Since 2016, Manchester University’s Science and Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub (SEERIH) has been holding a series of events collectively known as the Great Science Share. They’re designed to inspire people to engage in and share their science learning.
Four main events make up Great Science Share: Teach Meet, which offers an opportunity for teachers to get ideas on how to enhance STEM learning at school; Science X, an event with a selection of science and engineering activities for the general public; the Business of Science conference, which explores the development and commercialisation of science; and, finally, the Schools’ Share, which allows young children to take centre stage and share their science investigations with other pupils and guests.
I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly promptly for 9am where I was paired up with Professor Andy Miah from the University of Salford. Andy brought along his seven-year-old son Ethan, who was our personal photographer for the day and whose proposition on “selling your father to buy an elephant” was both insightful and thought-provoking.
Our first school visit was Bowker Vale Primary, where Year 5s were challenged to design and build tracks that would contain a rolling marble for as long as possible.
We explored some great ideas, such as using corrugated cardboard and pinball-style traps to slow the marble down, and our only regret was not being able to stay for the final race.
We then visited Year 3s who were designing structures using marshmallows and dried spaghetti, aiming for both stability and height with some fundamental restrictions on how wide the base could be. Pupils were divided into groups of four, and although each member got to put forward their design, only one design per group was eventually built.
We next went to St Chad’s Primary School. Here, the playground was dotted with tables featuring different science investigations. I had my eyes tested, my pulse checked (after a series of strenuous exercises) while Andy’s screaming volume was carefully assessed. Most interestingly, here we got to make loads of predictions before the young scientists checked our forecasts against experiment. They also had a good go at explaining challenging phenomena, with no help from books or teachers.
Time is relative and it certainly felt like only 10 minutes had passed before we were chauffeured to our next destination, the Etihad Stadium, also known as the best stadium in the world. [Not that we’re biased – Ed]
At this year’s Great Science Share, pupils from 80 primary schools in Greater Manchester were given the opportunity to attend Man City’s training campus to display their experiments and check out other schools’ science investigations. Here I met up with two of Stimulating Physics Network’s teaching & learning coaches: Lawrence Cattermole and Graham Perrin.
Together, we looked at catapults, electrostatic induction, sensory deprivation, light bouncing off mirrors, data collection, paper helicopters, rollercoasters, you name it, all shared by children who were as passionate about science as those of us who have followed through with it. What is most compelling about the work of these pupils is how intrinsically scientific their approach was: lots of data was collected before any meaningful conclusions were drawn, extraneous and confounding variables were accounted for, wild guesses were discouraged while predictions based on sensible arguments were accepted.
The DfE-funded IOP project I work for, Stimulating Physics Network, works directly with secondary school teachers, mainly through offering subject knowledge and pedagogical professional development to those whose specialism is not physics. For me this was a great opportunity to look at primary science and get a good idea of the sort of knowledge kids approach secondary school with.
It was a great reminder as to why the teachers we work with are so committed to developing both their subject knowledge and pedagogical toolkit, so that when these inspiring pupils move up the ladder, they can welcome them fully equipped with teaching techniques that will nurture and support their scientific interest.