Academies Today Article – October 2015
Creating science lessons that bring ‘awe and wonder’ looks to children’s faces thrills Dan Sullivan, founder of Empiribox. Here he explains why the ‘wow’ factor benefits teachers as well as pupils.
‘I didn’t know girls could be scientists…’
We’re on a mission. We’re determined to make primary school science teaching fun. Not just for the children but for the teachers as well.
Creating an interest in primary school children as early as possible is a crucial first step towards creating first-rate scientists of the future. As a former head of science in a London secondary school I’d seen so many students come through from primary schools who could have done well in science but were never interested.
My feeling was that no-one had fired them up at primary school. Science was boring. Teachers read from books or demonstrated a single experiment to the whole class. Nothing was hands on and teachers did science because they had to rather than wanting to. It was something I was determined to tackle so I set about creating Empiribox
In doing so I was well aware that everything done in primary schools must have multiple benefits, particularly for progression in literacy and numeracy. Time and resources are limited; youngsters are demanding in their hunger for interesting lessons.
And I wanted the children being taught science to become more confident with reading, writing and numeracy in all their classes. Working in pairs they learn to observe, record and share with others in the class.
Many primary school teachers find it hard to inspire and engage pupils with the wonders of science. According to the Royal Society, currently over 96% of primary school teachers have no science qualifications. So it’s understandable they’re uncomfortable about teaching a difficult subject, one which is highly technical and demands a significant knowledge base.
As a consequence they may feel less than confident in their knowledge of the core scientific concepts. Actually, we’ve demonstrated time and time again they have the skills to deliver good science teaching – they just needed the right approach.
Another barrier to successful science teaching to date was a lack of resources. One of the key benefits of the Empiribox system is that everything needed for each lesson is carefully planned and easily accessible all in one place. Teachers never have to worry about checking anything before the lesson – they know they can just go straight into the classroom and teach.
The cross-curricular links embedded in each lesson help the children to develop their numeracy and literacy skills alongside their enthusiasm for science. It adds to their natural curiosity and really inspires them – it gives them that ‘awe and wonder’ that kids really should have in science. And if anyone has witnessed an awe and wonder expression on a nine or 10 year old child, you’ll know it’s a moment to treasure.
We are, with doubt, impacting on primary education for the good and it’s the sort of investment in our children’s future that, in my opinion, is long overdue.
Let me reassure everyone that what we do isn’t rocket science. Empiribox comprises specific, topic-based sets of training (four each for physics, chemistry and biology) that not only covers the new National Primary Curriculum but significantly enriches it. The system includes topic-specific suites of equipment, delivered to the school on easy to use trolleys.
Each of the twelve topics are delivered over a four year cycle and comprises a total of 19 documents (1 Scheme of Work, 6 Lesson Plans, 6 CPD documents and 6 Risk Assessment forms). Training is provided on all topics so that teachers are well prepared to deliver their ‘awe and wonder’ lessons.
We provide training and support so that teachers improve their delivery of practical science lessons for KS2 pupils in Years 3 to 6, every week. For teachers, it is innovative and ground-breaking, giving them the confidence they need to deliver engaging, practical science lessons.
There are a number of benefits for schools. It builds a school’s reputation as a provider of very high quality science education and improves the confidence and skills set of the teaching staff. It boosts the school’s results in the core science skills they need, leading to improved league table results and greater popularity and funding.
And for pupils, learning this way means they move on to secondary school with a solid skills-set and grounding in practical science. When I get comments like this from a 10 year-old girl I know I’m having a great day at work – “I used to hate science. Now I love it. I think Empiribox is really good because it has made everyone in my class that didn’t like science love it.”
Or this one, from another girl, aged nine. “We used all kinds of equipment I’d never seen before and did lots of different stuff with it. I had such a good time. This is what I want to do when I grow up. Girls can be scientists too, I didn’t know that before!”
And there are lots of boys that love it too and I’m convinced that both girls and boys currently being taught using the Empiribox system will stand out in their class as having significant interest, and ability in chemistry, physics and biology when they go to secondary school. That should stay with them into higher education and then into their careers.
I’m often told that Empiribox sounds great, but then I’m asked ‘does it work?’
Well, a primary teacher at a London primary school was observed in a science lesson (using the Empiribox system) when OFSTED came in. They were really excited about it – they hadn’t seen a primary lesson before where the children had so much knowledge. Not only was it clear they had knowledge, but they were also able to explain what they were doing to the OFSTED inspectors, who were amazed by the children’s experimental and investigative skills.
Effective science teaching at primary school needs to be consistently exciting, interactive and investigation-based. That can only happen when teachers feel confident and their knowledge of the science that underpins each lesson helps make learning fun and relevant for pupils.
Empiribox Primary Science Trust makes its money selling in the open market but reinvests back into the business with one objective; to help create strong, sustainable and socially inclusive science education across the UK. We recognise we have an opportunity to bring about social and educational change that creates opportunities for young people, the scientists’ of the future. To do that we have to ‘wow’ them at an early age.