Lock down for teenagers

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Dr Fay Lewis Programme Leader for the MA Education at UWE explores ways in which older teenagers can maintain a sense of purpose during lock down.

With work being set by schools and an impressive (if overwhelming) array of online facilities, families may be finding that there is more than enough to keep young children busy.  However, it may be a different story for older teens.  Those, in particular, in Year 11 or 13 have had to deal with a rather sudden and dramatic change in life with a shift in focus from the big exam push to, well, nothing! 

The following is by no means a list of how to parent your teen (who would be daft enough to think that they have got that sussed out!) or a list of resources.  Rather, it is some collective thoughts from parents of those who find themselves in this rather strange hinterland, attempting to help our young people maintain a feeling of purpose during lockdown. 

Do future you a favour

Focus on what you plan to move onto next.  What is it that you can be working towards that may give you a head start or make life easier when you move onto the next stage?  As well as the Oak National Academy and BBC resources for teaching or learning, for those moving onto academic studies learning to touch type or how to use programming skills such as Python, or statistical packages may be skills that you are thankful for in the future.  Unifrog and Futurelearn are just two examples of where a wide range of courses can be found, with companies such as JSTOR making their materials free online too. Vocational skills are also important.  Whilst it may not be possible to undertake practical activities think about complimentary skills such as basic maths that you may need or using packages such as photoshop or excel.  Read blogs or watch you tube videos in related areas as much as possible to give yourself a head start.

General life skills

Again, this is about doing future you a favour.  What skills are you going to be thankful that you have developed in a few years’ time?  Now may be a good time to start to brush up on the theory element of the driving test, learn how to change the oil, a wheel or even just top up the water in a car. If you have a bike, learn how to service and maintain this.  Perhaps you could practice making some basic meals?  Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 has some great ideas for getting inventive with what is left in the cupboard!  More confident cooks could ask for the family food budget for the week, write a meal list and shop for this.  If there are some tins of paint available learn how to paint and decorate your room, learn how to put up a shelf or a picture etc.  For those with the travel bug consider brushing up on language skills, plan a future trip abroad or explore types of temporary or volunteer work available overseas for when life starts to return to normal.  Think about how you want to live and what will help you to get there.

Be useful

Helping others is a great way to feel good!  Keep an eye out for local volunteer groups.  If it safe to do so you may want to spend some time helping out by doing food shopping or collecting medicines etc for those in isolation.  If your circumstances won’t allow this try setting up a regular email or facetime exchange with someone who is in isolation on their own.  Connections with younger children are great.  Perhaps you could video call younger relatives, children of friends or children that you babysit for and offer to read them a story, play a game or even listen to younger children reading to you.  You could help them to brush up on their football skills or offer help with school work.  More widely, you could research charities that need support, this doesn’t just have to be financial support, raising awareness can be vital to these groups too.

Stay active

Even the least sporty teen is used to a certain level of activity whilst at school or college and it is easy when out of normal routine to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.  Find what works for you whether it be Bollywood dancing, martial arts or couch to 5K.  The Joe Wicks PE sessions are designed for younger children but can be great fun for people of all ages.  Other celebrities such as Oti Mabuse and Davina McCall are both making materials available online.  Professional and amateur sports clubs have all been working hard publishing training suggestions and resources.  It may be that you find something in particular that you enjoy or that you try out a variety of new activities and develop a new hobby.

Stay connected

The things that us parents have moaned about for years really to come into their own at them moment.  Teens are great at connecting with friends via a number of platforms but remember that virtual face to face catch ups are just as important as sending messages.  You may have family members who are living in lonely conditions at the moment who would very much appreciate short, regular catch ups.

Do something you love

What is it you really enjoy?  Whether your passion lies in drawing, football, robotics it is important to maintain your interests and spend time doing something that you find really interesting, becoming absorbed in something that fascinates you on your own or through an online course can be very relaxing.  If music is your thing Whatsonlive.co.uk have a list of some free and some chargeable concerts or you could try dipping your toes into a new genre each week.  Many zoos such as Edinburgh and Dublin have set up online zoo tours if you love animals.  For readers, Amazon have increased their range of free books, e.g. through Audible.  Anyone who loves the theatre should take a look at Patrick Stewart reading #ASonnetADay on his Facebook Page.  The National Theatre showing various West End productions, the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company have also made many performances available for free online.  Think about what it is that you love and how you can explore it in new ways. A simple google search of the name of your hobby pus the words ‘at home’ can unearth a treasure trove of ideas and activities

But be safe…

Online safety will be of particular importance currently.  Vodafone digital parenting, Thinkuknow, The Safer Internet Centre and Digizen are all great examples of websites providing information for educators, parents, carers, and young people about online safety.  More widely, whilst structure is good, imposing a schedule may only breed resentment, instead let your young person take charge of this for themselves.  If they can do a few aspects from some of the above themes it may help them to avoid drifting the days away in a haze of Snapchat/Instagram/XBOX  etc.  We can only hope!

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.

Engineering Science Education: Teaching Science Through Engineering

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In UK primary schools there are very few teachers who have any scientific qualifications above GCSE level.  Many also report that they struggle with science subject knowledge and that this causes them to feel less confident about teaching science.  Unfortunately we know that these aspects can have a negative impact on children’s learning and attitudes to science.

Our work, supported by a grant from the Engineer’s Professors Council and a UWE Spur 6 grant, aimed to address this by using engineering as an alternative approach to teaching science.  UWE trainee primary school teachers (ITE students) were paired with UWE undergraduate engineering students working together within a knowledge exchange framework to design and deliver engineering activities to local primary school children.  The pairs of students worked together to challenge children to design and make solutions to ‘real-life’ problems such as designing and building a machine to clear up after a class party; a floating device to enable you to take your phone swimming with you and a device to carry secret messages to a friend.

Research findings have shown that rather than de-skilling the pre-service teachers, pairing them with an ‘expert’ engineering student appeared to be a vital contributor to the positive outcomes of the project.  Working as paired peers significantly increased the trainee teacher’s confidence in both engineering and science subject knowledge as well as their confidence in their ability to teach these subjects well which can directly contribute to positive outcomes for children.  The engineers reported that they were more likely to take part in public engagement activities in the future as a result of participation in the project.

Over 800 local primary school children have also had the opportunity to become engineers for the day at our ‘Children as Engineers’ conferences run jointly by the Departments of Engineering and Education and Childhood.   For the children who have participated in the project using an engineering approach to teaching and learning science has supported their scientific understanding, as well as helping them to engage with the engineering design process.  The children were more positive about science, and future career plans in science and engineering, and they demonstrated a much greater and more accurate awareness about engineers and engineering.

As a result of this work a toolkit for training teachers and engineers to jointly teach science through engineering has been developed. This has now been embedded into the undergraduate programmes for ITE and engineering students.  This work is being supported by a HEFCE (now Office for Students) grant which will help us to evaluate longer term, sustainable impact.  The development of a tool-kit which can be used by other higher education institutions is our long-term goal.

Enabling the students and children to work together challenges children’s preconceptions about engineers and the role that they play, supports engineering students in their public engagement skills and develops the subject knowledge of the trainee teachers.  In the words of teachers from the schools involved ‘The engineering project was amazing!!  The children gained so much’ ‘the whole school is absolutely buzzing’.

In the words of the students themselves…..

Engineering student participant- “working with the teaching students was sublime.  I was amazed at their skills in the classroom.”

 

ITE student participant- “I really enjoyed the day, it was extremely useful to work with the engineers.  I was surprised at how we were able to share ideas so well.  I learnt so much.”

 

ITE student participant- “I was amazed at how doing the practical work revealed so much about the children’s learning and understanding.  It has really made me think about the types of lessons I will do in the future.”

Dr Fay Lewis ,Senior Lecturer in Primary Math and Science Education