Science lessons need more pizzazz, says Ofsted. How do you spark reactions?
Take one water-filled wheelie bin, a lump of potassium and add an inventive science teacher. What do you get? A fiery chemical reaction and enthusiastic pupils. "It was just like a witch's cauldron," says Caroline Molyneux, head of science at Balshaw's Church of England High in Leyland, Lancashire.
Caroline's lab makes her tidier colleagues shudder: an authentic Nasa jumpsuit, which pupils can wear as a reward, rubs shoulders with stick insects, a fish tank, several lava lamps and a plasma ball.
A flashing sign proclaims: "Welcome to Science" and gadgets include an infra-red thermometer - which gives an instant temperature reading on whatever it is pointed at - bought for her by a departing Year 11 group.
"I try to do unusual things," says Caroline, 30, who won a teaching award last year and became head of science in January after four years' teaching. "At times the pupils think: flipping heck, this isn't what we expected."
But this sort of display could be what all pupils will come to expect. The Government, the Wellcome Trust and some of the UK's largest businesses have invested more than Pounds 50 million to help create more exciting lessons.
Through the new Enthuse and Impact Award bursary schemes, run by the National Science Learning Centre (NSLC) in York and its nine regional partners, teachers get the opportunity to attend courses to improve their skills. Some may be eligible for Enthuse Awards, which means all their costs are met, including travel and supply cover, and they will have cash to put new ideas in place.
Schools must pay upfront, with fees only refunded once the teacher has attended the course and shown how changes are being made as a result. It comes in the wake of Ofsted's conclusions: that teaching is good or better in two-thirds of schools, but many children are "bored and demotivated" by lessons and they take too many notes.
"What we want is more children staying on in science," says Professor John Holman, director of the NSLC, and a former school science teacher. He agrees with Ofsted's call for subject-specific professional development.
"Tests are important. But what good teachers already understand is that you don't necessarily get better test results by revising for hours. Motivated pupils are twice as productive.
"Secondary schools need to be giving pupils more opportunities to do practicals. Science can be memorable - we need to experience it with our eyes and our ears."
More risks will pay dividends, says Professor Holman. "Very few experiments have been banned. Teachers doing the proper assessments alongside the experiment help young people to deal with risk and hazard in a responsible way."
From this month, schools will be receiving the new Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Directories, funded by the Government and including more than 200 schemes and activity ideas. Stem already sends working scientists into classrooms to inspire pupils (visit www.stemnet.org.uk for details).
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