A science education lecturer at Leeds Trinity University has supported the development of a new learning facility to encourage primary school children to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in later years.
Dr Leigh Hoath led a team of primary school teachers in a pilot study to support chemical company, BASF plc, to develop ScienceXperience; a children's experimental lab at the company's production site in Alfreton, Derbyshire.
The facility, which was officially opened this week by Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills, has been developed in-line with the National Curriculum and offers primary school children the opportunity to investigate and experiment with some of the products on site and see the role chemistry plays in everyday life.
Dr Hoath, Senior Lecturer in Science Education at Leeds Trinity University, said: "Research shows that if children are not engaged with science by the age of 11, they will not see it as being 'for them' and are less likely to take it up post-16. This project is aimed at pupils in years 5 and 6, in the hope there will be a hook that lets them see that science is for them, and that it's a very real, possible, career option."
Nick Maybury, BASF plc Alfreton Site Manager, said: "We are proud and excited to be part of this important initiative; introducing young children to the amazing world of science. If we manage to inspire just a few young people to aim towards a career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths we will have succeeded! This is a very exciting and rewarding venture for our site."
60 students from Forest View Academy in New Ollerton, Derbyshire, were the first to take part in ScienceXperience, taking part in activities to reduce the noise of a sound source (using the polyurethane sound insulation made on site), making slime to discuss the properties of solids and liquids and demonstrating chemical reactions during their visit.
Rachael McIlwrath, class teacher and science lead at Forest View Academy, said: "The STEM experiments gave children the hands-on experience to be able to understand what BASF do and how interesting science is. The children's perception of Scientists changed dramatically and inspired children of all abilities.
"The staff were well prepared and experienced at delivering subject knowledge at the right level. The children were so excited they even told their parents about the trip and parents returned to say how the children were clearly inspired and aspirational about their experience."
Before arriving on site, the children were asked to draw what they think a Scientist looks like, and at the end of the visit they reconsider their perceptions.
"The before and after Scientist picture epitomises all that I could have hoped for with this project," added Dr Hoath. "We've worked exceptionally hard over the last few months so to see the hard work come to fruition, when the first group of 62 schoolchildren were on site this week was an incredible feeling."
In order to make the experience as child-led as possible, Dr Hoath and her team have also supported BASF employees to deliver the programme effectively. They have delivered training to BASF staff in common teaching approaches such as: how to engage children in communicating their thinking; engaging in meaningful discussion; and explaining why they reach the conclusions they do, rather than simply finding the right answer.
"It is supported by BASF employees but underpinned by educational principles," added Dr Hoath. "The children undertake a series of enquiry-based activities which support the 'working scientifically' aspect of the National Curriculum - an area which the group of teachers felt less confident in teaching."
Following the successful development of ScienceXperience, it is anticipated that the programme will be developed across other BASF sites within the UK.
For more information, please contact Dr Leigh Hoath at Leeds Trinity University -email@example.com or Dr Geoff Mackay at BASF plc -firstname.lastname@example.org.
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