Supporting science

Written by: HTU | Published:

The National STEM Centre offers a wealth of CPD support and free resources for primary science teachers and co-ordinators. Yvonne Baker explains

As we all know, excellent teaching lies at the heart of excellent schools. Teachers not only motivate and inspire; they also lay the groundwork for pupils to lead successful lives in an increasingly complex and technological world.

Evidence shows that access to high quality CPD and working with a senior leadership team that understands and supports this, can be a key factor in motivating teachers to stay within the profession and developing their careers.

So what is good CPD? Evidence shows that CPD is most effective when it matches the needs of the teacher, pupils and school and encompasses a varied spectrum of support – ranging from workshops targeted at specific skills, knowledge, advice and guidance and bespoke in-school sessions through to peer-to-peer support, formation of school clusters, coaching and mentoring and many things in between.

Good CPD is based on evidence – evidence about what makes effective teaching and learning, evidence about CPD itself and evidence about the subjects being taught. In fast-moving subjects such as science, it also gives teachers plenty of opportunity to engage with new developments and areas of knowledge, as well as helping them refresh, and where appropriate, challenge their existing understanding.

It should also be practical – giving teachers opportunities to practise what they have learnt, reflect on it and discuss with others, therefore embedding new knowledge and skills.

Supporting teachers in science is a particular priority and an area of fast-moving developments in the UK, both at secondary and increasingly primary levels. A Royal Society report in 2010 (Science and Mathematics Education) highlighted what it considered to be three particularly important issues to consider in terms of science teaching in primary education:

• Attitudes towards science form at a very early age and can become less positive as pupils progress through primary school. By increasing teachers’ own scientific knowledge, pupils can be exposed to a wider range of scientific activities and this can be seen to increase their engagement.

• Children’s ideas about the natural world are formed in their early years and if these ideas are not based on robust scientific understanding, they can slow pupils’ learning as they progress.

• Pupils’ understanding in science develops through the use of enquiry skills. These skills determine the ideas that children develop as they explore the natural world. Early, positive experience of developing and using such skills contributes to their understanding of how science works – an important building block for their rest of their science education.

It is therefore vital that those teaching science to young children have access to appropriate professional development which helps them develop their own knowledge and skills.

This is important for everyone, but particularly so at primary level where many teachers may themselves lack confidence in science, perhaps through a less than ideal experience of science education themselves.

This is where the network of Science Learning Centres and the National STEM Centre can help. The Science Learning Centres are there to provide all teachers and schools with access to high quality, affordable professional development in science – be it primary science co-ordinators or primary teachers wanting to update their own knowledge and skills. The Science Learning Centres work extensively with individual schools and with clusters of schools, providing bespoke guidance and support, but with everything grounded in up-to-date science and education research.

The National STEM Centre is also there to help. With more than 4,000 resources available free of charge on the eLibrary and many more available in our physical resource centre at York, teachers can find support across all phases and subject areas. And the National STEM Centre works closely with other sources of support, including the scientific societies, the British Science Association, STEMNET and others to ensure that teachers, schools and colleges can easily access the best support for them.

While there is a cost for the Science Learning Centre support, if you are from a state-funded school or college, you are eligible to apply for financial support from either the ENTHUSE Charitable Trust (if one of your teachers is participating in a course or activity run by the National Science Learning Centre) or an Impact Award (for selected activities run through the regional Science Learning Centres). In terms of the National STEM Centre, access to support is free of charge – all you need to do is register on the website.

The ENTHUSE Awards are supported by a unique partnership including the Wellcome Trust, the Department for Education and seven of the UK’s largest companies, all of whom want to help schools and teachers in a practical way to make science education great, and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation supports the National STEM Centre for exactly the same reason.

I come into contact with many teachers who have benefited from working with the Science Learning Centres and using the National STEM Centre and, more than anything, I am struck by the way it enthuses them and they radiate new confidence and excitement about science.

More information can be found online about both the Science Learning Centres and the National STEM Centre.

• Yvonne Baker is chief executive of Myscience, which manages the national network of Science Learning Centres, the National STEM Centre and other programmes supporting STEM education.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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