Science Teacher of the Year

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
Judges will be looking for a teacher who shows outstanding classroom ability and who has an infectious enthusiasm for the subject. Skill in communicating and the ability to motivate students of all abilities and aptitudes to promote effective learning are very important."

These are the guidelines for choosing the TESASE Science Teachers of the Year and the judges this year were so overwhelmed that they had to choose two winners in the secondary category.

The award was set up in 1993 to give, as Betty Preston from the Association for Science Education says, "a positive boost" to science teaching in schools. Sponsorship for the secondary award from the Association if the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and for the primary award from Pfizer has been generous, offering #163;100 to each of 12 regional winners and their school, with #163;500 to the winners in each category and #163;300 to their school. Entrants can be nominated by anyone, but must have back-up references.

Science teachers may feel in need of some good news. The awards, aimed at celebrating excellence in the classroom, try to reward good practice. For the ASE, the professional body for science teachers, the award is another way of supporting teachers and helping them to teach science.

For Pfizer, sponsors of the primary award, it is, says John Adams, academic liaison co-ordinator at Pfizer and an ex-science teacher, a way of stimulating a key area to seed future scientists.

Pfizer is also involved in science teaching in East Kent, where it is based. For a long time it has offered free materials for teachers as well as careers advice and visits to science sixth-formers. More recently, small annual grants of #163;75 for specific projects in the 90 primary schools in the area have raised the profile of science, as have visits by local Years 1 and 2. ("They look like the seven dwarfs in their white lab coats," says John Adams.)

Pfizer scientists visit schools in return. There is a local award of #163;5,000 for each of two schools within a 10-mile radius of the plant. The national award widens out these initiatives and Pfizer is "very pleased" with its popularity.

"Kids," says John Adams, "get an enormous buzz from their teacher being recognised."

Science teachers, on the other hand, seem overly modest. That is the conclusion which Libby Steele of ABPI draws from falling entries in the secondary science teacher award. Although association is keen to support teachers, it is withdrawing from the award and, instead, is offering three kinds of extra in-service training for teachers. ABPI will give up to 30 teachers a chance to have Inset in using primary, secondary or career-choice materials.

Member companies of the ABPI will host the events and will supply free materials for schools. This project will, Libby Steele hopes, reach the teachers too shy to compete for the award.

ABPI is "delighted to have been involved" for the past three years and Pfizer is pleased to continue its involvement. But perhaps the most delighted ones are the pupils of those teachers whose enthusiasm turns them on to science as, says one, "a fun subject and interesting".

The awards will be presented today at the ASE annual meeting at the University of Birmingham. Further details of the awards and nomination forms from the ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA

Adventures over the rainbow: Victoria Neumark talks to one of the youngest regional winners of the TESASE Science Teacher of the Year Award.

"When I was eight I would ask my father about the rainbow and he would never tell me about the pixie who painted the sky but the real story about light and he would make it just as interesting."

Michael Cousins, at 25 one of the youngest regional winners of the TESASE Science Teacher of the Year Award, glows with enthusiasm when he talks about his family, his physics teacher father ("absolutely brilliant, I'm hopeless compared to him"), his love of teaching ("the best feeling") and his hobbies ("there's only about three minutes in the week when I'm not doing something").

Watching him teach Year 7 science at Presdales Girls Comprehensive in Ware, Hertfordshire, his energy and commitment seem to knit together the eager, puppyish questions of 11-year-old girls in a shared sense of adventure.

"Our results were wrong, Mr Cousins," says one pupil. "Not necessarily. What were the results in the air experiment?" he asks. In air, nine out of 10 plants grew; in carbon dioxide 10 out of 10. "So, what does that tell you? Has anyone heard of the greenhouse effect?" After a bit of faltering (this is a low ability group) something off the telly is remembered and the teacher points out the most important lesson: "We were wrong in what we thought originally but now we think differently."

Michael Cousins sees falsifiability at the heart of his science teaching. One of his favourite devices is the cardboard box with something rolling around in it.

Pupils have to make and explore hypotheses, building up theories from evidence. "That's science," he says. "I know there's one group that's got it but I haven't told them. They just keep testing it. I'm the only one in the school who knows what's in the box."

Other favourites of his teaching armoury are passing a live wire through a sausage to make them aware of the need for safety (this eventually had to be abandoned for safety reasons and to preserve the laboratory ceiling) and getting senior staff who are just passing through to join in class calculations.

Year 7 enjoy a Science Club with Mr Cousins and GCSE students a discussion group on the philosophical and ethical aspects of science which has directly encouraged more of the girls to choose physics at A-level. As enthusiastic about IT as physics, he encourages up to the minute use of computers for recording.

Eventually, Michael Cousins hopes to run his own physics department ("not a headship, I wouldn't want the administration"). Expanding on why he enjoys his job so much, he says: "The physics is not difficult. The beauty of it is thinking up new ways to explain and making sure they have structures in their mind to help them understand."

He is co-writing a book with his father. Physics Examples for Assessment and Revision is aimed at those taking maths GCSE for

the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board and is being field-tested at Presdales. As, he says, some of the most exciting moments in his life come when joining his GCSE and A-level students to find that they have got an A.

Even more, the fact that one of his pupils now wants to be a physics teacher is deeply pleasing. "She's the brightest physicist in her year by a long way but I'm thrilled that she sees physics teaching as something she wants to do."

Does he find it difficult being a young male in a girls' school? He shrugs it off. "You just have to accept that it happens, follow all the rules about not being alone with anyone and, above all, just don't be creepy." He smiles: "After all, I hope now the crushes are more because they are learning something, because they like being in the lessons."

And other interests? "It's quite sad really, I'm just becoming an anorak. All the time I'm looking around for things to illustrate physics. I don't teach from notes any more, but I work a 60-hour week and I'm always looking for new ways of showing things, new ways of seeing things."

In-between times, ju-jitsu, and books, drawing and painting claim his time. He loves the theatre but disclaims any deep affinity with actors. "Teaching is more about explaining, really, not about getting people to look at you." Sleep is a low priority.


Julia Kelly , class teacher, at Dudley Infant school, Hastings With her pupils' brains teased by questions like "does a badger like spaghetti bolognaise?" her class of five-year-olds is entranced by science.She has developed the use of a school garden, with careful logbook (and fox), as a resource and involved the junior school in releasing helium-filled balloons to support a lesson on air.

Jackie Phillips , science co-ordinator and deputy head at St Mary's RC Primary School, Cardiff

"Entering her class is like entering an Aladdin's cave of discovery," enthuses a parent governor. Jackie has also led the school to three major awards: Norris Award in '94 and '95 and Science Challenge in '94.

Chris Denton , class teacher, Mulbarton First School, Mulbarton, Norfolk

Chris Denton has "fired other teachers with her enthusiasm", says Rosemary Sherrington, science adviser in Norfolk. Her repertoire of ideas includes using photos for children to monitor and assess their work and trying their hypotheses.

Angela Murphy , deputy head, St Lukes RC Primary School, Salford

Her role as science co-ordinator was recently recognised by OFSTED inspectors as giving a "very strong lead in the development of science across the school" and has secured the confidence of her colleagues.

Julie Fitch, science co-ordinator acting deputy head, Crabtree Junior school, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

"Julie is a great believer that science is everywhere," says Kate Smith, parent governor at Crabtree School. As an enthusiastic teacher of Year 6, she has founded the Crabtree Clever Clogs science club.

Jill Matthews , assistant teacher and science consultant, Upton County Junior School, Kent

She has encouraged her pupils to enter science quizzes, act with visiting theatre in education companies and win prizes for studies on such topics as "What if there were no toothpaste?"


Julie Fleetwood , science teacher, Ralph Allen School, Bath

"The teacher did not raise her voice yet all her lesson objectives were fully met," said one observer of a Year 11 top set working on polymers for the double science award. A Year 7 science club organised by sixth-formers and an A-level chemistry clinic are popular, a popularity reflected in increasing numbers taking A-level chemistry.

Brendan Harkin , head of science, St Brecan's High School, Londonderry

His success is grounded in the relationships he establishe s by involving pupils in the higher skills of learning. Imaginative devices such as using string telephones round a football pitch to teach sound transfer through "Chinese whispers" illuminate science for pupils from a deprived area.

Kathryn Coxall , deputy head, Northcott Special School, Hull

A non-science specialist who has worked hard to develop her science skills, she creates a warm atmosphere, but pupils know that she will stand no nonsense. She has designed all the school's teaching resources for key stage 4, so successfully that the local education authority has funded a laboratory.

Raymond Lyons , head of science, All Saints RC High School, Liverpool

Pupils and headteacher join in extolling his "excellent" relationship with staff, students and parents. A "revolution" in science has led to "dramatic" improvements in exam results and a commendation in the Department of Trade and Industry Science School of the Year competition.

Pauline Edwards , head of science, Phoenix Special School, London

She is dedicated to the entitlement of all children to the science curriculum. A tough but tender teacher, she is an efficient head of department who is beloved by her pupils (one of whom nominated her for the award).

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