The missing links

28th April 2006 at 01:00
An innovative company can help secondary schools forge valuable ties with primaries, says Martin Wesley

Many secondary schools are keen to find new ways of linking with and supporting science in their feeder primary schools. When one such enquiry came our way at Sphere Science, a science education company, we devised Splats - Students Presenting, Learning and Teaching Science. This is the diary of our involvement with that school.

Day one: 18 sixth-formers are trained in six simple investigations. They have great fun pretending to be primary pupils; some find this much easier than others. Then, in groups of three, they plan how they can deliver these activities to real primary pupils.

Day two: it's E-Day (Event Day) and the secondary school hosts 180 Year 56 pupils from its feeder primary schools. Split into groups of 30, these pupils and their teachers visit each of the six science activities being delivered by the sixth-formers. These activities (listed next) are specially adapted versions of some of our company's 75-minute tried and tested primary Sc1 workshops.

* Chemical changes: after discussing the chemistry of a candle flame, the pupils investigate translucency and colour-mixing by dipping candles in coloured wax.

* Investigating clockwork: after discussing the energy transfers involved in a clockwork motor, each pupil makes a wind-up toy to investigate these ideas further.

* Kites: each pupil makes a simple kite to investigate how different tail designs affect its flight.

* Marble runs: working in teams of three, the pupils design a track to allow a marble to run the full length as slowly as possible.

* Tides and planets: working in five small groups, the pupils devise playlets to illustrate aspects of this topic, such as an eclipse and how tides work.

* Using the sun: pupils investigate photovoltaic cells, how they work and how they can be used to make electrical devices operate.

After the final session, the primary pupils go home, while the sixth-form students pack up the equipment and relax.

Our evaluations of Splats show that it helps sixth-formers develop presentation and planning abilities and many also gain in self-confidence.

One school reported an increase in the number of students opting for a career in teaching. In some schools the sixth-formers have helped to plan and run science fairs for younger members of their school or for the wider community. At one school, they also helped with science clubs in their feeder primary schools.

Both secondary and primary schools are able to consolidate their links.

Primary teachers value the chance for their pupils to work in "proper"

laboratories, while their secondary colleagues discover how much current primary pupils achieve in science.

Each of the six activities generates resources for follow-up work by the primary teacher, who also gets a pack of teaching notes. (One secondary school supplemented these with a goody box of equipment and materials for further work.) Several schools have decided to have Splats again, but designed differently. Some have targeted key stage 1 pupils with appropriate activities, some have taken the secondary students to the primary schools, and some have involved Year 10 instead.

Is it worth it? Most sixth-formers make comments such as "I'm knackered", "Teachers do this all day long?" and "Can we do it again, please?"

* Each project cost pound;1,600. Contact Sphere Science for more information Tel: 020 7978 7257 Email:

Martin Wesley is a Splats trainer

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