Creating their own space

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Frances Farrer goes out of this world to report on a Leeds project

The Creative Space project "was invigorating", says Ian Dixon, who teaches at Pudsey Primrose Hill school, in Leeds. Damian McDonnell of Morley high school, also in Leeds, teaches Years 7 to 13. For him, the exercise answered the need for a rethink on teaching science. Not only for him:

"Many of the more staid scientists were ready to consider other options at the end of the training weekend."

The project was set up by CAPE UK (creativity and partnership in education) and backed by NESTA, based on research at the centre for science education at Sheffield Hallam university on sustaining motivation to learn in science and technology, especially for those aged 14-19.

"Current teaching practice does not always encourage young people to view science as a useful tool for later life," says CAPE director Pat Cochrane.

"At the same time, many schools are grappling with the challenge of how to develop a creative environment. For this, there needs to be innovation and risk-taking."

The CAPE outlook is that children are naturally creative. When they are bored and disaffected, CAPE asks, "What are we doing to them?" Team member Sheila McGregor says: "The challenge was to give children a sense of what it is to be an investigative scientist, and get scientists and educationists to see creativity as not just wacky ideas." Pat Cochrane agrees. "To apply ideas, work with others, make things happen, use many sources - all this was important."

Thus on a three-day residential, Morley high school pupils found themselves in a hut with a silver-foiled interior, wearing space suits, and investigating a planet through their senses. The sight group had a camera, the sound group a microphone and the speech group reported on talk. The touch group brought back a fascia from a car radio, from which they deduced the presence of intelligent life. The smell group found mouldy things.

A pupil wrote: "Today, we the first explorers to land on this planet, wore our environmental protection suits for the first time. We were searching for alien substances and life forms. Some people found some tiny umbrella-shaped growths - probably houses for tiny alien creatures."

Ian Dixon said that after the CAPE visit: "The children did other projects of their own, taking their own decisions. Many who had been bored, just excelled."

David Harrison of Seven Hills primary school, in Morley, said: "Twelve of our children held the attention of a secondary school audience, giving an account of what they'd done. The increase in confidence was immeasurable."

Seven Hills head Cliff Summers was impressed by the stimulus. "Teachers are thinking differently about science," he said. "It was fundamental to the project that children built up a relationship and were happy to express their wishes. There was a lot of well-recorded, well-presented work."

CAPE UK offers professional development as well as research programmes in creative science and creativity across the curriculum. Tel: 0113 200 7035; www.capeuk.org

On a mission

Space station made in a hut (Education Leeds's outward bound centre), in a field, decorated by artists for scientists, with pupils from Years 5 and 9.

The mission: to consider from this alien planet five perspectives, then to record, and report verbally.

The result: heightened motivation, hard work, and a high level of imaginative stimulation

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