earth something works, are an important part of showing the wonder of science and capturing students’ imaginations. You can all probably remember some of the demonstrations from your school days (including the impressive ones and those that went wrong) which is why they are a fundamental part of learning science.
As part of British Science Week, we run an annual Demo Day, supporting science teachers and technicians to do something extra special with their students in the lab – rockets, dissections, explosions, the physics of music or chemical reactions to spark some excitement in the classroom and to get the students to work out what’s going on in that conical flask.

Not just for scientists
Part of our mission at the BSA is to give everyone the opportunity to engage with science – if it’s at the heart of our culture and society, then science is not just something reserved for professional scientists.
Science subject teachers play a huge role in helping students acknowledge their own abilities in STEM. We offer as much support and advice to STEM teachers as we can, whether that be through activity packs, project ideas or connections with local business and industry. But we also believe that engaging young people in STEM needs to happen beyond just the science classroom.

We believe that investigation is the key to getting young people engaged in STEM – investigation being a skills area relevant to all subjects. If they have a problem to solve, and find their own solution, not only do they get a chance to take ownership of that investigative work, it also gives it some meaning. Subjects don’t appear in silos in the real world which is why we advocate the value of project-based learning applying the scientific process.
We have been running the CREST Awards scheme for over two decades now – which encourages students to design, build and present a project, incorporating a range of different skills in order to succeed.
Over the years, we’ve seen some fantastic projects on a whole host of different subjects across the curriculum. Students have answered questions as diverse as ‘Does the music you play hens affect their egg laying rate?’. We’ve also seen projects with a literacy angle, such as, ‘A statistical comparison of the use of adjectives for the main characters in books by JK Rowling and JR Tolkein.
Students are encouraged to solve problems with a global significance in Practical Action’s CREST-linked activities. The first is the Squashed Tomatoes Challenge where students are asked to design a way for farmers in Nepal to get their produce to market without it getting damaged. The second, the Floating Garden Challenge, is an activity where students design floating crop beds to be used in areas prone to flooding.
We’ve also seen some fantastic Design & Technology projects over the years, including a bespoke wedding dress design utilising new fabrics and a model heart to explain the potential risks of heart disease.

Encouraging students
We are not forgetting the importance of STEM skills for the future regarding the UK’s economy. In fact we are creatively encouraging this to be addressed through STEM project work in schools. One example is our work with MP Futures where CREST resources bring to life scenarios associated with the quarrying, mineral products and mining sector. Topics challenge students to design a modern day pyramid, or to design a modular hospital building that will be able to withstand specific extreme weather and environmental conditions.

What CREST gives teachers, educators and other learning providers, is a framework they can use with their students to encourage them to make their own project. It’s designed to be something extracurricular, but recognises some of the real world context of the students’ work.
Last year, we announced our partnership with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award so that students who complete a CREST Award can use this in the ‘Skills’ section of their DofE Award – an area where students are asked to develop their practical skills and personal interests. Enquiry-based learning is something we really encourage, not just because it allows students to get hands-on with science, but also because it seems to inspire a wide range of students at all levels.
Last year, 33,000 young people completed a CREST Award – 51 per cent of the awardees were girls. And these figures aren’t an anomaly – year‑after‑year we see an even-gender split on the numbers of completed Awards.

Following some research and using anecdotal evidence, we believe that this is because CREST recognises achievements in communication, team work, research and presentation, which appeals to the learning styles of a large range of students. It gives them an opportunity to complete a science project that takes into account the real world context and the implications beyond their own work.
links across the curriculum

In the past year or so, we at the BSA have made huge strides in bridging the gap between science and the arts, in particular in our Education programmes. Students already do some fantastic curriculum work that addresses a wide range of social and environmental issues – clear examples of how science is embedded in our society.
Their subjects ask them to engage with wider cultural issues, for example, the Science National Curriculum includes the requirement that learners should ‘understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future’. However despite this real life purpose of science and the fact that much of everyone’s learning takes place outside of the classroom, there is the potential for this message to get pushed aside or missed as exam pressures and results appear as the central driver.
We recently teamed up with Oxfam and the Climate Coalition on their latest schools and youth project, Close-up on Climate, to encourage students to create their own films about climate change. These films were not only an opportunity for students to speak their views about climate change, but also to have those views shared with their local MPs, MSPs and Welsh AMs.
Projects like this one, offer students different ways to engage with STEM and to use their skills and knowledge in other areas as well.
We try to engage with partners beyond the STEM sector as much as we can, as we believe there is so much to be gained in using educational schemes from across the curriculum.
Partners such as Ignite!, ‘where science meets art’, which promotes creativity in learning by working with young people to reveal, develop and exercise their capacity for creativity and creative thinking, or the Unlimited Theatre who have also been collaborating with the UK Space Agency ahead of Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station later this year.
We can learn from sharing across subjects too. Looking at the Artsmark Award, Arts Council’s England’s flagship programme to enable schools and other organisations to evaluate, strengthen and celebrate their arts and cultural provision, it makes perfect sense to team up and see how schools can work towards this alongside our CREST Awards.
Ultimately, our aim is to give students from any background, at any age, the opportunity to engage with science and STEM subjects.

We want students to feel confident in their understanding of science and comfortable enough to question it, and have views on its direction.

Science should be accessible to all – and eventually, we will break it out of its cultural ghetto.

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