The winners of this year's TESPfizer Primary Teacher of Science Awards tell Victoria Neumark how they capture young pupils' interest
This year's winners of The TESPfizer Primary Teacher of Science Awards, run in conjunction with the Association for Science Education, win pound;500 for themselves and pound;750 for their schools. As they pick up their awards at the ASE annual meeting next week, the six women profiled here are united in their infectious enthusiasm for science, as one of the most popular subjects in the primary curriculum, and as an illuminating force in their own lives.
All the regional winners have been judged on their innovation in teaching and learning science, their skill and flair in communicating science and their ability to stimulate pupils to enjoy science and develop the ability to think scientifically. All are keen proponents of ICT, eager to make use of resources outside the classroom and quick to be involved in professional development. Strikingly, they are teachers whose enjoyment of their pupils' progress shines through.
Judith Willis, regional winner for the North- west and Northern Ireland, has been science co-ordinator at St Paul's CE primary school, Stalybridge, Cheshire, since 1995. With a background in secondary science teaching and a year's secondment as local education authority advisory teacher, she gained Advanced Skills Teacher Status in November 1999. She has also developed teaching materials for publication. Last year's SATs in science at St Paul's showed 95 per cent at level 4 and 52 per cent at level 5. For Judith Willis, the key to teaching primary science is "to try to catch their imagination. I like finding different ways to present things," she says. She runs a school science club using the BAYS (British Association for Young Scientists) materials, has taught the winning class in the national Science Challenge, regularly uses the labs at the local secondary school with Year 6 and enjoys the Concept Cartoons of Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor. She says: "There's so much still to find out. The children find new things all the time. One little boy last week was asking me why sycamore seeds always go round in one direction. I don't know - and I wonder if anyone does know?" Key stage 1 ideas: To teach Year 2 the difference between dissolving and melting, get some packets of jelly, read Making Jelly by Michael Rosen, stir your jelly and notice that chocolate buttons melt, jelly dissolves. Answer the letter from the Jolly Postman seeking advice on wrapping Goldilocks's present. Test all the strengths of available paper and write back, recording the investigation.
Key stage 2 idea: Buy some quick-growing brassicas from SAPS (Science and Plants for Schools) and build a light bank to bring on their life cycle. Draw, measure and record their progress several times a week, conducting pollinating experiments with non-pollination, bee-sticks (with dead bees - "humanely killed, hygienically prepared" - fixed on the end of sticks and paintbrushes).
Katie Harris, winner for London and the South- east, is only in her second year of teaching at Edenbridge primary school in Kent. She has already rewritten the science schemes of work, analysed and assessed the school's science teaching, run staff training sessions, organised a science week, brought theatre companies into school and taken children to science fairs during the holidays. Headteacher Tony Linnett says: "She has done more for her subject in one year than many teachers do in a lifetime."
For Katie Harris, the two keys to science teaching are not to worry if you cannot answer the question - "that's part of science, I tell the children, finding the answers together" - and to remember that the children are scientists, all 398 of them in the school. "I tell them, 'you are finding out about the world around you, you are the scientists', and they find that exciting."
She says she has always "driven my family demented trying to find out how things work and how living things exist in the world". For her, "Science teaching is almost magical: the buzz you get when they say 'I've got it', and no one realises that it's break time; the way sometimes they make you change direction to explain things and then they get it."
Key stage 1 ideas: Grow beans; each child monitors seeds in a pot and makes a bean diary. Investigate the story of Goldilocks: what is heat, how quickly does porridge lose heat in different vessels? Develop scientific enquiry by placing a teddy bear in the classroom and asking the class what questions they can ask to find out who it belongs to.
Key stage 2 ideas: Work with the children to find a way of explaining planetary orbits. Using plasticine and string, teams create different bodies to find out about centrifugal and centripetal forces; using their own bodies, they can orchestrate several orbits. To develop questioning, place a boot on the table and see what open-ended and closed questions can establish about it. Finally, discuss the meaning of a year.
Pauline Hannigan, one of the joint winners for Wales and the South-west, is science co-ordinator in Nancledra School in Cornwall, a small rural primary school, since 1993. A mature entrant to teaching, she has linked the school to local secondary schools and FE colleges, has worked with a local millennium-funded project on the environment and is joining with the huge new Eden "Biome" Project, as well as developing ICT. Last year, 14 out of 15 children gained level 5 in their Year 6 SATs.
"It's important to do as many hands-on investigations as possible," she says. "Children need the actual impact of the real world." It is always best, she adds, to get the children to develop the investigation themselves. "You give them the ideas, but if they think of the questions they will get so much more out of it."
For Pauline Hannigan, the joy of science teaching has always been that "it is so relevant. Everything you do in science is relevant. I just love seeing the thrills children get when they understand something."
Key stage 1 idea: Always teach in a real context. Teaching materials; get the children to examine the contents of a rubbish bin in the schools: what is waste? Look at the fabric of a building or at clothes accessories. What kinds of materials are found and what properties do they have?
Key stage 2 idea: Go out into the world and visit, for instance, a college where students are learning to build walls. What materials are acted on by what forces? Go to a recycling plant and then a landfill site and see what happens to materials classed as waste. "It is really worthwhile, when they see it in the real world," says Mrs Hannigan. "Their faces light up, it's so exciting for them."
Mary Collier, winner for the Midlands region, is Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Grant (EMTAG) co-ordinator at Spinney Hill primary school in Leicester, where she has taught since since 1992. With more than 98 per cent of the pupils having English as an additional language, language activities and games are paramount. She has pioneered the linking of science to literacy in school and joined the AstraZeneca Primary Science Project to develop teaching materials for literacy in science. These are now published by SCIcentre (The National Centre for Initial Teacher Training in Primary Science) at the University of Leicester as Science and Literacy Links and Mary Collier runs in-service training at the School of Education on the topic.
For children, science can melt linguistic boundaries. "Making links with the world they live in and not being abstract, it gives them a solid knowledge of science but also language," she says. Science has always been "fascinating. Wherever you look, there's a scientific principle: the more you think, the more it impacts. Even sitting in a chair, scientific principles apply. You can use that, sitting in a chair. Why don't you just fall off?" Key stage 1 idea: Link to literacy hour. For example, a big textbook called Princess Smartypants shows a clown, riding a bike and falling over. What forces are involved? He is skiing: what determines his speed? How much friction is there?
Key stage 2 ideas: Visit a dental laboratory that makes false teeth. What do teeth do? What materials can be used to replace them? Which toothpaste works best?
Link to history and geography. Bring vegetables in to school. What part of the plant do we eat? How does the plant propagate itself? What vegetables are popular in which country? What do they need to make them grow? Do we eat the flowers (for instance, cabbages)?
Clare Clougher, winner for the North-east and Scotland, has been science co-ordinator at Westoe County infants school in South Shields since 1998. Originally a nursery teacher, and then a supply teacher at Westoe, she has introduced ICT for science and adapted the QCA science scheme of work to the needs of the school. Her enthusiasm has spread through the school, raising the level of teaching and display and involving parents.
It is the children's own enthusiasm which spurs her on, she says. "Seeing them learning about the world around them is very rewarding. Finding out and watching them finding out - why a light turns on, for instance." Teaching has to be practical at key stage 1, she says. "Though you give them knowledge, they find out for themselves. The teacher helps them develop an enquiring mind." She adds: "I often find that children can excel in science even if they are no good at literacy and maths: they can find out for themselves and it motivates them."
Key stage 1 idea: Buy a butterfly kit (from about pound;15 from Insect Lore). Over 10 days, the children observe five tiny caterpillars get 100 times bigger. Then they form chrysalises and, after a few weeks, beautiful Painted Lady butterflies emerge. "It is absolutely wonderful," says Clare Clougher. The excitement of seeing the butterflies, placing them in the decorated butterfly garden and touring the school, culminating in a butterfly release in which the insects perch on the children's hands, was "like a miracle for the whole school". The thrill of research - "we were all experts by the end" - is matched by the thrill of communal experience. "The teachers were as excited as the children and the parents had to come in and find out all about it."
Rebecca Brustad, joint winner for Wales and the South-west, has been science co-ordinator at Marshfield primary school in Cardiff since 1988. Her class is reception, but she is publishing primary assessment materials and for the past 11 years has run a key stage 2 science club. The Office for Standards in Education found no shortcomings in the school's science; she regularly gives exemplar lessons to staff, initial teacher training students and the LEA.
The most important lesson for children, she says, is that science is not an accumulation of facts and equipment but is about first-hand experiences. "Asking questions, knowing how to ask them and where to go to find the answers is the important thing for the children," she says. "That and having fun."
To capture the imagination, Rebecca Brustad uses stories, drama, ICT and problem-solving. "Make it exciting, make it cross-curricular," she says. Having done badly herself at school science, she is very sensitive to the turn-off factor of chalk and talk. "You can learn along with the children," she says.
Key stage 1 idea: Do the tallest people have the biggest feet? How do we measure, using non-standard measures? How do we find out the size of people? How do people grow? Do you only grow on your birthday? Look at clothes, shoes, photographs, sort them by size. Jack and the Beanstalk suggests comparisons. Estimate, predict, extrapolate: will we keep growing for ever? Will the teacher be tallest?
Key stage 2 ideas: Mucky substances: what will a nappy soak up and how quickly? What kinds of fluid, with what viscosity? If you spill a drink, what is best to mop it up? Use a red-cabbage "magic potion" as a test for acid and alkali around the house, using lemon juice and soap. Draw up an acid table.
INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
The TESPfizer Primary Teacher of Science awards are run in conjunction with the Association for Science Education BAYS British Association for the Advancement of Science, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 2NB. Tel: 0207973 35000. Web: www.britassoc.org.bays Concept Cartoons colour poster sets from Science Project Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University.Tel: 0161 247 5279 SAPS, Homerton College, Cambridge CB2 2PH. Tel: 01223 507168 Web: www.saps.plantsci.cam.ac.uk Eden Biome Project Eden Project, Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall PL24 2SG.
Tel: 01726 811911. Web: www.edenproject.com AstraZeneca Project at SciCentre, University of Leicester, 21 University Road, Leicester LE1 7RF. Tel: 0116 2523659. Web:azteachscience.co.ukhtmlscicentrehtml Princess Smartypants By Babette Cole, Puffin pound;4.99 Insect Lore Tel: 01908 5563338. Web: www.insectlore.europe.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org