Let's follow in Galileo's footsteps

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Year 7 pupils relate to persecuted astronomer as they get used to secondary life

IN THE 17th-century the assertion that the earth orbits the sun led to excommunication, imprisonment and death. In the 21st-century it leads to smooth transition between Years 6 and 7.

An actor, dressed in the oversized ruffles and bushy beard of the astronomer and physicist, Galileo Galilei, is visiting primaries in Redcar and Cleveland, speaking to Year 6 pupils about the astronomical discoveries that shocked the Roman inquisition, and resulted in excomunication.

This theme is continued throughout the first half of Year 7, culminating in a second visit by the actor. The aim is to address the common drop in pupils' science achievement between Years 6 and 7. Ann Johnson, head of Dormanstown primary, Redcar, said: "We wanted pupils to hit the ground running. They all talk the same language, they all had shared experiences.

So they can build on their achievements straight away."

And pupils have been surprisingly enthused. She said: "I didn't think they'd be interested in someone being persecuted for his beliefs. But Galileo was someone struggling with ideas. They relate to that, because they're struggling with the idea of secondary school. It reflects their own situation and shows them that sometimes you need to be a risk-taker."

Primaries in the north London borough of Haringey are similarly keen to address the lack of scientific progress between key stages 2 and 3. Science teachers at four schools are working with nearby Alexandra Park secondary, developing joint projects. For example, a primary lesson about the reflective qualities of different fabrics is followed up in Year 7, when pupils design a reflective jacket.

The primaries also introduce experiments requiring the same science equipment used at Alexandra Park. This ensures that pupils are not intimidated by unfamiliar equipment when they start secondary school.

Stuart Nichols, a science teacher at Alexandra Park, said: "Everyone needs to be involved. Otherwise, there's a tension between squeezing the most out of a project, and being a pain in the neck to primary teachers."

Both the Redcar and the Haringey projects were funded by the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust. Hugh Lawlor, its director, said: "We need to value complementary expertise. Primary and secondary teachers can learn an enormous amount from each other. Collaborative work prepares Year 6 students to come into secondary school as natural members of that larger environment."

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