Sunday, 12 February 2017

Organising a STEAM week - an approach for primary schools

I'm sorry I have been so bad at updating this blog post. I simply haven't had the time, or the head space, to write up what I have been doing. 

We were very luck to have support from the PSA so that STEAM week could start with a bang. OK, not quite a bang but a series of 360o movies shown on a pop up dome. These domes provide an opportunity to present a different learning experience to children and are therefore a valuable additional resource. The movies can be catered per year and we managed to squeeze shows for the whole school in a one-day hire. Details of the dome, movies they have and prices can be found here 

I heard about this dome at one of the STEM ambassadors training courses about a year ago. The trip into the genome and the Fibonacci sequence movies were amazing so I was quite happy to see it coming to the school - even though it took a year to find the funds... like anything else in STEM, perseverance and a can-do attitude are key!

I tried to capture some of the images on my phone as you can see above. The photos don't do it justice but you can see some little clips of their movies on this web page.

The dome in the background and a demonstration project - photo source 

The feedback from the kids and staff was really good. Although some kids in Year 5 struggled with the roller coaster around Saturn... apparently some felt a bit queasy. :-S

The next step was to look at the curriculum for each year group and come up with a series of activities that would bring art and science together. I provided the school with a series of suggestions for each year and from that they derived their own programme of activities based on staff availability and materials available to support delivering it. 

I also suggested a series of demonstrator projects which we could set up in a separate room so that kids could see, and interact, with science meets art displays. It turned out to be too ambitious and we didn't get it up in the end. Perseverance and all of that - there is always a next time!

In case it is helpful here are my proposed ideas:

*measuring things against Dinosaur feet 
idea 1 and

* make fossils

* make a dinosaur skeleton with kitchen roll

*make a dinosaurr with rotation and tessellation
Yr 1
*water cycle

* Why are plants green - as done before
*make a pin-wheel

Yr 2
Local Animals + habitats
*how do penguins (or ducks) stay dry

*build a bug habitat

* make habitats - a spider web (with wool), or birds nests, or beehives etc

*birds homes 

*make a bug/animal
Yr 3
*car magnets


*static electricity - build a butterfly
Yr 4
shadows? Day & night?
*light patterns using a CD

 idea 1 and 2

Yr 5
*Make a mobile or this one

*space box

Yr 6


* m&m experiment
* plants drinking water: celery 
* pendulum painting
*a robot to colour in

*lava lamp

*paper plane challenge

* hot air as a force - hairdryer and ping pong ball; or make a hot air balloon over a toaster; or tea bag rocket

* create 3D shapes - marshmallows and toothpics

*magnetic doodles

*spinning tops - and the disappearing colours

*colour migration

* magnets - pipe cleaners

In the end this is what the school decided to go with, an ambitious programme of activities as you can see.

I can't wait to see the finished articles which will be available as part of a show after half term. I will update this blog post with photos as soon as I can. 

Busy with a STEAM project - photo source 

Happy STEAM week everyone!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

School Science Club? Just do it.

(This Blog post was written for and published  by SchoolGateSET)

I love Science. I really do!
I love the challenges it poses, the buzz of making sense of problems, the excitement of checking whether an experimental approach has worked, the never ending questions and, above all, the fact that we learn something every step of the way.
Having said that, it will come as no surprise that I like to talk about Science, too. I like to discuss thoughts and ideas; I like to hear other people’s views and thoughts on anything from Maths problems, to antibiotics usage. More recently, I have discovered the joy of talking about Science to primary school kids. I have learnt so much from their bright, young, unbiased minds and I have been challenged in a way that I never imagined possible.
In October of last year, I (finally) managed to set up a Science Club at my children’s school, St Louis RC Primary School in Frome. It was not an easy thing to do, I have to be honest. It took me almost 2 years to get a Science Club going and, in hindsight, I must admit I was the one who slowed it down. Had I been more confident in my ideas I could have set up this club long time ago.
It all started back in 2014 when I joined ScienceGrrl and, together with Becky Smith, formed the Oxford Chapter. Our ambition for this Chapter was clear – we wanted to act locally and share our passion for STEM with the next generation. The Chapter allowed me to meet fantastic ScienceGrrls with diverse science-based careers: from communicators to helicopter engineers. The group we formed was inspiring in more ways than one and planted the seed to go out to the community to talk about Science. We did the usual festivals and fairs but I never managed to develop the close relationship I had hoped for with any local schools. I was working full time at that point and about to move away from Oxfordshire, so things were a bit chaotic.
In late 2014 my husband was offered his dream job and so we moved to the South West. It quickly became apparent that moving kids away from friends, changing school, football team etc. was going to be challenging. So, to give the children the support they needed, I decided to take a career break of sorts. I found myself a part time job at the University of Bath and started to help out at their school with the usual tasks – reading, taking kids on walks and days out. The idea of a Science Club was still very much inside my head but I was not sure how to get it off the ground. I contacted the STEM Ambassadors, and enrolled to become one. The induction course was great and I really enjoyed it. All of their courses are free and the follow up sessions are always very informative.
I continued to help out with reading at the school and mentioned my newly awarded ‘STEM Ambassador’ status to anyone who would listen. Teachers are busy people and the road not taken is often a scary one. In fairness, I could have tried harder. It wasn’t until this academic year that my words fell on the right ears and together with Ms Hannah Jones, Science Coordinator at St Louis RC Primary School, we established a weekly Science Club. My pitch was simple:
  1. This will cost you no money
  2. You will not need to do anything. I will do everything from devising the sessions to tidying up afterwards.
In return I asked that they would promote the Science Club on the understanding that both genders would have to be equally encouraged to attend.

What followed was a series of fun filled lunch time sessions where we investigated why belly flops hurt (water tension), how we can get marshmallows to grow (air pressure) and how we can make raisins dance (densities of matter). Unfortunately, we have not managed to clone any dinosaurs as yet, but the request has been duly noted. 
All activities are designed to ignite passion amongst pupils for Science in general, whilst at the same time challenge gender stereotypes associated with all science-related jobs. The Science Club runs on Fridays at lunch time. There is no charge associated with the club and all (except pre-school pupils) are welcome to attend. There are 2 sessions of 30 minutes each. Each session takes 10 pupils who attend on a rolling basis. There is no budget for this Science Club (see point 1 of my pitch above) so I’m always looking for free stuff (from CDs to bottle tops). It is great to see the support from the whole school with parents bringing in half of their recycling box to the office with donations for the Science Club. This demonstrates how funds are not really an excuse to stop you from having a Science Club in any given school. It also has the added bonus that sessions are skewed towards experiments which can be done at home with every day materials.
The Science Club has already grown and, in addition to the Friday sessions, I organised a one-off whole day session with Yr1 on ‘Why do green leaves go brown?’. With a view to introducing pupils to jobs in a Science related subject, the whole of KS2 went on a trip to the Somerset Earth Science Centre. Every Yr3 to Yr6 class had the opportunity to spend a whole day at the Centre learning about rocks, their uses and how to classify them. They also got to visit the Moonhill Quarry and make their own volcanoes erupt. The School also arranged to be part of Bath Taps into Science during Science week which was great to see.
Sometimes, I’m not sure who has more fun, the kids, myself or Ms Jones, who has been absolutely amazing in her support, and instrumental with ensuring that attendance is high. Her support and real passion for Science is very valuable to me and I really enjoy running new ideas by her. Her expertise on how to teach kids is very important for the success of this club. The kids’ attitude towards science is definitely changing and I can honestly say that there is nothing more rewarding than sharing knowledge with young minds and watching them develop a positive attitude towards the world around them. After Science Week the majority of Yr4 wanted to be marine microbiologists. Before that, I’m not sure how many of them knew that was even a career!
If you are thinking about setting up a Science Club, my advice to you is, just do it! There is plenty of material on the web which you can use, plus organisations like The School Gate SET and STEMnet offer plenty of support. I know it is daunting to come up with your own plan for the duration of the session and that is why I have set up a webpage where I will be documenting my ‘lesson plans’, together with details of the experiments and the necessary risk assessments. You can also find me on twitter @PipaVance so please get in touch if you would like to discuss science clubs in more detail.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Belly flops and dancing raisins

So, it happened!

I delivered my first ever Science Club at a Primary School!

The 1hr, lunch time, slot allocated to the Club was divided into two halves. The first 30 minutes were allocated to 10 pupils in KS2; the second half to 10 pupils in KS1.

With KS2 (yr 3 up to yr6) we looked at 'Why belly flops hurt?', in other words we looked at surface tension.

Together with the pupils we had a bit of fun talking about things we like to do in the water, and whether anyone had ever done a belly flop. We listened to everyone's reports of belly flopping and looked at how to avoid them. Apparently if you do a pencil dive you can avoid them!

To illustrate surface tension I got the children to pour water into plastic plates and re-create their own swimming pool. We then used ground pepper and fairy liquid to see what happens when surface water tension is broken. You can see it working in this youtube video by ELearnin.

Having established that surface tension does exist we then ran a mini-competition to see how many paperclips we could float! At the end of the term we had our winner. 33 floating paperclips!

The kids really enjoyed doing the pepper experiment and by the time we repeated it a couple of times and then had a go at floating paperclips the allocated 30 minutes were gone.

To be continued...