British Science Week 2021 is being held between 5-14 March.
Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but since Amanda Spielman’s annual Ofsted report in January 2020 warned of ‘stagnant outcomes in science’ and the need for secondary schools to teach science from a lower starting point, I have noticed that many more primary schools are driving science forward as a core subject. The potential of a ’science‘ deep dive from OFSTED seemed to spark a desire for primary schools to push science to the centre of the curriculum and bring it on a par with maths and literacy.
Getting children to ’think like scientists‘, to ask questions and provoke curiosity is the new focus. ‘Science capital’ is a relatively new buzz term for me (I’ve been a teacher for four years), but the more I read about it, the more it makes total sense. ‘The concept of science capital is drawn from the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of capital (referring to economic, cultural and social resources) – in short, Bourdieu proposes that the more you have of the ‘right sort’ of capital, the better you are able to ‘get on’ in life.’ (www.stem.org.uk). If a child thinks that science could be for them then they are more likely to engage with it, study it for longer and at a higher level: good for the individual learner and good for society too. In practice that means, pupils being able to see people who look like them being active in science (more women, greater ethnic diversity), science having a real-world relevance and science being fun too. The science capital teaching approach means providing children with the right skills, attitudes, behaviours, contacts, and contexts for learning about science.
In my previous life I worked in the corporate world. When I was recruiting people into new roles, it never struck me that their influences and experience in primary school would have shaped which career direction they chose to pursue. Thinking back to my own education, the only real encouragement I had to study science was from my dad. As a vet, he was keen for both my sister and I to take science at A-level (in my case Chemistry and Biology) but my interest was minimal. I just couldn’t see why I needed to study it.
So how can we as teachers – and particularly those of working in the primary sector – develop Science Capital and influence children’s future love of science? Engaging with British Science Week is a great place to start. I’m on a fair number of social network groups linking like-minded teachers who are passionate about science. Suggestions for a science week in school seem to concur that to start small and then grow in future years, building on the success of each previous year is a good place to start. Trying to plan a science week during a pandemic brings its own set of unique challenges too but there are plenty of resources out there to help you. The Virtual Explorers Club (https://thevirtualexplorersclub.com) is a site I stumbled across that has lots of planning resources and ideas for home-based as well as in-class activities. Resources on www.britishscienceweek.org are good too and STEM ambassadors (www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors) will deliver virtual talks and presentations to your pupils free of charge.
We can’t go visit external places just yet, but many museums and science centres offer virtual tours which you can stream in class, such as the Science Museum (https://learning.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/learning-resources) or Birmingham’s ThinkTank (www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bringing-our-museums-to-you). Just as the children have adapted to their new learning environment, we teachers are getting good (even if I do say so myself!) at adapting to teaching virtually and in hybrid ways. Meaningful engagement with Science Week should be possible.
We run a Science Club in school and I didn’t want the children to miss out during lockdown, so to drive Science Capital at home, our Science Club has gone online. It’s been a real success, with children doing home experiments and getting siblings involved too. They are posting and sharing, chatting about science: it’s great to keep the conversation on science going.
As I write this, I realise that many teachers, like myself, will have been juggling work with home-schooling their own children. You may be reading this thinking Science Week has just not been possible this year. We can only do what we can. But soon we will be back to face-to-face teaching and be able to get more hands-on. Who knows, by June when the Great Science Share (www.greatscienceshare.org/) takes place we could be able to invite external visitors in or take trips out to museums once more.
Until then, British Science week will be a great opportunity for all schools to shine the light on science (however big or small your event) and to keep Science Capital growing.