To boldly go...into primary schools
"Wow!" is the unanimous reaction from P6 as they zoom through the night sky on their way to explore the solar system. First stop: the Sun. The journey is taking place in the gym of Stenhouse Primary School in Edinburgh, where a portable planetarium was inflated moments earlier by the team from Generation Science, the touring arm of the Edinburgh International Science Festival (EISF).
The EISF has revealed plans to create a large-scale continuing professional development (CPD) programme for primary schools that will reach hundreds of Scottish teachers. Although the organisation regularly delivers student workshops across Scotland, organisers of the festival - which is due to begin next month - are aiming to enhance interaction with schools.
Festival director Simon Gage said: "There is only so much good you can do coming into a school for one and a half hours at a time. It's a great moment and part of the mix of experiences we want every primary school kid to have, but we are interested in what goes on in schools the other 190 days of the year."
"About half of primary teachers lack confidence teaching science so that's 12,000 people," Mr Gage said. "We're not going to be able to support that number, but it has to be many hundreds if you want to make a substantive change."
Scotland found itself placed far down the international league table for maths and science when it last took part in the Timss (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) survey in 2007. In the wake of the report, the lack of science specialists in Scottish primaries was deemed to be a major obstacle to improving student attainment in the subject. Secondary teachers report that basic concepts such as momentum and electricity are often completely misunderstood when children arrive at senior school.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. Last year, a new national science training base for teachers opened in Dunfermline, run by the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre. As a result, online CPD for primary staff increased significantly and nearly twice as many teachers will be trained each year to become science mentors to their colleagues, rising from 50 to 95.
In addition to subject knowledge, resourcing was a barrier to engaging science in schools, Mr Gage said. Secondary school science departments were struggling to find enough money to keep equipment working and purchase enough consumable materials to conduct experiments, he said.
One way the festival is considering supporting primary staff is by taking packs of science materials into schools. Another possibility is that the EISF will develop a science support network for primary teachers, providing practical advice from specialists. Mr Gage added that a clearer picture of what the festival might offer would emerge later this summer.