Real scientists use pipettes – a story of pupil voice.
As science lead, I wanted to measure the impact that developing the science curriculum has had on the children’s attitudes towards the subject.
A school would not be a school without it’s children and we all know how important pupil voice is. In my school, we have developed science a great deal over the last two years and I thought it important to find out what impact it had had on our children’s attitudes towards science.
Attempt 1: Cold Questioning
Result: Love Practical, Hate Writing
Conclusion: No Surprises
I began with a class that was not my own, asking them what their favourite and least favourite parts of science lessons are. I soon realised that these questions were of no use at all, as we all could have predicted the responses: love experiments but hate writing about them.
Attempt 2: An Opinion Survey During A Practical Lesson
Result: The Best Science Experience This Year Was Using Pipettes
Still in the hope of getting usable results, we did some practical work, using a range of different equipment, and I asked them another question: what has been your favourite part of science in school this year? This particular year 3/4 class have had a fantastic year of science teaching and learning. They learned about electricity so that they could build an alarm system to stop ‘The Iron Man’; they where astronauts learning about the international space station; they even grew plants using specially engeneered gel- not to mention taking part in a whole school science open afternoon, meeting real life STEM professionals and going on science themed school trips! What was their response? Using pipettes- a piece of equipment they had used for the first time less than 5 minutes ago during the very same lesson.
Conclusion: Children Only Remember Their Last Lesson
Long story short, I found out that most children only remember their last science lesson, no matter how many fabulous activities they have done in the past. To me, this means that every science lesson should be as exciting, engaging and hands on as the last…but that still doesn’t tell me or anyone else anything that they didn’t already know.
Attempt 3: Draw And Label A Picture Of A Scientist
My school is currently working towards a Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) and during one of the meetings it was suggested that a good pupil voice activity was to ask children to draw a scientist. To do this activity properly, children should be given no guidance and, when I did it with my year 5 class, I asked them to label their pictures, asking them to explain why they had drawn what they had.
Result: We Have Impact! The Children Recognised That Scientists Can Be Any Gender, Any Ability, Or Have A Disability
Not only did the children love the activity, asking if they could present their drawings to the class at the end, but this time the impact was clear. First, there was an equal gender split. Many of the girls (and some boys) had drawn a scientist or engineer that was female- many stating that girls can do anything boys can and that girls should have equal opportunities.
One child said that their scientist had no gender because that wasn’t important and another explained that their scientist had learning difficulties but it didn’t matter because science was accessible to everyone. Many children drew a representation of themselves as a scientist and one even drew me!
One thing that quickly became evident was many of the pictures depicted a character wearing a white coat and goggles in a lab. Usually with spiky hair from an experiment going wrong surrounded by colourful chemicals in test tubes and round bottom flasks. Having a background in Chemistry, I thought this was great but showed that, although my children understood that anyone can be a scientist, many stuck to the ‘mad scientist’ stereotype. Despite this observation, a few children thought outside the box drawing an astronaut, forensic scientist and even a Rolls-Royce Engineer!
Conclusion: Attitudes Towards Science Have Improved But We Still Have Work To Do
Overall, this activity did not tell me what conceptual knowledge my children had gained, what they had enjoyed specifically or how much progress they had made academically over the year but it did show me how much attitudes towards science have changed in school.
First, my class understood that science is for everyone no matter their gender or situation. Some children recognised that they themselves are scientists and a few identified that not all scientists work in a lab.
Next steps: Expose Children To A Range Of Different STEM Careers Throughout The Whole Curriculum
Moving forward, this shows me that I need to work harder to expose children to a range of different STEM careers and real life scientists – both current and historical, famous and unknown. Although this was something that I thought we had been doing quite well in school over the past year, there is clearly more work to do! Watch this space!