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Five Ideas to Inspire Primary Scientists

Here’s the scenario….you are talking to your class about what they want to be when they grow up. How often do you hear them say ‘a scientist’? Probably not so often nowadays. Why? Because we live in a society that promotes celebrity status and glamour, which doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with the field of science. Credit where credit’s due though…the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Professor Brian Cox and Maggie Aderin-Pocock are certainly helping to make it seem a more appealing career.

But what I would say to the child that does reply “a scientist” is – why wait? You can be a scientist now! This is the key to promoting and engaging children with the science requirements of the 2014 National Curriculum. There is a greater emphasis on investigation and enquiry (working scientifically) as an integral part to the study of science. Previously, our teaching became dominated by knowledge and content because that was what featured heavily in the Year 6 SATs tests. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get messy, get involved and get curious!

So how do we give science the “air-time” it so deserves? Remember, it is still a core subject. Unfortunately, all too frequently I hear science subject leaders reporting that their schools over the last few years have focused continually on raising standards on English and Maths – because that’s the focus for inspection, assessment and accountability. As a science subject leader you have to champion the cause – and here are 5 ways in which you can raise the profile of this wonderful subject and switch children on to scientific discovery.


School assemblies:

Use the opportunity to “perform” a magic trick, ask the children to explain or suggest the science behind it and then do the big reveal. You can be sure that the children will leave the hall with a buzz and excited chatter (if that’s allowed!) about recreating the trick themselves at home to wow and impress their parents or siblings.

So for example, create the invisible bottle trick. Using 2 beakers, fill one with water, the other with glycerine. Into each beaker place a small glass bottle and watch in wonder as the bottle in the glycerine beaker has apparently disappeared! You’ll find a whole host of similar amazing stunts on the internet and that well-known site for videos.

Other ideas for science assemblies include showing children exciting jobs, which incorporate the skills of working scientifically… the obvious one being a forensic scientist but what about an engineer abseiling a wind turbine or a contestant on that well known TV show about baking? Get them to see the role of scientists in everyday life.


Science clubs:

Extra-curricular activities are predominately sport based and whilst it is important to promote healthy lifestyles (good link to human physiology - Year 6 objectives!) recognise that some children would jump (no pun intended!) at the chance to take part in fun activities with a scientific focus.

There are a number of good websites out there that give you comprehensive guidance on running such a club. If you have the grounds within your school think about a Naturalists/Nature club and how children can be proactive in creating habitats for study by their peers as part of the curriculum.

If you are not confident in running such as club yourself then there are companies out there that (at a cost) will do it for you. If you are looking for good use of pupil premium or LAC (Looked After Child) funds for a child that is achieving well, then consider subsidising their place at such a club or sending them on science enrichment days at local outdoor study centres etc.


Ponder the Big Questions:

An interesting publication from the Science Education Programme, edited by Wynne Harlen, called “Working with the Big Ideas of Science Education” suggests ways in which we should ensure that our children are encouraged to think about the BIG questions and ideas in science.

Consider how to promote deeper thinking about these big ideas in the learning environment – a wonder wall, if you like. Post ideas, statements and pose questions (such as – ‘do fish drink?’) that encourage the children to share their knowledge, understanding or even their misconceptions. But allow it to be organic, something that evolves and is contributed to as and when the children feel they have something to say. This will help them to develop the skills of hypothesising and allow them to apply their knowledge and understanding to a wider context. This is what learning at greater depth is all about.


Outdoor learning:

There is considerable mileage in getting children out into the field, so to speak. Experiencing science first hand in the environment is what makes memorable learning experiences. Think about science-based competitions, challenges and surveys that you can get involved in, such as the Great Bug Hunt Competition 2017 launched by, ASE and run in association with the Royal Entomological Society. Help children to see that they can play an important part in contributing to the collection of information on a national and even global scale.


Story telling:

Stories are a powerful vehicle for challenging our thinking as we get embroiled in magical things and supernatural experiences. There is after all a whole genre dedicated to it – science-fiction! Stories are wonderful stimuli to launch scientific enquiry, promote deeper thinking (asking what if…?) and help to unpick science themes in a real-life context. For example, the enchanted adventures of the two characters living in an up-turned boat in Flotsam and Jetsam by Tanya Landman lend themselves tremendously to exploring materials and the concept of floating and sinking.

Developing their imagination through the use of stories is a key part of primary education but the real value lies in the fact that we can encourage the children to imagine how scientists – be they chemists, conservationists or even talented bakers – can make a difference to our lives.

Ultimately, we want to make the children realise that they can be scientists at any age…the skills of enquiry are progressive and we have a responsibility as primary educators to nurture their natural curiosity, to inspire them to want to challenge ideas and to recognise that there is more to science than a worksheet!


Check out our Raising Attainment in Science course for more great ideas to help foster children's science skills