Professional Development - Light-bulb moments at science centre with 'wow' factor

4th October 2013 at 01:00
Base will train more primary teachers live and online

Science teaching in Scottish primary schools has received a significant boost with the opening of a new national training base for teachers.

It is hoped that the Dunfermline hub will enable a fivefold increase in live, online continuing professional development for primary teachers across Scotland, as well as helping nearly double the number of teachers as at present to become "science mentors" to their colleagues. The base also promises greater support for technical education.

Demand for science training at the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (SSERC) has until now far exceeded capacity. But that is likely to change with the opening of the new #163;350,000 base, which will be run by the centre and is situated next to its existing premises.

The expansion will mean that more teachers will be trained online through SSERC's GlowMeets - hour-long sessions using the national schools digital network, in which experiments are demonstrated live and carried out simultaneously by teachers watching in schools across Scotland.

Until now, SSERC has been able to run only about six GlowMeets for primary teachers annually; now it could provide up to 30. Each event - described by one staff member as "like Cookalong with Gordon Ramsay, without the swearing" - involves a maximum of 20 schools and up to 160 teachers, although about 100 is more typical.

In addition, nearly twice as many "science mentors" will be trained each year in the new base, rising from 50 to 95.

"We did this work in hotels before. Funding went to pay hotel bills," said Kath Crawford, SSERC's head of section for projects. Now, however, trainers will be able to deliver their lectures in the new workshops and teaching spaces that complement the centre's existing laboratory and meeting rooms.

Boosting science teaching in primary schools was crucial to improving secondary science, said Catherine Dunn, a development officer for physics at the centre who also works at St Leonards School in St Andrews.

"What we want to do is add to children's learning, rather than spend time putting right misconceptions - that's very important," she added. Basic concepts such as momentum and electricity were often completely misunderstood when children arrived at secondary school, she added.

"It doesn't take much to boost primary teachers') confidence," said Gregor Steele, the centre's head of section for physics and technology. "They leave us with a feeling that they can do science."

In its training for both primary and secondary schools, SSERC uses catchy themes and pop cultural references in a bid to show that science lessons can be fun and relevant.

"We want to get the 'wow' factor," Mr Steele said. "It's important that the science is as rigorous as it ever was - (the children are) still learning words like 'solution' and 'dissolve' - but in an entertaining and engaging fashion."

Funding for the new base, opened by science minister Alasdair Allan last month, has come from local authorities, the Scottish government, the Wellcome Trust and Myscience, the operator of the National Science Learning Centre.

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