Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Science Sisters: Their School Gate Story



Guest post by Karen Dickens

Back in 2007, I was fortunate to be involved at the outset of the Science Sisters project in Christchurch, Dorset. The project was the brain-child of Dr Jan Peters and funded by UKRC & EU.

The project created a network of local mums to support science and technology enrichment in their children’s schools. Each with a background or interest in science and the desire to do more than help with reading, we aimed to help schools engage children in science, challenge perceptions and stereotypes around STEM and fire young imaginations.

Over a period of two years, we delivered a wide-ranging programme in schools throughout the Christchurch pyramid including:
  • Setting up science clubs
  • Initiating BA Crest Award and National Science & Engineering Week participation
  • Developing and delivering practical activity sessions in schools,
  • Organising inter-school competitions
  • Facilitating knowledge sharing events for Head Teachers, Science Co-ordinators and teaching assistants.
  • Organising a week-long science festival throughout Christchurch Primary schools.
Above all, the original core of ten mums honed their investigative, administrative and presentation skills, giving them the confidence to enhance, progress, or kick-start their careers in science or teaching.

For me, it was the start of an ongoing participation in the STEM Ambassador scheme, the co-ordination of the STEMnet programme for Dorset, and a return to study as I began my MSc in Science Communication.

My first school activities

The original cohort of Science Sisters met in a local school lab and community hall for some training in the delivery of experiments and projects from a resource library we had assembled. We all enrolled as STEM Ambassadors, as their support services include managing criminal record checks and issuing DBS Certificates.

Very quickly we made our first school visits, attending our own and each other’s children’s primary schools. Initially, we visited in pairs or groups depending on the number of children involved – this certainly helped us to understand and familiarise ourselves with the school environment.

I would definitely recommend “buddying up” for your first visits, particularly if you have not been into a school since Year 11!  It’s great to have someone alongside in case you ‘forget your lines’ or need help circulating the classroom in the throes of a hands-on project and answering questions.

My first activities were with Foundation to Year 6 pupils and included simple kitchen chemistry or bridge & Millennium Wheel construction projects.  Seeing the enthusiasm and curiosity of the pupils (and teachers) was a real spur to do more. As time progressed, my confidence grew and I went on to develop my own activities and demonstrations presenting them single-handed in classrooms. This eventually led on to organising and delivering Chemistry at Work events funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry in Secondary schools across Dorset too.

I would thoroughly recommend getting involved in supporting STEM activities at your own children’s Primary Schools, perhaps with a group of like-minded Mums or Dads you’ve met at the School Gate! Primary teachers often have Arts or Humanities backgrounds and really appreciate support in delivering science and technology subjects. If you can assemble a small group, you could consider starting an After School Science Club, taking it in turns to run sessions.

I really enjoy going into classrooms and school halls to help young people understand the world around them and hone their ability to question, investigate and experiment for themselves. One of many rewarding moments came a few years in when a Year 8 pupil came to me during a session and said that she remembered me running a chemistry activity when she was in Year 2!  She has gone on to choose Triple Science at GCSE and I hope that her engagement with the sciences will carry on through her future studies and career.

I have been constantly surprised and delighted by the young people I have met over the last few years. I’m thrilled that a few of those pupils may have had their ‘light bulb moment’ as a result of an activity or idea that I have introduced. I would encourage anyone with an interest and enthusiasm for science or technology to make some time to support their local schools.

My Top Tips:

  • Be patient when trying to find the right contact within Schools
  • Make sure that you communicate with teachers beforehand and discuss the content, timing, aims and objectives of your activity
  • Children with Special Educational Needs usually have individual support in Primary Schools – it is helpful to be aware of any SEN or disabled pupils in advance in case you need to adapt the activity or timings
  • Practice! Sometimes the simplest things take ages with pupils unfamiliar with equipment, or caught up in the excitement of practical activities. It can be useful to do a ‘test run’ with a small group of similarly aged children.
  • Prepare a Glossary Sheet covering new vocabulary and terms.
  • Have one or two short extension activities that you can give to pupils who finish ahead of the rest, or that can be left as ‘homework’ – e.g. design a poster, Wordsearches, etc. 
Ed: Ready to get started? Check out our Top 10 sources for STEM clubs and activities!

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