More than just a Glow in the dark

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Science experiments may not only provide a wow factor, they help with transition to secondary too

Bunsen burners and burning magnesium are not common sights in primary schools, where scientific experiments are limited. But with the help of Glow Meet on the Scottish schools intranet, Craigie-barns Primary in Dundee has enlisted Craigie High to make science more exciting.

Earlier this year, June Jelly, the Glow development officer for Learning and Teaching Scotland, set up a meeting with Glow mentors Kath Squire, principal teacher of biology at Craigie High, and Avril Martin, depute head-teacher at Craigiebarns, to see how they could work together.

They looked at the subjects P7 would soon be covering and decided that the topic "burning and gases in the air" could be greatly enhanced with some help from the secondary.

"Four second-year pupils volunteered to help," recalls Ms Jelly, "and using Glow Meet, two lessons were set up connecting them to P7 pupils."

In the first Glow Meet in April, substances such as magnesium were burned and the class looked at what is meant by burning, and what is needed if burning is to be sustained. They looked at oxygen and sources of heat and demonstrated alcohol, candles and fabric being burned. Then they looked at products which were flame-resistant.

The magnesium in particular was popular. Ms Jelly says: "This always gets a stir, as it results in bright white lights and it can't be looked at directly."

The primary children were able to ask Mrs Squire questions via the microphone, by typing into the dialogue area or annotating the shared whiteboard space in Glow Meet. She in turn was able to respond to their questions.

In the second lesson, both schools were getting the hang of Glow Meet, and the pupils and teachers were able to focus fully on the learning intentions of the lesson, which included a more in-depth look at oxygen and other gases of the air. They looked at what percentage of air is oxygen, what gas is in the air and how we know this.

In the two lessons, the Craigiebarns children were able to experience areas of science usually left until secondary school, or only experienced through books and videos. "Some science topics can be covered in primary schools, such as seed germinating, but others are harder to cover. Actually, getting to see burning enriches the experience," says Ms Jelly.

It is also difficult for most primary schools to set up such experiments. "Alcohol couldn't really be burned in primary schools; the risk assessment would be a huge issue," she explains.

"Primary schools don't tend to be set up for science. The floors are carpeted and classes are bigger than in secondary schools. Glow Meet enabled them to watch hazardous experiments which they would not be able to do in their classroom."

There are also benefits for transition and for building links between the two schools. "It means that when the primary pupils start at secondary school, they will recognise some of the staff and will have seen the science labs before. It should ease the process."

While the advantages for the P7s are obvious, there are also benefits for the S2 pupils who took part. "At the secondary school end, the pupils were given the feeling of responsibility from the part they played. They also had to understand the science themselves well enough to be able to explain it, improving their own science knowledge," says Ms Jelly.

The next step was to take the pupils to Craigie High to test for oxygen themselves.

These two schools are located very close to each other, but Ms Jelly believes similar Glow Meet sessions would work particularly well for schools located further apart, proving quicker and cheaper than transporting the children from one school to the other.

She says: "Glow Meet is good for linked interaction. Before Glow, for such a project to happen, a video conference would have had to be booked. This is a much more accessible way. It takes time to get to grips with it, but I certainly think it could be used again with any topic where the primary pupils could do with support."

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