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Science, but not as you know it

Teenagers appear to have been switched on to the subject at last.

Warwick Mansell reports

The Government's determination to excite teenage interest in science is paying off, at least in the short term, a survey of more than 3,000 pupils suggests.

More than one in three children asked their opinions now feels more positive about the subject following Science Year, a programme of national events and resources, and its successor, Planet Science, And 67 per cent said they would take part in the activities again, the survey for the Department for Education and Skills showed.

However, it is too early to say whether the initiatives have achieved their aim of stemming the decline in numbers opting for science A-levels and degrees.

Science Year, which ran from 2001 and Planet Science, from 2002, included national events such as a "DNA day" and a celebrity "whodunnit" in which youngsters tried to solve a fictional crime.

Last term, academics at the National Foundation for Educational Research asked pupils who used the Planet Science website to complete a 36-question survey. A total of 3,133 from 46 schools responded, 35 per cent saying they felt more positive about science. In-depth interviews were also carried out with teachers and pupils in five schools.

The findings were presented at a workshop at the Association for Science Education annual meeting in Reading last week.

Pupils particularly enjoyed the "whodunnit" where they play a forensic scientist solving a mystery featuring celebrity subjects including the teen bands S Club 7 and BlaZin' Squad.

They also liked going into supermarkets to talk to shoppers about the science behind some of the goods in their trolleys. Girls were enthusiastic about the involvement of Sugar magazine, which had run pop-science articles on make-up items.

Dr Sue Harris, co-director of the as-yet-unpublished research, said:

"Students were very positive about the work they had done.

"Teachers should be encouraged to make greater use of these different approaches to teaching and learning science, especially in secondary schools."

There are reservations about the survey, though. The researchers were unable to say how many schools took part in Science Year nationally, so it is difficult to gauge the impact on all schools. Dr Harris said there was some evidence that grammar schools were more likely to have taken part.

The in-depth interviews suggested that schools with poor computer facilities had struggled with some projects. Some teachers had found it hard to find the time to run the programmes. And others thought that the two initiatives would have only a short-term impact.

Planet Science has a "legacy" programme of follow-up projects, but most of the initiative has been wound down.

Jeremy Newton, chief executive of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, which ran Science Year and Planet Science, said:

"It is hugely encouraging to get such positive feedback from the young people involved."

Teacher 12, 14

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