Something I learned this week: 200 children is a lot of children.
I’m sure many of you could have told me that. It seems rather obvious. But it is incredible how much noise, mess and chaos 200 children can make.
Last week I went to offer my STEM Ambassador skills at a science workshop in a north London primary school for National Science and Engineering Week. The workshop was all about getting the children to make fan powered cars. They started by making a prototype: they were put into groups, and were given a kit box and instructions to follow. They were then allowed to test other components – bigger wheels, more batteries, more blades on the fan etc. Once they had finished prototype testing, they had to disassemble their vehicles and design new ones, based on their findings of the prototype testing. This is where things got challenging for the kids: they had to design their cars on a budget.
In real life, everything is governed by your resources, and money is one of them. So each group was given “£100” and a shopping list. And off they went. The winning car was pretty cool – and travelled 8m in 3.26seconds!
But the incredible innovation of these children this is not the point of my story.
Something else I learned this week: some teachers just can’t be bothered (I say some because I know there are many who are!)
During one of the breaks I approached one of the teachers and asked what a usual science lesson on electricity was like. The conversation went like this:
Teacher: “Electricity usually involves me giving the kids a bunch of wires, batteries and bits of plastic, and I tell them: go and make a toy.”
Me: “Any toy?”
Teacher: “This is what the kids ask. I say yes, any toy. They then ask how. And I say “I dont know, figure it out.” They then usually get stuck on how to connect the parts, but I dont know how to do that either, so when they ask how, I tell them to figure that out too.”
Me: **STUNNED FACE**
I realise that sometimes learning-by-doing/learning-through-play can be useful, but how are children supposed to understand the fundamental science behind it? Using trial-and-error, eventually one could figure out how to assemble a working circuit, but they would not understand why it works, or how.
Why are some teachers not inspired to learn how a circuit works in order to teach it to their students?
The history of electricity goes back more than two thousand years, when amber was first found to attract dust once it had been rubbed with a cloth. Now, it is a part of almost everything we do; boiling our kettles, running our TVs, charging our phones, and even the electronic whiteboards the teachers now use in schools.
I realise not everyone is excited by science, but if you have to teach it, shouldn’t you know your stuff before hand?
Maybe they are trying to make science less “geeky” and more fun and playful. Whilst I commend this, the playful side should come with some learning, or else it is just play. Over the last few months, I have come to learn that a lot of science is play; it is creative and experimental. But in order to get the most out of your play, you need to understand the game!
Electricity is taught from a young age, all the way up through to degree level. But without those initial learning stages, it becomes more difficult to grasp as the children get older. Maybe this is why a lot of children are turned off by science? According to the Wellcome Trust study, most children are turned off by science in the late primary school phase. I can see why now – If asked to put together a circuit, without being explained why or how, it could become confusing, frustrating and difficult. This initial impression of science then stays with children into their secondary school years.
I am hoping that this doesn’t happen in all primary schools in the UK. I didn’t attend primary school in the UK, so I cannot be a good judge of what happens in these lessons.
So teachers, parents, and children, I ask you: what is your experience of science in primary school? Is it positive – did you enjoy science at primary school? Or did it turn you off?