The second post in our mini-series on Science Education
Do you remember the first time you discovered that the Earth rotates around the Sun? Or when you learnt that water can remarkably be a solid, liquid, and a gas? When such basic scientific concepts are instilled in our minds, we often forget that the learning process has to start somewhere; arguably this story begins in the classroom.
We all know how important education is and in our latest mini-series we will be considering how educators encourage children at all levels to engage in science. We will also be finding out why certain scientists decided on their career paths, revealing the ways they were inspired, and equally how they inspire.
Emily Gater is currently training to be a Primary School Teacher. She holds a first class honours degree in Biochemistry. We discuss with her reasons for becoming a Primary School Teacher, and how she encourages her children to enjoy science.
Why did you decide to go into Primary school teaching rather than a traditional scientific research role?
Although I have always been passionate about science (having studied Biochemistry at Leeds University and carried out a Gatsby funded research project at Birmingham University), for me there is nothing more rewarding than teaching.
I first realised that I wanted to be a teacher during my first year at University. I travelled to the Dominican Republic with the International Student Volunteers and worked on a community project which included teaching the local children. It was this experience that helped to steer my future career path towards teaching.
In what ways do you make learning science fun?
In my opinion, it is all about making learning hands-on, enabling children to discover science for themselves. Science offers many opportunities for investigation and enquiry, both inside and outside the classroom. Even in the short time that I have been working within the primary classroom, I have seen how much children of all ages enjoy science.
I always endeavour to make my science lessons as interactive and meaningful as possible. For instance, whilst studying space with a Key Stage 2 class, I helped my pupils make a scale model of the solar system. I love the wonder and amazement when they look at their work and realise how small Earth is in comparison to other planets in the solar system.
What about informal learning- outside of the classroom? What advice can you give parents?
Science is all around us. I try to contextualise pupils’ learning by making the lessons relevant; for example relating what they are learning to their lives. Parents can also encourage children, without having to be scientific experts. For example, talking to children about the world around them, encouraging them to ask questions and not to take things for granted, but to wonder how things happen (for example, where electricity comes from).
As a teacher, how do you use technology to teach science?
Today it is only natural that technology is used in many ways within the classroom. Almost every classroom has an interactive whiteboard and most schools have well-equipped computer suites or a fleet of laptops. However, teachers can utilise ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in many creative ways to enrich science lessons. Some of the ways I have incorporated ICT into my lessons has been to use Digital Blue Moveiemaker to create science animations, using temperature sensors to monitor changes in temperature overnight and linking the sensors to computers to generate graphs, using digital cameras to record results and then presenting this information on a powerpoint slide. In the future I would like to use video conferencing as I know that NASA and the Met Office are just a few places that have offered free video conferencing with schools. When used appropriately, ICT can enhance learning and help to create an effective learning environment. However I believe that technology should only be used to complement science teaching, not as a replacement for investigation and enquiry.
In what ways can you make yourself a better teacher?
I will always be looking for ways to become a more effective teacher. CPD (Continual Personal Developement) is essential and there are fantastic courses available to help teachers improve subject knowledge, as well as providing creative teaching ideas (e.g. Northern Area Science CPD Conference last month).
Another method to improve teaching practices is learning from other teachers, either within your own school, or at other schools. It’s helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, utilising their expertise and practises. It is also useful to brainstorm teaching ideas, generating new and exciting ways to teach science. Even teachers with excellent subject knowledge still need to continually seek out the best ways to make science accessible to all pupils.
How can we gear training to help improve science teaching?
Government figures suggest that nearly one in five 11 year-olds are failing to meet the level expected of them in science. This is a headline from The Telegraph last August. I am concerned that science does not have the same priority as numeracy and literacy. Numeracy and literacy are taught daily (minimum 1 hour a day, following the introduction of the literacy and numeracy hours). Shockingly, some PGCE students in my cohort had not even observed a single science lesson, let alone taught one!! So how can teachers, who do not have science backgrounds, be expected to teach science if they haven’t even had the opportunity to practise?
Having spoken to fellow trainee teachers there are a substantial number who do not feel secure in their scientific subject knowledge and are daunted at the prospect of teaching science in the classroom. They are particular weary of the practical aspect and, as a result, tend to avoid demonstrations where possible. Will this mean that pupils miss out on developing the essential science skills that come through practical work and investigation, if other, easier-to-teach subjects are prioritised? I believe the way to overcome this is to provide better training for primary teachers, gearing training specifically towards science and practical experiments.
Finally, why is teaching science important?
Teaching science at the primary level is incredibly important. It is where children learn the vital skills of enquiry and investigation. It’s where they have an opportunity to question life, and develop important problem solving and reasoning skills. Science helps children make sense of the world around them.
Our aim is to make sure we instil excitement in science, so that today’s children will become tomorrow’s scientists and inventors.