The new face of science

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Preview of the National Exhibition and Conference, Cardiff International Arena, May 27-28

How do you turn kids on to science? Give them something they want to learn.

That's what science adviser Colin Green set out to do when he fostered the introduction of applied science at key stage 4 across schools in Newport.

So far, 120 children in three schools are taking the subject. But the move has been such a success that three more schools are due to take it up in September.

The change is not in the qualification (administered by Edexcel), but in the way it is taught. Teachers have got together to write and trial their own materials. "What we were trying to do was make the curriculum more appropriate and give pupils something that was much more work-related," says Mr Green.

"The content is much reduced. It's 67 per cent coursework, all based on acquiring skills, and the teachers feel freed-up and in control of the learning. They can do their own thing with it, innovate, try things they've always wanted to do. What we've got now is a group of very young, very good, very confident teachers, all committed to this."

Martyn Ryan, head of science at Bettws high school, says: "We realised right away that this was something we could teach in themes." His pupils study modules based on, among other things, health and fitness, the components of the car, and forensics.

"I invented a murder and we looked at things related to that," he says. "We also have a lot of local industrialists coming in. We went down to Sainsbury's to look at the relative costs of intensive farming and organic farming. It's all things they can see the point of."

As a result, 14 out of 27 children at Bettws are taking the higher tier paper this year - "far more than we ever dreamed of," Mr Ryan says. "These were children who probably wouldn't have passed a traditional GCSE, yet they are so engaged." Many now want to go on and take the BTEC qualification that the school is also introducing.

Deputy head Shan Schanda says the partnership element of the course has "given them a real perception of industry and the working opportunities that might be out there for them. It's absolutely the best of modern education. It's a collaborative approach, there's real partnership, and everyone has benefited." But she points out that there has been no outside funding and the school has had to underwrite the expensive development itself.

Meanwhile, the course has received one of the greatest accolades: Martyn Ryan's daughter is taking it. Dad is happy that she is following a rigorous and challenging course. And she is discovering that she can do, and enjoy, science.

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