On course for success

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Six months after the first science national centre opened its doors, John Holman reports on progress

It has been six months since the launch of the national network of Science Learning Centres, a joint initiative between the DfES and the Wellcome Trust. During that time hundreds of science teachers and technicians have had the opportunity to sample courses at Science Learning Centres around the country. The courses have varied from "Friesian to Fridge: using a virtual tour of a dairy farm to enhance the teaching of primary science" to "Hands on Physics: practical physics in secondary science". Through our courses we are maintaining our commitment to providing professional development for science teachers and technicians, to inspire and raise achievement.

One of the main concerns of the network of Science Learning Centres is to make sure we assess and meet the needs of science teachers and technicians. One of the most encouraging aspects of our first six months of operation has been the feedback from course attendees. For example, positive comments received at Science Learning Centre South East include: "Very supportive atmosphere and great opportunity to reflect on ICT and science."

Science Learning Centre London, the first to open last October, recently hosted another prestigious event - the launch of the new Association for Science Education London Network. This was held in co-operation with the London Challenge and was inaugurated by Derek Twigg, Under Secretary of State for Schools, who praised the work of all three organisations, specifically Science Learning Centre London for "providing excellent support and resources for teachers and assistants".

At the launch of Science Learning Centre South West, situated within At-Bristol, Professor Kathy Sykes highlighted the need for Science Learning Centres to help halt the decline in the number of students taking science at A-level and beyond. She also stressed the importance for everyone, scientist or not, to be prepared for life in a society surrounded by scientific issues. The Science Learning Centre South West covers a huge geographical area and partnerships are already being formed which will enable courses to run in all areas of the region.

An excellent Solve the Murder course brought Crime Science Investigation (like the TV show) to the Science Learning Centre West Midlands with some super-sleuth forensic techniques. Participants ran a series of tests on the evidence discovered at a staged murder: blood, DNA, fibres, fingerprints, drugs and ballistics. Participants took the information and simulated samples back to their schools so that students could run similar tests in the classroom. The second day of the course will take place at the end of April at Staffordshire University's training courtroom. Each teacher will bring a group of students to present their evidence to a judge, with the two best teams winning prizes for themselves and their school.

Rock School has arrived at Science Learning Centre North East - nothing to do with heavy metal, but an opportunity for a group of primary teachers to attend the Newcastle Centre for Life to find out how to raise children's enthusiasm for rocks and soils at key stage 2. The course continues with a session later this month at which participants will review rocks and soils activities.

The Science Learning Centre East of England has been awarded funding to run a science Kit Club similar to that which Teacher Scientists Network runs for Norfolk schools. All schools which send a member of staff on a course qualify for free membership of the club, which allows teachers and technicians to borrow science equipment for up to six weeks. Kits are available for all key stages and many curriculum areas.

Most kits include expensive items that may be outside most departmental budgets. The first four kits will be available from the end of March.

Science Learning Centre North West is offering a free prize draw with Pounds 2,500 worth of scientific equipment. Register on the North West regional section of the Science Learning Centres portal to be entered. One pound;500 prize will be offered to each of the five regions within the North West. Science Learning Centre Yorkshire and the Humber will be launched next Thursday (March 17) by Lord Winston. An inaugural lecture will be given by Professor Charles Stirling FRS and workshop presentations will be run by the Science Enhancement Programme, Science and Plants in Schools, BioRAD, Science Scope and the White Rose University Consortium.

The National Science Learning Centre in York is due to open this autumn. Anyone who wishes to take part in a survey on the design process of forthcoming courses should log on to nslc.org.uksurvey * Science Learning Centres Stand A605 www.sciencelearningcentres.org.uk

Professor John Holman is director of the flagship Science Learning Centre at the University of York

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