Science is creating a good reaction
The Primary Science Quality Mark is transforming lessons. In Aberdeen, 13 schools piloted it, now 28 are pursuing awards. Jean McLeish reports
When it comes to science with 10- and 11-year-olds, you won't get away with easy answers. This morning, Primary 6 has been discussing why your eyes would pop out of your head if you went for a walk on Mars. And in P5 they're investigating the Big Bang because they want to know how life began.
For their space project, the P6s are also putting yeast, sugar and water into bottles with balloons attached, to see how long it will take for the balloons to inflate.
"Today we're making yeast balloons and creating a fair test investigation. We had been learning about life on Mars and whether there could be any and what was needed for life to exist. Obviously a yeast balloon is a simplified version of what life needs," class teacher Katie Glass explains.
Her school, Bramble Brae Primary, was one of the first in Scotland to gain the Primary Science Quality Mark. It was one of 13 Aberdeen schools to win PSQM recognition, following a pilot in the city in 2011 sponsored by BP.
When an 11-year-old girl told Miss Glass she was getting a chemistry lab and lab coat for her birthday, it was further evidence of growing customer satisfaction. This year, 28 Aberdeen schools are pursuing the award sponsored by BG Group - nine of them are going for silver or gold after achieving bronze in the pilot year.
The Association for Science Education Scotland is encouraging more Scottish schools to join the programme. And Scotland's teachers can learn more about the PSQM award at its conference this weekend, where one of the award's founders, Jane Turner, is giving a presentation with input from two Aberdeen teachers who took part in the pilot.
At Bramble Brae, science features strongly in the life of the school with regular science activities, recognition for star scientists, a science club for P4/5 and a science week to showcase learning. Visiting scientists lend their expertise and teachers have a network of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ambassadors they can turn to for specialist knowledge. "I really enjoy science - it's loads of fun and I like doing experiments," says Kamen Mead, 10, who is working on the P6 experiment this morning.
"And I like learning all about space," says one of the girls, Aicha Lagrichi, 11.
Miss Glass is the science coordinator at Bramble Brae, where her role is to share resources and ideas with colleagues and update them on plans.
"It's an award that seeks to raise the profile of science in the school and makes sure there is high-quality science going on throughout it," says Katie, a genetics graduate now in her sixth year of teaching.
To achieve the PSQM award at bronze, silver or gold level, schools must carry out an audit against a set of criteria and develop an action plan. After two or three terms, they submit reflections and evidence of the impact they've made as a result of their work.
At Bramble Brae there are pupils' choice boxes in class, so children can make suggestions for topics they'd like to investigate. "I have always done science in class but not to the extent I do it now and not with the confidence I do it now," Miss Glass says.
She attended the first science summer school for primary teachers at Satrosphere science centre in Aberdeen nearly two years ago. When she returned to school afterwards, she volunteered to be the science coordinator.
At Satrosphere, teachers were introduced to a network of new contacts like local STEM ambassadors, who could support them in developing science education for young children.
Gaining the bronze award has given teachers such as Miss Glass a sense of direction and the enthusiasm now to pursue a silver award.
"It gave me a framework of where I was and where I needed to go, whereas without it I might not have been sure where to go next," she says.
"It gives you very clear guidelines for 'Right, I've done this, next I need to get the parents involved and we need to celebrate it as a school'."
ATTITUDES ARE CHANGING
Not every teacher at this school has a science degree and not all of the 200 pupils will be begging for a chemistry set for Christmas.
But Bramble Brae teachers' confidence has grown about science teaching and children's attitudes have changed.
"They are very enthusiastic about science now," science coordinator Katie Glass says.
The venture has also created better links between local schools, with science coordinators collaborating on joint projects and sharing expertise. Teachers are also enhancing their leadership skills, taking responsibility for coordinating science learning in their own schools.
It costs nearly £600 for a school to take part in the programme and the ASE field officer in Scotland, Steuart Cuthbert, was instrumental in securing £10,000 sponsorship from BP for the Aberdeen pilot.
"What we really noticed about it was how it really focuses people on science in these schools," says Fiona Saunders, science curriculum development officer with Aberdeen City Council, who acts as hub leader for the programme.
"We just see such good science going on across the city, now they're getting involved, and it's an exciting thing to be part of."
One of the founders of the PSQM award, Jane Turner, from the Science Learning Centre East of England, is giving a presentation about the scheme at the ASE in Scotland conference in Crieff today, along with two teachers from Aberdeen schools that gained the award.