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Teaching Kids to Love Science

2 months ago

Wickhambreaux CE Primary School, Canterbury, Kent

Imagine a primary school where STEM learning takes centre stage. Where the scientists and engineers of tomorrow are inspired by exciting, hands-on experiments. A school where science is infused throughout the curriculum, and described as every child’s favourite subject.

Welcome to Wickhambreaux CE Primary School in Kent.

Serving a small rural village on the outskirts of Canterbury, Wickhambreaux is a community primary school with a difference.  Four years ago, the school transformed its approach to science, recruiting a specialist teacher with expert knowledge. A Biochemistry graduate who is passionate about practical science, Harriet Barnes now leads imaginative science teaching across the school, creating exciting learning opportunities for pupils in every year group. Here’s how.

Exciting Experiments

Harriet believes that practical experiments are key to engaging young children with science. Joining Wickhambreaux as Science Subject Lead in 2015, she partnered with Empiribox to introduce specialist science teaching in every year group, giving pupils experiences that are not typically found in a primary setting.

“I think that children learn best by doing. I remember being inspired at school by practical biology lessons. At Wickhambreaux science is less paper based. We feel this is really important for young children”, explains Harriet.

Each term pupils take part in a new set of experiments exploring fundamental concepts in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. These concepts are brought to life through hands-on experiences. From learning about static electricity using trampolines and a Van de Graaf Generator, to producing hydrogen in test tubes, science lessons at Wickhambreaux are always practical, and always fun.

“The Van de Graaf Generator is one of my favourite science lessons. The movement of electrons is a hard concept for children to grasp, but seeing the generator helps them to understand. It’s amazing – and something you don’t often see in primary schools”, says Harriet.

Exciting learning opportunities like these invite children to participate in lessons as more than just recipients of knowledge. Headteacher Ann Campling describes her pupils as “discoverers and explorers” who are truly engaged, and Harriet’s classrooms are super vibrant learning environments. When teaching about space recently there was a buzz of anticipation as her pupils eagerly awaited the arrival of real moon rock!

Extending learning beyond the classroom is a key feature of teaching at Wickhambreaux, and pupils can often be found having outdoor lessons around the village, as Harriet explains.

“We take our pupils outside to learn science whenever we can. We like to go down to the stream in our wellington boots. The children collect water samples and put them under a microscope to see what they can find. We sometimes go fishing and calculate the speed of the water. They really enjoy it!”

Harriet also broadens her pupils’ horizons with technology. In a recent Biology lesson, for example, she used virtual reality headsets to let children explore the human circulatory and digestive systems. The appeal of technology ignites children’s enthusiasm, helping them to grasp difficult scientific concepts.

Cross-Curricular Learning

Finding time for practical science can be a challenge for busy primary school teachers. Seeing the subject as part of a broader curriculum can help. At Wickhambreaux science is often taught through topic-based learning, building links with other subjects to inspire children’s creativity and make real-world STEM connections.

Here are some examples:

  • KS1 Minibeasts Topic

Minibeasts is a popular topic for Wickhambreaux’s KS1 pupils. Harriet introduces the theme by encouraging the children to use non-fiction books to find out about different insects. Pupils closely study the life cycle of a butterfly and take part in an investigation where they watch real caterpillars pupate. Putting their newly acquired knowledge to the test the children take part in a Minibeast walk and conclude the topic by building a bug hotel from recycled natural materials.

  • Year 1 Winter Wonderland Topic

This seasonal topic provides plenty of opportunities for cross-curricular learning. Harriet threads science throughout, arranging experiments and activities which look at changing materials and explore the effects of heat. The children love roasting marshmallows, reading about polar bears and exploring subtraction in Maths linked to the idea of melting. They are also given topic-based homework, melting ice and chocolate at home with their parents and writing up the results.

  • Year 3 Stone Age Topic

The very earliest period of pre-history provides a perfect platform for cross-curricular learning. From taking part in flint knapping workshops, to studying archaeology and watching experiments with fire, Wickhambreaux’s Year 3 pupils enjoy lots of science activities as part of their Stone Age topic. They even perform their own Stone Age play, learning about pre-historic life through music and dance.

Enrichment Activities

Wickhambreaux’s commitment to science extends beyond the core curriculum and the school offers a whole host of science enrichment opportunities. These include an extra-curricular STEM club led by Harriet Barnes. The club gives pupils the opportunity to get hands-on with STEM activities matched to their interests. The children are currently building electric cars as part of the National Engineering Award.

“The STEM club is very popular. It’s held on a Friday after school and is still oversubscribed! It gives us a chance to try out activities and experiments which we don’t have time for in class”, explains Harriet.

Putting science at the centre of learning in ever-more creative ways, Harriet also likes to arrange special experiences for her pupils. Last year she organised a STEM day for Year 4 pupils in partnership with the Smallpiece Trust. The children took part in a codebreaking workshop and worked in teams to design and build rockets and vehicles which they tested in the playground. The children really enjoyed the day and came up with some creative and innovative designs.

Science Week is always a time for celebration at Wickhambreaux, and in 2018 Harriet created a school-wide programme of learning on the theme of ‘Exploration and Discovery’. Empiribox scientist Dan Sullivan made a visit to the school, demonstrating lots of exciting experiments in a special assembly. These included explosive displacement reactions, powdered coffee fireballs and flammable ‘screaming’ jelly babies. After the assembly Dan and Harriet ran workshops with each class on the theme of serendipity, exploring the workings of fireworks such as snappers, party poppers and sparklers.

Continuing the theme of ‘Exploration and Discovery’ throughout Science Week, Harriet arranged for a planetarium dome to visit the school. Pupils enjoyed an immersive 360-degree journey through space and met with a real-life physicist.  Harriet’s Science Week programme even attracted media attention, and children were interviewed about their experiences for a local newspaper and radio station.

Engaging Parents

Parental engagement is very important at Wickhambreaux, and Harriet Barnes regularly creates opportunities for parents to connect with their children’s learning. During Science Week she invited parents to take part in lessons. Putting adults at the centre of a favourite biology experiment, her KS2 pupils sent parents out for a playground jog to test their lung capacity.

At the end of Science Week Harriet arranged a Science Fair in the playground, where children’s work was displayed for parents. There were some fantastic projects and posters displaying brilliant research and showcasing a range of interactive experiments.

“Parents are always telling me how much their children enjoy science. They are very supportive and engaged”, says Harriet.

Inspiring Future Scientists

At Wickhambreaux science is everywhere.  Infused throughout the curriculum, it has links with every subject. Hands-on lessons, exciting experiments and enrichment activities help pupils to make real-world connections, building a life-long love for the subject. Many of Harriet’s pupils aspire to be future scientists, with some already declaring ambitions in careers such as aeronautical engineering, as Harriet explains:

“Most of our pupils want to do something science related when they are older. I teach several budding engineers and biologists!”

Harriet Barnes’ commitment to primary science, and the learning opportunities she provides, inspires her pupils to dream of future STEM careers. By putting science at the centre of learning, Wickhambreaux Primary School is nurturing the next generation of UK scientists, one lesson at a time.