For the past five years, student teachers at Edinburgh University have been running after-school science clubs in local primary schools. These run for five or six weeks during the autumn term as part of their one-year PGCE (secondary) course.
Once a week a team of two or three student teachers, all physics graduates, takes along a prepared science activity box containing enough material for an hour of fun and exploration. Six boxes have been developed especially for the clubs initiative, each focusing on a different aspect of science, with links to the 5-14 curriculum but extending the usual range of class activities.
The activities include a magnetic fishing quiz, making a fruit salad solar system, taking photographs using pinhole cameras, making various rockets.
The rockets box, for example, contains a foot pump, tripod and large plastic bottle for a water rocket, some balloons, drinking straws and thread for balloon rocket races and a set of film tubs, lids, Blu-Tac adhesive and effervescence tablets for "fizz-pop" rockets.
The science club initiative has benefits not only for the children. For the PGCE students, training to teach in secondary schools, the clubs provide teaching experience with P5 and P6 pupils, a cohort they would normally not encounter in their course. In fact, the clubs are run before the students embark on their first school placement, so the primary children are the first with whom they gain experience of teaching.
The clubs offer the students a chance to try collaborative team teaching, to refine their communication skills, to plan activities and learn how to manage resources.
Edward Love, a student at Moray House this year, says: "My initial reaction to the science club was apprehension. It was my first time standing in front of a class. I'm sure it helped me in my first placement, giving me the confidence to teach science, albeit in an informal way."
Despite widespread interest from children, limited resources (both student teachers and equipment) has meant the number of pupils attending the clubs has had to be set at 12 per session.
Alison Noble, headteacher at Preston Street Primary in Edinburgh, has been impressed by the quality of learning at the clubs. She says: "The activities have really enhanced the learning experiences of our pupils and most certainly motivated them to develop their understanding, knowledge, skills and attitudes."
The science club initiative started as a collaboration between me, as a PGCE tutor, and Jon Turner, who runs the science communication programme for research students in the school of science and engineering at Edinburgh University. We developed the idea from a two-student pilot at Preston Street Primary and the scheme is gaining popularity. South Morningside and Bruntsfield primaries have clubs too.
The initiative has not only enriched the learning and teaching experiences of PGCE students and children, but also local teachers. Feedback from schools shows they have learnt from seeing the club activities and adopted some of the ideas into their own teaching.
There is a danger that such clubs might be seen as a way of getting the science curriculum covered via a back door route, relieving teachers of part of their responsibility. However, Moray House's partnership schools realise this risk and for them the science clubs are only an enrichment activity, an extension of the school science programme.
Outsiders are never a substitute for the planned, professional role of the classroom teacher. However, the PGCE students have taken up the challenge and added real value to the experiences of children in these schools. The clubs have been, most definitely, a win-win initiative.
Bob Kibble is a lecturer in science education and PGCE physics tutor at Moray House school of education