In place of holidays, school runs and commutes, many of us now travel to the virtual world for entertainment, education and employment, without the need to step outside.

With that in mind, laptops, tablets and phones have been crucial gateways to things that have been out of tangible reach – quite literally – since the start of the pandemic. This is particularly true for countless teachers, parents and students across the UK, who are once again wading through a period of school closures and using technology to assist them with remote learning.

While it is difficult to replace an interactive classroom setting, video conferencing platforms and apps have proven to be successful vehicles for delivering STEM lessons to school students during lockdown – especially when they incorporate flexible, hands-on activities such as those offered by the CREST Awards programme.

When the schools closed last year, home schooler Bernard Dagnall used FaceTime to teach CREST Award activities to his eight-year-old granddaughter, Ella, and kick-start her excitement for STEM subjects. By combining video technology with low-resource, easy-to-run science projects, Bernard proved that learning can be as imaginative as you make it during a lockdown – and that science is certainly not restricted to traditional laboratories!

"During the first lockdown last year," says Bernard, "Ella was living at home with her mother and my daughter, Helen, who – like many others – was having to work remotely whilst undertaking home schooling duties. I suggested to Helen that I take off some of the pressure of home schooling by having a daily session of maths and science with Ella via FaceTime. And so, for forty minutes each day, Helen’s dining room table became the classroom and the kitchen the chemistry laboratory!

"For maths I found various fun methods of teaching the times tables, addition, subtraction and so on, encouraging Ella to use things found around the house and garden for measuring and weighing. I even introduced topics beyond her maths syllabus, such as the Fibonacci series. Helen’s husband, a builder, was laying a patio at the time and arranged the tiles in the Fibonacci pattern to bring it to life!

"For science lessons I enrolled Ella in the CREST SuperStar scheme. She completed the following activities to achieve her CREST Award:

  1. Investigating Ink – using chromatography to separate the contents of different fibre tip pens
  2. Super Spinners – making and flying spinning helicopters
  3. Mixing acids and alkalis, such as vinegar and baking powder, to produce CO2 bubbles
  4. Making an egg bouncy by leaving it in vinegar
  5. Invisible writing with lemon juice
  6. Using litmus paper to test various kitchen liquids
  7. Seeing how light is bent in a prism and through the window, and how it is reflected in convex and concave spoons
  8. Growing crystals of NaCl (salt) and Na2CO3 (sodium carbonate).

"We investigated many other things along the way, too! For example, Ella loved putting bottles of water in the freezer and seeing how the ice rose above the neck, helping her to discover that ice is less dense than water. 

"In the summer holidays I bought Ella a chemistry set so she could carry on with the experiments in her own time at home. She especially liked using electrochemistry to produce changes of colour and clouds of bubbles! 

"The kitchen was ideal for Ella to carry out her STEM investigations, as there were many household chemicals readily available in the cupboards and fridge. The daily outing to the supermarket supplied everything else that was needed and being at home meant that Ella was familiar with the surroundings. Helen acted as the teaching assistant as well. Ella loved calling out ‘TA’ whenever she needed anything!

"FaceTime was a brilliant teaching tool because the iPad could be moved around for me to see what Ella was doing and we could take pictures and videos to capture her progress. We were able to cover topics which she was set to learn at school at the time, in addition to topics outside of the primary science curriculum. 

"Using CREST Award activities through FaceTime helped Ella in so many ways: it kept her up to speed with her school maths and science, it introduced her to science around the house and encouraged her to engage in STEM beyond the school syllabus. Will she take up science as a career? I have no idea just yet – dancing is the current focus! Either way, we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thank the British Science Association for the CREST Awards scheme!"

If you would like to find out more about running CREST Awards at home or remotely, check out the top tips in our CREST webinars and download our free ‘getting started’ guides and home learning packs on our CREST resource library. We’re committed to supporting all educators and students – pandemic or otherwise – and can be readily contacted on [email protected] or via our Facebook and Twitter channels.