Innovative practice - Stop the press

A project that trains pupils to be environmental investigative reporters is worth reading about

Michael Shaw

The background

London's Science Museum has been exploring different ways to get pupils across England interested in the environment as part of a series of events and exhibitions it is running under the title Climate Changing.

"We didn't want to preach about climate change or to bombard pupils with facts," says Dani Williams, outreach project coordinator. "We wanted them to find out about the subject for themselves."

In the last academic year it set dozens of secondary schools the challenge of producing art pieces inspired by changes to the environment, a project that often resulted in science and geography teachers approaching their colleagues in the art department for help.

For this school year, it tried a different approach. In October, teachers from 52 schools were invited to training days at the Science Museum and four other regional museums: the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Railway Museum in York, Catalyst near Runcorn and @Bristol in Bristol. There they learned that their pupils were being offered a new challenge.

The project

This year's project was for groups of Year 9 pupils to produce pieces of investigative journalism on a local environmental issue.

Teams from the participating schools, ranging from handfuls of pupils to large classes, were invited on a day-long training course at their nearest science museums. There they got to speak to science journalists, take part in workshops on headline writing and structuring stories, and watch a performance from the Punk Science team, who blend science, music and comedy.

The challenge then set for the pupils was to produce a double-page report on a climate change matter in their area within 12 weeks.

No word count was set, so they could decide on the balance of text and illustration. However, their articles needed to contain some quotes gained by interviewing an "expert", who could be a noted academic or simply someone at their school with an area of expertise. They were also invited to provide their own images and graphs.

After the text and images for the articles had been submitted, a graphic designer turned them into a special one-off magazine titled Atmos - a name suggested by one of the groups of pupils.

Tips from the scheme

"Encourage your pupils to think about their audience," says Williams. "They need to think about good headlines and angles - if they find one that is interesting to them it will be interesting to others, too."

On projects such as this, Williams says it is good to keep the brief to pupils as open as possible. "By letting them decide on the story and the rough page layout, the pupils take the initiative themselves."

Evidence that it works?

Of the 52 schools that signed up initially, 48 succeeded in meeting the deadline and producing reports for the magazine. Williams says staff at the Science Museum were dazzled by the pupils' work and the range of the reporting, and ensured copies of the magazine would be distributed at the participating museums this month. Teachers involved in the project had also reported improvements in pupils' literacy skills, confidence and interest in science.

A more formal evaluation will be carried out on the third year of the three-year outreach project, which will start this autumn. Details will not be announced until next term, but Williams suggests that the next project will involve a live performance. There is plenty of time for secondary schools to get in touch if they want to be involved.

The project

Approach: Creating Atmos magazine, which contained reports by pupils at 48 schools on local environmental matters

Started: October 2011, with finished copies produced in June 2012

Led by: The Science Museum, as part of a three-year educational outreach programme to tie in with its Climate Changing series

Age group: Year 9 Number of pupils involved About 1,100

The schools

In total, 48 secondary schools completed the project, a mixture of state and fee-charging institutions. Twelve schools went to the Science Museum in London, four to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, five to the National Railway Museum in York, seven to Catalyst near Runcorn and 20 to @Bristol in Bristol.

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Michael Shaw

I'm the director of TES Pro and former deputy editor of the TES magazine. I joined the publication as a news reporter back in 2002, and have worked in a variety of journalistic roles including editing its comment and news pages. In 2013 I set up the app version of the magazine, TES Reader, and the free TES Jobs app Michael Shaw

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