Primary science award winner Angy Burn talks to Emma Burstall about insulation
It isn't easy to get across complicated concepts like insulation to children as young as five and six. But Angy Burn, co-ordinator of science, design and technology at Gastrells county primary school in Stroud, Gloucestershire, believes she has found the key: give them a cracking storyline - and make it visual.
Mrs Burn teaches five- to seven-year-olds, and was one of four winners of the Institute of Physics Primary Science Award last December.
She says creating a fictional context on which to hang scientific ideas helps bring them alive. So, for a lesson about insulation, she invented a tale about a duck called Buddy - a hand-puppet bought from a local store - who had only six feathers and was very cold.
A passer-by offered Buddy some Terylene from her duvet to make a warm nest. Then a horse offered him straw, and a mouse some shredded newspaper. Buddy was confused; he didn't know which material to use. The children's task was to predict what would keep him warmest, then test their ideas.
Mrs Burn made four simple Vylene ducks to fit around identical jam jars, with a hole in each lid for a thermometer.
She put three ducks in "nests" (large margarine tubs), and left out one - the "control". The children stuffed the nests with the Terylene, newspaper and straw, and Mrs Burn poured hot water into each jam jar. She and the children then measured the thermometers at five-minute intervals and wrote down the results.
The lesson was a great success. Pupil Jack Richardson: "I liked it because it was half story, then we did an experiment on it."
His friend, Ben Brimley, agrees. "Science is good because you actually do stuff yourself," he says.
Of course primary science is not all fun, as Mrs Burn points out. Money is tight, resources are scarce, and primary schools cannot afford technical assistants.
Safety is another problem. Children must not go near hot water, for example, so sometimes they cannot be left alone to investigate. Also, they may need help to measure accurately. Big classes can be a handicap, especially when space is limited. And primary teachers are not specialists.
Mrs Burn specialised at college in English and drama but attended a 20-day, government-funded course six years ago to further her scientific knowledge.
Fortunately for her, the pleasures outweigh the problems. "Young children are so interested," she says. "The delight of teaching science when you're not an expert is you go through the investigation with the same wonder and desire to find out as the children."