Reva Klein assess the lessons that can be learned from two investigative science competitions.
The Student's and Teacher's Educational Material (STEM) project awards are designed to encourage participants to think about how to get the most out of visits to the Science Museum in London and to share that experience by producing Web pages on the Internet.
The competition, which awarded its first prizes in July, is the first Internet-led project of its kind. A message of congratulations from the Prime Minister to the winners underlined STEM's closeness to the spirit of the Government's National Grid for Learning strategy.
STEM invites schoolchildren and teachers to devise projects related to anything found in the museum, from history to engineering, design and technology to medicine. The three categories of participants are under-11s and over-11s, in teams of up to three, and individual teachers.
As well as receiving Toshiba desktop computers for their schools, the award winners will get the satisfaction of knowing that their projects will live on in cyberspace. The Web pages they create are added on to the Science Museum's Web site, where they remain for other schools to use as a pre- or post-museum resource, or for classroom work.
The diversity, technical sophistication and ingenuity of the projects submitted show that there are many schools willing to take the plunge and create their own innovative learning resources on the Net.
Clapham Manor Primary School in south London won the under-11s prize for its Year 3 entry on its visit to the museum's interactive Launch Pad section. Led by teacher Tracy Shailer, who has since moved to another school, the class focused its project on sound and light, basing it on activities and principles they found at Launch Pad. One of the more unusual and engaging aspects of the Web pages they created was the inclusion of their own handwriting.
The two Year 8 and one Year 10 lads at Bishop's Stortford School for Boys in Hertfordshire, who won the over-11 category, created a Web site based on the museum's Challenge of Materials Gallery, which deals with replacement body parts. As well as working in the library with traditional reference materials, the pupils surfed the Net for information and, says their information communications technology teacher, Julia Windly, they "had to plough through a lot of rubbish". All the hard work paid off, though. So impressed was the school's science department that it has built the winning STEM material into the key stage 3 and 4 curriculum for next year. But for the boys, the real achievement was, in the words of one of them, "that we really learned about teamwork, about working together to create something".
The winning teacher, Leon Cych of All Souls Primary in central London, created an interactive guide for teachers visiting the Materials Gallery. It includes both a children's and teacher's tour of the gallery and a whole-school quiz suitable for junior schools. There is also a science materials scheme of work for key stage 2. Leon Cych is evangelical about the power of projects such as this in enabling teachers to share methodologies and ideas. "It's important that people use resources like this on the Internet to build a true National Grid for Learning. All you need is 50 people around the country to link peer to peer. At the moment, there just aren't enough educators with IT skills. "
Roland Jackson, education officer at the Science Museum, agrees that the technological divide between young and old is still holding things back. But he's happy to be part of a project working to "build new relationships with students and teachers, creating a community of users through the STEM project".
For information on this school year's STEM project, see the Science Museum's STEM Web site at http:www.nmsi.ac.ukeducationstem or ring the Science Museum on 0171 938 8188