How do you teach science through engineering amidst lockdowns and school closures?

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Dr Fay Lewis, Programme Leader MA – Education in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE Bristol, describes how students from UWE Bristol provided an innovative introduction to science and engineering for local primary school children.

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) taking place this year between 5-14th March.

Despite the many challenges of taking part in Science Week during a global pandemic, UWE Primary Education students have been engaging with celebrations whole-heartedly, ensuring that local children have the best opportunity possible to celebrate science and its role in society.  The students have been exploring novel ways of cross curricular working, finding new ways of connecting with local schools despite lockdowns, school closures and a whole lot of uncertainty!

This cross-faculty work brought together groups of student teachers and student engineers to design a range of engineering challenges and activities to introduce local primary school children to engineering and to help them to explore science through engineering. 

But how to teach a class of pupils during a time of school closures and remote learning?

Our students solved that problem, collaborating together to create their own blend of face to face and digital educational resources providing children across the primary age phase with opportunities to meet engineers, gain an insight into their work and experience some engineering themselves.

Over 50 student engineers recorded a set of videos; the first to introduce themselves to the pupils, the area of engineering they study, their interests, what inspired them to become engineers, and advice about different engineering career pathways. The second video was more subject-specific, helping teach the pupils some of their curriculum-linked learning using a combination of presentations, demonstrations and follow-along activities.  The student teachers then took these materials into schools and explored these videos with children alongside working through the engineering challenges devised by the collaborative groups.

From the feedback coming in so far from all students involved, it looks like the project has been a huge success! We’d like to thank all of the students and schools involved!

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Meet Noble, student engineer at UWE Bristol, introducing himself to KS1 students and having some fun with forces.

Link to further videos from students in the UWE Bristol Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWUBEPQDGTOhLVpNGY8R8nw/playlists

Dr Fay Lewis

Programme Leader – MA Education, Department of Education and Childhood

Fay.Lewis@uwe.ac.uk

Covid- Proof Engineering in Schools

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Despite the pandemic, approximately sixty primary schools, took part in an engineering challenge as part of British Science week supporting the ‘Big Beam In’ run by DETI (Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation Initiative). The challenges were planned by teacher education and engineering students from UWE Bristol.

For the live teaching by our students in schools, the children were given an engaging engineering challenge supported by videos from the engineers on what it is like being an engineering student and also explaining the science in their task. Other schools were sent teaching packs with activities and videos from the teacher and engineers. Some of engineers’ videos can be seen on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9z52T1dzQlb-Q4UiNnfloq4R7BPLply_

The aim of the project is to develop communication and outreach skills in engineers and to give the education students an experience of planning and teaching an engineering task in schools. The children will get an understanding of the broad range of engineering careers as well as exposure to everyday role models studying engineering and talking about why it interests them. Elizabeth Hadlington (Yr 2 Primary Education) said this was ‘an exciting opportunity to gather an insight into engineering allowing us to inspire young minds and create opportunities for the future’.

For further details please contact juliet.edmonds@uwe.ac.uk or Fay.lewis@uwe.ac.uk

The image is a slide from UWE students Charlie Simmonds (Yr 2 Primary Education) and Noble Varghese ( Yr 3 Engineering) for KS1

Practical steps to build science capital in the classroom

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How much do you value science?

That will depend on your “science capital”, that is, how much science you’ve been exposed to. Science capital is based on the idea that all of us have differing amounts of cultural beliefs, values, qualification and experiences, which we gather from our families, education and lives, and which shape our values toward careers and social situations.

Many children will have no knowledge of adults who work or have worked in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers, which may give them less science capital. This can have a significant impact on children’s aspirations as regards STEM careers, and so increasing children’s science capital is vital to broadening their future career choices.

Capital Gains

Juilet Edmonds, Fay Lewis and Laura Fogg-Rogers, from the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England (UWE) are hoping to change the status quo and increase children’s science capital through initiatives in schools, but there are also many ways in which you as a teacher can boost your students’ Science Capital:

Invite a Scientist

A survey at a recent children’s conference revealed that children weren’t just interested in what scientists were discovering, but also by their personal experiences of working in science. Therefore, inviting scientists into school via the STEM ambassador network, or simply asking a parent in STEM, and getting them to share what kind of person they are and the key qualities for their job, helps children. Girls in particular need to see themselves as scientists and so inviting in female scientists or mums who are scientists is great. This helps them to identify female role models.

Activities with Real-Life Context

Doing science activities that focus on making the world a better place, have been show to raise children’s interest and improve attitudes towards science. So why not try engineering challenges? – such as the EU ‘Engineer’ project challenges or borrow the Design Process Box free from Dyson.

Or maybe explore aspects of science and scientists that benefit the quality of everyday life, e.g. the grip on training shoes for forces or the work of Professor Margaret Boden on artificial intelligence. Tthe BBC Radio 4 series The Life Scientific is useful for biographies of modern scientists.

A Culture of Science – in School and at Home

Children’s attitudes towards science are partially formed through the culture they experience at home, but some families do not have the money, time or confidence to visit science centres or museums. So it’s important to find accessible ways to get families involved.

You could set homework that involves a parent, like watching a fun but interesting television programme, such as Operation Ouch! (CBBC), related to your science topic. Or organize a weekend science centre outing with children and their families (apply to the PTA to cover the costs)

But it’s not just families, schools and teachers are also thought to influence a child’s attitude to science. Attitudes are not formed overnight, and one-off activities are unlikely to have a long-term impact on children’s attitudes. So it’s critical for schools and teachers to transmit messages about how they value science and promote it in and around the school and embed it in practice.

This can be tricky in primary schools with the dominance of literacy and numeracy in the curriculum, but there are ways to fit science into classwork. Maybe break a subject up and use a bit of English time to record science findings, or, alternatively, maths time to do data analysis.

None of these actions alone will compensate children for low science capital but a consistent programme throughout the school and in class could have a significant effect. Many scientists and engineers still recall a special teacher who got them into science – you could be that teacher!

Authors: Juliet Edmonds, Fay Lewis, and Laura Foggs Rogers.

Debates in Geography Education

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Mark Jones, Senior Lecturer in Geography Education at the Department of Education and Childhood, and Professor David Lambert (UCL, Institute of Education)  have received a national award for  their second edition of the co-edited bookDebates in Geography Education’published with Routledge.

The Geographical Associations’ Silver award is given in recognition of publications which make a significant contribution to geographical education and professional development. The judges at this year’s conference noted that Mark and David’s book “does what no other geography education text does in one volume – it raises questions about the nature of geography teaching – and although scholarly, it makes the ‘problematic’ in geography teaching accessible. The judges were impressed by the array, depth and contemporary nature of the chapters reflecting current curriculum and assessment issues.” (GA, 2018).

The 23 chapters are written by expert contributors who provide a range of perspectives on international, historical and policy contexts in order to deepen our understanding of significant debates in geography education.