Primary Science Coordinators’ Forum #3.1

Part of NUSTEM’s offer to primary schools in the north east is our Primary Science Coordinators’ Forum. Each half term, science leaders from primary schools across the area come to our Think Lab at Northumbria University for two hours of skills sharing, networking and high-quality STEM CPD. We’re in our third year of sessions, and it’s about time I shared what we’ve been up to. Here’s a run-down of our most recent meeting, which was held on Tuesday 21st November. If you’re interested in joining the forum (it’s free!), email me.

Part 1: Background and that awkward “getting to know each other” bit

Our first meeting this academic year, so there were a few new faces in the room. This being a skills sharing/networking forum, it’s important (I think) that we go through the basics: Who are we? What do we do? Why are we here? One day I’ll find a less awkward way of doing this. I also shared a bit of background about who and what NUSTEM is.

Part 2: Sharing Science

We have a wealth of experience in STEM education at NUSTEM, but so many good ideas come from teachers working in schools. In this session, teachers shared some of their more creative science resources and approaches. In the spirit of sharing good practice, here they are:

  • Greg (Oakfield Infants) – at the start of the year, groups of children in Greg’s Y1 class adopt trees in the school grounds. Throughout the year, they take photos and note changes to their tree. The exercise also inspires creative writing, poetry and artwork whilst covering the seasonal changes part of the science curriculum.
  • Mark (Carville) – shared an activity he’d seen using laces and cocktail sticks to discuss DNA in Y6.
  • Denise (Oakfield) – Denise’s class explored the digestive system using a pair of tights and then created a comic strip about the topic.
  • Ellie – Ellie’s class have been exploring rock types using different chocolate bars – you can find a similar activity from the National Parks UK here.
  • Kaye (St Charles RC) – Kaye’s school is using Imperial College’s Reach Out for free, quick science CPD for her staff. Kaye has also been exploring life cycles, by bringing mealworms into her classroom and changing different conditions of their habitats. It takes a few weeks, but they eventually turn into beetles. I’ve found a useful worksheet for this activity here.
  • Karen (Battle Hill) – Karen shared a free online resource from the Wellcome Trust called Explorify. It has great starters and activities for getting science discussion into the classroom.
  • Joe (NUSTEM) – I shared two activities, a Turtles and Dogs activity using soft toys to explore adaptation and inheritance with Y6, and a new activity with the working title: What’s in the Box?. I’ll post a link to this activity shortly.

Part 3: Cubetto

Our office fell in love with these little Cubetto robots, which arrived over the summer holidays, and we’ve been itching to get them into the hands of our science coordinators to see what wonderful ideas they might come up with. We spent half an hour playing with them last night and have some exciting thoughts about their use in the classroom. We’re holding further Cubetto exploration sessions next week with Computing and EYFS leads in our partner schools with a view to developing a suite of workshops that will allow EYFS children to explore coding in new and exciting ways. The plan is to loan our army of robots out to schools from the New Year.

Part 4: Embedding careers in primary science

The NUSTEM project builds on the findings of the ASPIRES report (more about that here). Using the Science Capital approach, we’re looking to increase young children’s understanding of what STEM is and where it can lead. The coordinators in our last session spent some time discussing an approach for embedding STEM careers into primary science lessons. This is a project and supporting resource that we’re looking to roll out into school in the New Year. If you are interested in finding out more, drop me an email.

Finally: Come and join us

We’re always looking for new members. If you’d like to join the group (it’s free and you get sandwiches) please email me. Our next meeting will be on Wednesday 24 January 2018, 5-7pm.

To download the presentation notes from the session, click here.

Family Space Explorers

We’re always looking for new ways to engage different audiences, and this winter our Family Space Explorers project is doing just that. Funded by the UK Space Agency, we’re engaging young children and their families with space science through STEM story workshops and hands-on activities in libraries across the north east.

Why families?

As a project, we believe that one way of addressing the STEM skills shortage is through long-term interventions. We want STEM conversations happening at home, amongst young families, so that when children later come to make career-critical subject choices they already have a wealth of experience and family support to guide their decisions. The Family Space Explorers workshops are aimed at children aged 2-5, along with their families. They’re carefully planned to help parents and carers build their confidence in exploring science and engineering topics with their child.

Why libraries?

Most of NUSTEM’s work is delivered via our partner schools, which are drawn from the local area. For some families, entering a school can itself be a barrier to engagement. Working in local libraries and community centres (along with schools!), in areas of higher socio-economic deprivation, we hope to reach a greater number and variety of families.

The Workshops

We’ve developed two workshops, each with activities linked to books for young children. The sessions are each 45 minutes long and involve shared reading and activities. At the end of each session, participants get to keep a copy of the book, so they can continue the reading and activities at home.

Choosing the stories was difficult. We aim to embed diversity and equality throughout our work, and it was tricky to find stories that had strong female lead characters. In book after book we found male characters (children and adults) heading into space… with very little representation from female characters.

We chose “Goodnight Spaceman” because of its charming story and strong links to the UK Space Agency. We also wrote our own book, “Are we nearly there yet?” to explore space exploration through non-fiction, which allowed us to cast a female lead character in the shape of a robot explorer. We also put together a list of other good STEM stories, which you can find at our Family Space Explorers page.

Linking activities

It’s important that our workshops can be repeatable by families at home – we want the interventions to continue beyond the end of the workshop. In the workshops, families use Duplo to build their own version of a space rocket to travel to the International Space Station, and a rover to explore the surface of Mars. The simplicity of the activities enable parents to continue constructive play at home, and to adopt similar approaches with other stories.

Supporting local schools

We’re sending a copy of our book to schools across the region, and inviting teachers and educators who work with young children to attend our two free training sessions. These sessions will equip teachers to deliver the sessions in their own schools.

How to get involved

We have a number of sessions booked into our calendar over the next few months. If you have children aged 2-5 and you’d like to attend, click here to view upcoming sessions and find details of how to book onto the events.

Jam on!

Whether digital making is already your jam or if you’ve never seen the bottom of a computer before, let alone the inside – all are welcome at our first Raspberry Jam on Saturday 14th October. An informal family activity day where you can explore coding and digital making, we’ll have loads of things to try out and people to talk to.

The event is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket so we know how many people are coming. More details and a link to the tickets page here.

Astronauts, sports scholarships, the web, deforestation, and the power of unexpected connections

Here’s a delightful little story from web developer Sarah Mei, posted on Twitter. It starts out being about American university sports scholarships, but heads off in directions you’re really not going to expect.

We all assume, when we’re in school, that we’re going to have ‘a career’, that it’s going to make sense, and that we can map out roughly how it’s going to go. For some people that’s absolutely true, but for many (most?) of us, our lives take twists and turns we’d never have predicted. Some of us rather like it that way, even if we don’t have stories quite as good as this.

Tip of the hat to Elin Roberts for the link.

See you this week? Timandra Harkness on Big Data and SUN at Life

This week we’ve not one but two outstanding opportunities to get your dose of fascinating, curious and very-slightly-sideways science:

  • On Thursday, broadcaster, writer and comedian Timandra Harkness gives the finale of our Physics Matters! series of public lectures, on Big Data. 6:30pm, Ellison Building, Northumbria campus: full details and tickets here. These talks are aimed at sixth-formers, but all are welcome. Free, but please register.
  • On Friday, as part of the Friday Night Life event at the Life Science Centre, poet Katrina Porteous and composer Peter Zinovieff present the premiere of their work ‘SUN’. The Chronicle have a lovely write-up, and full details are on Life’s website, where you can also buy tickets. Over-18s only.

We’re very much looking forward to both events, and we’ll hope to see you at one or both.

Maker Faire UK 2017 announced

It’s baaa-aaaaack!

The greatest show (and tell) on Earth is returning to Newcastle with Maker Faire UK 2017, April 1st-2nd. It’s the biggest, loudest, most ridiculous and longest-running event of its kind in the UK. More than 300 makers, hackers, crafters, coders, artists and inventors from across the globe come together at the Centre for Life to showcase what they do, run workshops and activities, and generally loon around in the name of expressing themselves through things they make.

Think Physics built a magnificent pendulum wave sound sculpture for the 2015 Faire, which was accidentally chucked in a skip during renovation works at the University this year. Oops. This year we showed the Technology Wishing Well, which all worked for the first time about three minutes after the Faire opened. Both years we ran the beautiful Light Wall activity. What will we do for 2017? Watch this space!

Better still, sign up to the mailing list at the Maker Faire UK website, block out that first weekend of April in your diary, book your tickets as soon as they’re available, and – best of all – think whether you or your school have projects you could showcase yourselves, attending as fellow Makers. There’ll be a Call for proposals via the website soon.

Want to get a better idea of what the Faire’s about? A few years ago I filmed Make magazine founder Dale Dougherty as he took a wander while it was still quiet on the Sunday:

Go Ballistic! winners at Big Bang North East

Phew! We’re slowly recovering from a couple of crazy days at the Big Bang North East. We spun patterns and collected hopes and dreams for future tech with the Technology Wishing Well; explored the universe with our space-themed show; and launched ping pong balls with hundreds of catapults in our Go Ballistic! workshop.

We had about 18 booked groups through the workshop, and managed to squeeze in a few more schools too. We’re sorry if we had to turn you away, we were crazily popular. Apart from anything else, there are no more decent plastic spoons to be had anywhere in central Newcastle. We bought (and used) them all!

So here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the grand reveal of the final standings on the leaderboard:

Click the image to see it larger, but here’s the leading portion of results of 4m and above:

  • Longest distance achieved: Royal Institution, 5.80m. However, see below!
  • Gosforth East Middle School (yr. 7): 5.00m (secondary winner!)
  • Academy 360 (yr. 8): 4.80m
  • Monkwearmouth (yr. 7), Washington (yr. 8): both 4.65m
  • Monkseaton Middle School (yr. 6), Bede Academy (6JRA): 4.40m (joint primary winners!)
  • Farringdon: 4.40m
  • Gosforth East Middle School (yr. 6): 4.30m
  • Heworth Grange: 4.10m
  • Southlands A: 4.00m
Emma King RI catapult

Dr. Emma J King of the Royal Institution with her redesigned catapult, which achieved a throw of 5.80m from a single elastic band.

Congratulations to the entrant from the Royal Institution in London, Emma J King, pictured left. Emma’s throw of 5.80m was the longest we saw on the day. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that her catapult design was dramatically different to anyone else’s, but you’ll also notice that Emma isn’t quite a school student. In fact she has a PhD in physics, and neither we nor she thought it was entirely fair to count her remarkable score against everyone else’s. Hence: she’s disqualified.

Our Secondary winners therefore remain Gosforth East Middle School (yr. 7), who landed a remarkable 5.00m to huge jubilation around the launching table. Academy 360 (yr. 8) were worthy runners-up, spending over an hour trying all manner of different approaches to eek out the next twenty centimetres they needed. Valiant determination!

Sterling performances also from Monkwearmouth yr. 7s and Washington yr. 8s, both groups with impressive bests of 4.65m.

Snapping at their heels were our joint Primary winners Monkseaton Middle School (yr. 6) and Bede Academy (class 6JRA), both at 4.40m.

We’ll be sending both primary and secondary winners suitable trophies, just as soon as they’ve emerged from our 3D printers.

Well done all, and our thanks for your enthusiasm and ideas. We had a blast running the workshop, and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. One of my favourite moments was when a chap from the Army was standing nearby for a good half hour, watching a couple of groups develop, test, and iterate. I wandered over and invited him to make his own catapult. “Not a chance,” he said, “I wouldn’t get close to what this lot are doing, and I’d never live that down: I’m Royal Artillery.”

Wise man.

Computer training opportunities in Newcastle

Two outstanding computing events are coming to Newcastle in the next few weeks:

Picademy

untitledThe Raspberry Pi Foundation’s flagship teacher training experience, Picademy is a two-day extravaganza of all things “Pi in the classroom”. There doesn’t seem to be a course outline for what’s covered, but the events are very well-regarded by previous attendees.

The course is free, and being held on various dates at Google Digital Garage, Newcastle City Library. For more information and to apply for a place, see the Raspberry Pi website.

Apply very soon – the first dates are almost upon us!

BBC Micro:Bit Drop-in day

Micro:Bit boards are being distributed (free of charge) to every year 7 student in the country, assuming your school signed up to the scheme. The school also receives  a class set of boards, a few for teachers, and a few spare units for breakages.

There’s such a wealth of stuff around Micro:Bit it can be hard to know where to start. Most of the teacher training events have passed, but there’s a teacher / student / family drop-in style workshop event right here at Northumbria University on Saturday 25th June. So if you have a Micro:Bit and want some ideas or help, or if you’re trying to work out what to do when yours arrives, or if you’re plain curious – this could be your chance.

Free, but registration required (through the link above)

Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotic Challenge

The Robotic Challenge is a curriculum-linked programme run by Tomorrow’s Engineers that sees students (11-14) working together in teams to solve real-world engineering, technology and computing challenges. Teamwork, robots, design, discovery, fun and loads of LEGO are all part of the mix, as are real-world challenges, teacher support and some great prizes.

Students learn how to build, program and control autonomous LEGO robots to complete a series of short, exciting space missions using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 sets. From assembling the crew to launching the satellite, they’ll demonstrate the skills they’ve learned at challenge events held around the country.

The journey starts in school. The challenge events are the culmination of a ten-week extra-curricular or in-school programme where students learn how to design and control their robots to complete the space challenges. Tomorrow’s Engineers will provide structured activity plans and learning software, training and equipment.

Activities can be run with your team outside the classroom or during lessons. The challenge could take your team all the way from regional heats to the national final!

Booking opens: April 2016
Visit robotics.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/What-is-the-challenge/ for the latest information

Pop-Sci @ The Forum and The Beacon

It’s been a busy half-term for Think Physics; we were welcomed back to The Beacon in North Shields and The Forum in Wallsend for more science pop-up shop fun.

Families of children from local schools were invited to join us for a day of science based activities: we were swamped! Big thanks for coming along. We handled meteorites, took infrared selfies, made a lot of funny noises, investigated UV light, explored the pinwheel galaxy, designed planets, and made a gigantic marble run (…and that was all before lunch!)

Families were also take on a tour of the universe in our Explore Your Universe show. The whole thing was captured by our Think Physics Twitter Photo Booth. And also by our rather less exciting human photographer – gallery below.

Stay tuned for news of our next sci-pop pop-up shop. You could even sign up for our newsletter.