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STEM on the Severn: real science for our future scientists

STEM on the Severn: real science for our future scientists

by Jo Cox, Head of Science at Redmoor Academy. This is the second article showing the different perspectives around the Anturus expedition on the Severn from the scientist (Huw James from Anturus), the teacher (Jo Cox) and one of the students (Luca Moore project leader age 13).

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We first met Huw James in March 2014, and had arranged for him to lead a session for a small group of students who we thought might be interested in following the latest expedition from the Anturus team. I'm not entirely sure how this session then led into one of the most challenging and exciting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) projects we have ever been involved with, but that is indeed the case.

The project came about largely due to the incredible enthusiasm from a small group of mixed ability year 8 students, a determination to set up some cross-curricular work between the science and geography departments and Huw's enthusiasm and commitment to the idea of a collaborative project between our students and his team of scientists.

So what is it all about?

The students at Redmoor are working as a lab-based team for the members of the Anturus project who are out on the expedition, otherwise known as the field team. The project is split into two strands across the geography and science departments with students working independently and as a large team to support Huw and the team out on the river.

The geography team are creating a layered map of the river, showing key features on overlays, whilst the science team are carrying out various experiments to test hypotheses proposed by the whole team - such as how flow rate changes around a meander, how soluble sediment increases as you get further away from the source and others relating to insulating properties of the kit used.

A crucial part of the project as I see it has been that each student has been given their own role; some have taken on a leadership position, others working behind the scenes on the media angle, others happy to take direction and carry out tasks as required. I was keen to embed this element of hierarchical working as I wanted the students to get some experience of what it would be like to work as a real scientist.

Allowing them to learn how to meet specified deadlines, take and give direction and work as part of a wider team has been great as I have been able to see new skills develop within the young students. All of them are working towards a CREST Award with their project work, a scheme we have supported in the school for the last six years, and so the framework of this with the added bonus of working on a live, time dependant project has really inspired them. It’s great to know that they will all get an Award for their hard work too.

During this initial phase, they have been practising the skills required to complete phase 2 (sample analysis), working out for themselves the practicalities of how to carry out various experiments. This has been a steep learning curve for pupils at this young age. It has given them a valuable insight into the difference between doing a practical experiment in a lesson and carrying out a scientific investigation where the results need to be reliable and accurate. These are skills which they will take with them as they progress into KS4 and beyond. The students are also carrying out various tests on equipment from the expedition sponsors and these results will be fed back to the manufacturers - real science for our future scientists.

I genuinely believe that collaboration between scientists and science students forms the basis of truly embedded STEM learning and we are already looking forward to the next exciting Anturus expedition.

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