National Science and Engineering Week finishes today. Perhaps you knew that and are sad that all the excitement is over. Perhaps you are glad because you planned the activities for your school and it’s a relief that all (well, most) went off as expected and you can relax for a while. Our school are reminded every year of ‘that time you tried to launch a rocket at lunchtime and everyone was watching and it all went pear shaped’. Nobody ever talks about the experiment that went ‘spectacularly right’ do they?
Hopefully some of the awe and wonder from the past week and a bit will be for life, not just for science week. After all, the country still has a massive shortfall in the numbers of scientists and engineers it needs for the future. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19760351
So, how do we keep the momentum going? My opinion is that practical work is a good place to start; the younger the better.
In my previous job as a Nat Strat consultant I spent some time in primaries running science training sessions. I was always amazed by how receptive the primary staff were to training, even at the end of a long teaching day. I particularly remember one occasion when I suggested ways other than writing for pupils to present their results including videos and songs. I showed an example of a song about a force investigation written by some year 5 pupils to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and they all spontaneously burst into song!
I learned that primary schools, on the whole do not have brilliant science resources. The budget is tight and science equipment can be expensive. I do not claim to be any kind of primary science teaching expert, but here are a few ideas for experiments you can try in the primary setting that are not resource-heavy:
There is lots of scope for investigation here and most primary schools will have a reasonable supply of balls. Younger children could design an experiment using various types of balls: Do big balls bounce higher than small balls? How high does a ball bounce if I drop it from different heights? (Some health and safety considerations here). One of the best I’ve seen was a teacher who had a football and a tennis ball and asked students to predict what would happen if she dropped them together as shown:
There is even a ‘Bang goes the Theory’ clip of this, so it MUST be real science! (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bang/handson/twoballbounce.shtml). Yes, there is an explanation on this site about momentum, but you can just say ‘the big ball acts like a trampoline’
Equipment that is good for these experiments include brown and white sugar lumps, takeaway food containers (any excuse eh?) and disposable cups. Next time you’re in a gym or a hotel with disposable cups, look for ones that have the ridges on them as they mean you can use them for ‘measuring’ the same volume of water each time.
Again, pupils can come up with testable questions, such as: Does stirring speed up dissolving? Does a brown sugar lump dissolve faster than a white sugar lump? Does sugar dissolve faster in warm water than cold water?
The takeaway containers are good for a demonstration to encourage students to observe carefully. Fill the container about three quarters full with tap water and carefully place a white sugar lump at one end and a brown sugar lump at the other. Leave the container undisturbed and watch what happens.
A Cartesian Diver (Straw submarine)
Again, this one is very well explained on the Bang goes the Theory site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bang/handson/straw_submarine.shtml and can be made using a straw and plasticine; a pen lid http://www.sciencebob.com/experiments/cartesian.php) or even a ketchup sachet (http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Cartesian-Diver-with-a-Ketchup-Packet).
These can be used to investigate attraction and repulsion by asking pupils to find out which letters they can and can’t make using these marbles.
Eat a slice of bread for Homework
A simple experiment pupils can try at home. Ask them to chew a piece of bread for as long as possible before swallowing it and come back in the next day to describe what they noticed. This is explained here: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/kitchenscience/exp/white-bread-and-the-wonder-of-enzymes/