Scientist’s Story Time
There are many rich contexts available in children’s literature; they are truly inspiring! By using a meaningful text with a stimulating story and relatable characters, it is possible for children to become fully immersed in a story, rather than stand on the outside looking in. As teachers, we do this in our English lessons day in day out, so why not in science?
There are many fabulous resources online that provide teachers with ideas and activities to creatively link science with books. Some books lend themselves perfectly to different science topics. For example, the KS1 Materials topic goes hand in hand with The Three Little Pigs, encouraging children to select the most appropriate material to build an effective house and explain their choices. But, how can these practical activities be turned in to exciting schemes of work that enable children to become real scientists, exploring and questioning the world around them?
By using the drama based teaching approaches that we all use to teach reading and writing, children can take control of their science learning. As an example, I have chosen a book close to the hearts of many teachers – The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. For those who are not familiar with the story, a giant metal robot appears out of nowhere and begins to eat farm machinery, angering the local community and causing farmers to rise up against him.
First identify the problem: there is a giant man, made from iron, eating all of the farmers equipment! Next give children the opportunity to become scientific (or STEM) professionals in order to help solve this problem. In this case, our children became electrical engineers and decided that the best way to help the farmers would be to build an alarm system, warning them that the iron man was close. This role gave children a purpose for learning. During science lessons, they were not school kids but grown-up professionals working together to help those poor farmers protect their livelihoods.
After taking on their new roles, the children understood that they needed to learn about electricity to solve the problem. To build an alarm they must be able to construct circuits, comprehend how they work and recognise that the opening and closing of a switch can light a bulb or activate a buzzer. In short, the year 4 national curriculum guidance for teaching electricity. Not forgetting, of course, all of the Working Scientifically targets that can be covered too! Finally, the ‘electrical engineers’ put all of their new learning in to practice by applying it and solving the problem once and for all! They even received letters from the farmers thanking them for the fantastic job they did.
This approach can be applied in a variety of ways to get the most out of different books and different children. A book can be used as the focus of the learning topic and to teach across the whole curriculum or, alternatively, a different book could be used just for teaching science – every school, teacher and child is different.
Whilst using this technique, I have become a doctor trying to help ‘Flat Stanley’, a conservationist working in the rainforest to save ‘The Great Kapok Tree’ and an environmental researcher helping Matthew Henson and Robert Peary in their Race to the Frozen North. Most importantly, children have the opportunity to develop a new love of science, a broader awareness of STEM careers and aspirations to become the scientists of tomorrow.