Putting on the glitz

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Tony Sherborne describes how a website can add some razzle-dazzle to primary science, and looks at what's on offer at National Science Week 2005

"We want more glamour and emotion". It might sound like an editorial meeting for Hello! magazine, but in fact it was a plea from a group of science educators, discussing the national curriculum with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. In the little known "aims" section that now underpins the legal curricular requirements, "science shall be enjoyed" is there in black and white. However, in a key stage 2 classroom, when you are struggling under the weight of content and assessment, the words can lose a little of their force.

The wonders of primary science can so easily descend into "terminologically" tedious lessons in which pupils spend their time naming the parts of the plant or joining the meaningless dots on the graph paper.

How can we enforce the enjoyment of science during such moments? One of the findings of research from the Wellcome Trust, to be published later this year, is the need to relate science more to pupils' everyday lives. In an ideal world, primary teachers would base some of their lessons on the science making the headlines.

However, with all the other workload pressures, it's unrealistic. You need time to read up on the subject, to work out how to fit it into the curriculum, and to craft an engaging learning activity around it. This is why the Association for Science Education is launching Primary UPD8 (pronounced "update"). Every week it aims to track down the serious or celebrity science stories that strike a chord with seven to 11-year-olds and craft them into fully worked-out activity sheets.

It publishes these within 10 days, so the news is still fresh in pupils'

minds. The focus is on enlivening scientific enquiry (Sc1). The idea is to make concepts, such as data interpretation, easier for pupils to think about by grounding them within familiar contexts.

The style of the activities also adds fun to the experience by stimulating lots of questions and pupil discussion. With "speaking and listening" firmly back on the educational agenda, UPD8's impact could also contributes towards literacy, citizenship, and thinking skills.

Shark Attack is a typical activity. It was written amid news of several surfers being eaten in quick succession. The question the activity poses to pupils is: are shark attacks on the increase?

To help them decide, there is data in the form of a bar chart to interpret.

This allows them to determine if it's safe to go back in the water. There is also comparison data about bee stings, snake bites and lightning strikes. The whole thing fits comfortably into the teaching of "interdependence and adaptation" at Year 6.

As well as time, another obstacle to real-world science is the confidence to address unfamiliar topics, such as tsunami science topics.

Primary UPD8 helps with "background facts" and "info at your fingertips" to help manage real-time pupil discussions.

To become a Primary UPD8 user, you need to register on the website, and then you will receive weekly emails telling you what's new. Then it's a click to download the activity. The colourful pages can be copied on to transparencies or displayed on projectors and whiteboards.

The website also has a curriculum grid to allow you to catch up on ones you've missed.

* Primary UPD8 is produced in association with the Association for Science Education www.upd8.org.ukupd8-primary.php


Join the thousands of people taking part in National Science Week 2005 (March 11-20) by participating in one of the hundreds of exciting activities happening across the UK. The British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) has details of the programmes on offer on its website. These include: "Why you should not play with Frisbees in the snow", being held in Loughborough (all attendees receive a free Frisbee); a competition to devise a hi-tech mouse-trap, in Birmingham; playing "leap frog" using special brain-wave sensors, at Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland, and a party for seven to nine-year-olds being held in Cardiff to celebrates Einstein's birthday.

Fast and furious experiments run all week in Hailsham, East Sussex, and at the University of Manchester, while in Leeds you can find out why Eskimos don't build skyscrapers, and in Newcastle help Dr Bunhead build the world's biggest bogey.

Older students can get stuck into fashion in London, participate in a debate in Plymouth on when oil reserves will run out, or join a discussion in Wick, in Scotland, about whether the moon-landing ever happened.

Visit the BA website for booking details, information on organising your own event, activities to do at home, a complete online programme and details about the Universe poetry competition.


Tony Sherborne is creative director for the Centre for Science Education, and a fellow of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

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