Monday, May 18, 2020

Sustainable Stories: Which washing powder?

This month’s blog is brought to you by Clare Docking, one of our advisory teachers who works with industry and schools in the East of England.

I love sharing this activity with our partner schools. children really enjoy getting stuck into cleaning the stains off fabrics using different washing products whilst at the same time improving their investigation skills.  The activity lends itself to being run with a small number of children in a mixed aged classroom – something that is a reality for many teachers at the moment.  Children can also work outdoors if the weather is fine.

Getting Ready

As the free resource explains, the only kit you will need is readily available household equipment.  Asking children to bring small samples of different washing powder, liquid or gels from home will give you a selection to compare without any unnecessary shopping trips.  You could also include the children in the preparation by working with them to produce the stained fabric ready to test.

Full details of the activity can be found in our free publication and incudes teachers’ notes, children’s activity sheets and national curriculum links.

Planning the investigation

I have found that the interactive planning tool  is a great way for children to organise their thoughts as they plan how they are going to carry out their investigation.  If children haven’t used one before, work with them to show them how they can use it to record all of the possible variables and to decide what they are going to measure and what they are going to keep the same.  They may find this easier to do if they have the opportunity to ‘have a play’ with the materials first and therefore begin to formulate their ideas about which product they think might be the most effective.  They can then decide how they can prove that their hypothesis is right!  With this in mind, make sure that you have plenty of spare stained cloths and washing product so that you still have enough left when you begin the main investigation.

Instead of using the interactive planning tool you may choose to use the post-it planning template which is provided with the resource.  This will be particularly useful if you are working outdoors.

Sharing results

In my experience children can be just as engaged when it comes to sharing their results as they are when carrying out the main activity.  Two approaches that I have seen used effectively are asking children to write to the manufacturer to advise them of their findings and writing an advertisement extolling the virtues of the most effective product.  I find that children love using phrases such as ‘Scientists found that XXX was more effective at xxx than the brand leader’ knowing that they are the scientists that carried out the test!

Perhaps children could shoot a TV commercial to explain to consumers why they think that they should buy a particular product?

I usually round off the session with our PowerPoint presentation showing the children how the scientists at one company have been able to produce a more environmentally friendly washing product. It protects fabrics from damage and prevents colours from fading during washing.  This will help children to understand that science can help us to tackle environmental problems and that science could be a worthwhile career choice for themselves in the future.

Visit  our IndusTRY AT HOME page to find a version of this activity that can be shared directly with families

Monday, March 30, 2020

Fantastic Fungi

Here, at CIEC we have decided to temporarily change the focus of our blog, from supporting teachers to teach the primary science curriculum, to supporting parents with some educational, and also enjoyable, activities to do with their children.  To kick off we are celebrating a new online publication that we launched in January.

You can also find this activity in this year’s British Science Week activity pack (Primary Activity Pack, p.23).  The activity encourages children to grow mushrooms as a sustainable source of protein.  With the correct kit, which is readily available online this is an easy activity to do at home (although, you need to remember, when accepting a delivery, that covid-19 microbes might be present on any outer packaging and remove this as soon as possible).  The activity was taken from our online resource Sustainable stories which is available to download from our website.

It was written in conjunction with a British food company, Quorn, who produce a high protein meat substitute, of the same name, from a type of fungus.   The activity aims to help children to understand that food can come from a variety of sources including animals, plants and fungi.  Also, to think about the impact that different food sources have upon the planet in terms of the resources (such as land and water) that they use.
The activity has lots of great learning opportunities. Don’t try to create a school learning environment at home as you and your child adjust to the ‘new normal’. Informal activities can lead to just as much learning in the long run.

Follow the instructions included in the kit. Mushrooms grow quickly, so this makes a great project for children to practise the skill of ‘observation over time’.  Talk with your child about the changes that they notice from day to day, perhaps including measurements as well as other aspects of the growing mushrooms’ appearance.    If children want to, this could be an opportunity to make a graph or to keep a diary (which could include drawings).  However, if you spend time encouraging children to talk about what they see, plenty of learning will take place even if nothing is recorded.  Children might also choose other ways to record what they see by taking photographs or by using an app such as PicCollage or maybe by making a time lapse or other video recording.
 An adult encourages a child to notice the changes in a growing plant

Another learning opportunity provided by growing mushrooms would be to think about the food that humans need to stay healthy.  Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients and can be cheaply and locally grown.  As long as you follow strict hygiene procedures these mushrooms will be suitable for cooking and eating which would be another worthwhile activity to share with your child.  However, do make sure that they understand that many fungi are extremely poisonous; not only would it be dangerous to eat them it is important to wash hands after handling them

Did you know…?
Fungus is not a plant or an animal but belongs to a completely different family of organisms. This family includes tiny fungi like yeast (which are used to make bread and beer), poisonous fungi (such as the red and white spotty fly agaric) and tasty treats such as oyster and chestnut mushrooms.  

Did you find this blog helpful?  Please leave a comment if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions for what you would like covered in future blog posts.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sustainable materials: which metal?

Full details of the activity can be found in the new CIEC publication 'Sustainable Stories and Solutions for our Planet' which can be downloaded from

Sustainable materials – which metal?

In this activity you will investigate how some metals rust when exposed to oxygen in the air and water. You will learn about some metals that do not change, corrode or rust easily and so have special uses, particularly in reducing gas emissions on highly polluted roads.

It would be a wonderful way to teach the ‘Properties and changes of materials’ strand of the science curriculum for Year 5, with a particular focus on how some changes result in the formation of new materials that is not usually reversible.

The Activity: 
·         Carry out a ‘rust hunt’ to observe how some metals change colour and become weaker (corrode) when they react to substances in the environment.
 ·         Investigate which metals rust by placing everyday metal objects in saucers of shallow water. Over several days, observe which objects start to show signs of rust and which do not. Steel wool pads can be used to test for signs of rusting.
·         Begin to form conclusions about which metals rust and what causes this to happen. You could use a magnet to identify metal items that contain iron or steel.

·         Think of your own ‘rusting’ enquiry questions, such as: can iron or steel rust when there is no water? Does salt speed up rusting? Can I prevent rusting? Plan and carry out your investigation; you can ask for extra ‘kit’ if you need it.

Results from rusting activity using a steel wool pad left for two days in different liquids.

·         Research how some metals, such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium, are unique because they do not react easily, change or corrode. These ‘precious metals’ are often used to make jewellery as well as catalysts which are fitted to car exhaust systems to turn harmful gases produced in the engine into safe gases. 

Links to the National Curriculum
Y5 Properties and changes of materials:

  • explain that some changes result in the formation of new materials, and that this kind of change is not usually reversible, including changes associated with burning and the action of acid on bicarbonate of soda.

Working scientifically:
  • planning different types of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variables where necessary
  • recording data and results of increasing complexity using scientific diagrams and labels, classification keys, tables, scatter graphs, bar and line graphs 
  • reporting and presenting findings from enquiries, including conclusions, causal relationships and explanations of and degree of trust in results, in oral and written forms such as displays and other presentations  

Monday, November 11, 2019

Cough Syrup: Thinking like a scientist

Full details of the activity can be found in the CIEC publication 'Cough Syrup' which can be downloaded from

This publication contains lots of opportunities for children to think and work like a scientist and learn about the different stages in the production of a new medicine. It would be a wonderful way to teach the ‘Properties and changes of materials’ strand of the science curriculum for Year 5, and then extend the topic as well as the full range of enquiry skills with Year 6.  Teachers may choose to approach this lesson in two different ways.  Children can follow fairly prescriptive instructions which give teachers the opportunity to teach and assess skills such as measuring and graphing and the importance of repeat measurements.  Alternatively, teachers can teach and assess children’s skills to plan, carry out and evaluate a fair test by offering children the opportunity to devise and carry out their own investigation.

The Activity: Filtration
  • In the lesson prior to this, children investigate the most effective method of producing the active ingredient for a new cough syrup. They test different conditions for growing yeast.
  • In this activity, children are reminded that the active ingredient is a micro-organism which is living in a liquid (growth solution) and they are challenged to suggest ways of getting the active ingredient out of the liquid. 
  • After a class discussion about different methods, children think about how to test different materials as filters. They use a mixture of flour and water to represent the micro-organism and growth solution. 
  • Groups might work together to devise a fair test. If using this approach they may find the interactive planning tool a useful resource.  Alternatively, each group could be asked to test four different materials to find the most effective filter. In this case, they should place their first chosen material in a funnel or upturned bottle and hold it over a beaker to collect the water. They should stir and then pour 100ml of their flour and water suspension through the filter and time how long it takes to collect 50ml of the liquid that comes through. 
  • If following instructions, children should repeat this for each of the filters, mixing a new suspension each time. 
  • Throughout the investigation, children would then compare the times taken as well as the clarity of the filtrate. This may be done by straightforward observation or by placing the filtrate in front of a dark background, shining torch light through the liquid and placing them in order of clarity. Light sensors may also be used for increased accuracy and to produce quantifiable results that can be presented in a bar chart or, if comparing time and clarity, a scatter graph. 
  • If children have devised their own test, do not be afraid to let them spend time on activities that you know will not work. Also, allow plenty of time at the end of the lesson to discuss and evaluate the methods that they chose.  This allows for much deeper learning than if they are guided towards a more ‘successful’ test in the first instance.
  • The results of the filtration tests should be reported back to a real or fictitious medicine company and suggestions made about how the active ingredient can be extracted from the filtrate. 
Year 5 children carrying out the filtration activity.

Links to the National Curriculum
Y5 Properties and changes of materials:
  • use knowledge of solids, liquids and gases to decide how mixtures might be separated, including through filtering and sieving
  • demonstrate that dissolving, mixing and changes of state are reversible
Working scientifically:
  • planning different kinds of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variable where necessary.
  • taking measurements, using a range of scientific equipment, with increasing accuracy and precision
  • recording data and results of increasing complexity using scientific diagrams and tables
  • reporting and presenting findings from enquiries, including conclusions, in oral and written forms

Monday, October 14, 2019

CIEC Role Badges - Promoting Teamwork and Roles from the World of Work

Introducing Role Badges
This week we are featuring our very popular resource - Role Badges. These can be used in any science lesson, and as an advisory teacher for our Children Challenging Industry (CCI) programme, I’d like to share with you my own experience of using them in schools.
While carrying out a CCI science activity, children are given the opportunity to work in small ‘companies’. Each child chooses a role within the group, for example,  Health and Safety Manager or Resources Manager. The children wear a lanyard with a badge showing their role within their ‘company’.
There are five role badges - Health and Safety Manager, Communications Officer, Resources Manager, Administration Officer, and Personnel Manager

The Role Badges provide an excellent opportunity for the children to focus on working cooperatively as a team, whilst highlighting real jobs from the world of industry. The roles can be swapped each lesson so that the children can experience different tasks. Pupils enthusiastically enter into these roles and the badges add an extra buzz of excitement to the lesson!
Children at a school in the North East of England
So How Do The Badges Work In Practice?
Each badge carries a set of responsibilities which are outlined in the resource information. Once the badges are explained the children very eagerly assume their roles.
We strongly encourage teachers to carry out science in groups of four, and provide the fifth role badge purely for classes where the occasional group of five is required. Otherwise, the responsibilities of the Administration Officer are merged with those of the Communication Officer.
The Personnel Manager is responsible for eliminating any disputes within the group and ensuring the team works cooperatively.  Great for developing teamwork skills.
A particularly popular badge is that of Resources Manager. The pupil who is assigned this role is solely in charge of collecting and returning all the resources needed.   This promotes independent working as the children select their own resources.
The Communications Officer elicits the group’s ideas and responses and reports back to the rest of the class whilst the Administration Officer is responsible for keeping pictorial or written records during the activity, e.g. predictions, tables of results, lists of resources, diagrams, conclusions or evaluations for the group.
Lastly, we must not forget to mention the all-important Health and Safety Manager who is responsible for overseeing the safety of the group and assessing any risk involved in practical activities. The pupils are interested to hear that in every UK company today, the Health and Safety Officer is a vital role! Another great topic for discussion.
The badges reflect the CCI programme’s emphasis on careers in industry and prompt the children to begin considering work roles before they encounter ambassadors from industry, or if they are lucky, meet adults on visits to the workplace - as we are able to offer through CCI.
A CCI ambassador, Stephanie Udeogu from Johnson Matthey, talks to a group of children about her role in industry.
An Excellent Tool for Classroom Organisation and Confidence Building and Teamwork
The Role Badges aid classroom organisation by ensuring classroom areas don’t become overcrowded as only a few children need to move around to get the resources they need.  There are nominated people in each group to feedback and record, which ensures a smooth lesson.  
Children can sometimes initially lack confidence when assuming a role but often rise to the challenge and discover that they can do something new.   Prompting each other about their roles enables heightened interaction and promotes good teamwork. Children develop social skills when working in their roles in all sorts of unexpected ways, for example, learning to be less ‘bossy’ or more encouraging,  learning to support others in their roles if they need it, sharing and making decisions. They enjoy the feeling of being given an adult role and feel empowered by it. The badges foster independent work and develop organisational skills.
As one expert testifies: "I have been using the CCI role badges for many years and they are a brilliant way to organise practical science lessons. The children often remind each other of when it is their turn to respond or collect equipment or record some important information. The personnel manager is a fantastic way to ensure teamwork such as turn-taking, sharing and working together." Nicola Waller, CCI Advisory Teacher.

Full details of the role badges are available in the CIEC Primary Resources section which can be downloaded from

Monday, June 10, 2019

CIEC resources in action

Jenny Martin shares her expertise with children from Challoner Primary School
This month we feature a guest post from Chartered Chemical Engineer Jenny Martin.

As a chartered chemical engineer who moved into “semi retirement” (otherwise known as “maternity leave”) many years ago, I have made it my mission to spread the wonders of science to all young minds who cross my path.  I have been working as a childminder and volunteering at several local schools so the young minds available to me have been many!

Several years ago, I discovered “Children Challenging Industry” while it was being presented to the Year 6 pupils at my local primary school.  I delved into the bank of resources available on their website and have continued to do so at regular intervals ever since.

I have used the “Tidy and Sort” resources with groups of Reception/Year 1/2 children.  The resources were clear and simple to follow; the story book being a great visual guide to set the scene and start the children thinking.

The front cover of the Tidy and Sort resource that Jenny has used with EYFS and  KS1 chidlren to 'get them thinking'.

While teaching States of Matter to a group of Year3/4 children, I used the “Whip or Squirt?” test from the Kitchen Concoctions resource pack.  This was an excellent experiment comparing dairy cream and artificial cream.  It encouraged some great discussions and ideas for recording their results.

Learning about states of matter using the whipped cream activity from the CIEC resource Kitchen Concoctions.
 I am currently working with a group of four Year 5 “Science Ambassadors” to help them deliver science activities across the whole school.  So far they have led States of Matter themed experiments with Years 3, 4 and 5 classes and all involved seem to be enjoying themselves.

A Year 5 science ambassador shares his enthusiasm for science with some younger children.

It is so rewarding when the children rush up to me in the playground to ask when I am coming back into school to do more science.  Historically, science has been perceived as the “boring” or “hard” subject, it is great to see the tide turning and it now being promoted to the fun topic it so rightly deserves!
Mission accomplished!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Science of Healthy Skin: Investigating what happens when oil is added to water

Full details of the activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Science of Healthy Skin’ which can be downloaded from:
Based upon the extraction of lanolin from wool grease, the activities in this resource include testing immiscible liquids using oil and water and investigating the effects of adding detergent to produce emulsions which in turn reduce the efficiency of the separation of oil from water.

The Activity: Fleece to Grease


  • 300 ml water
  • 300 ml sunflower oil
  • 50 ml clear water - sample A
  • 50ml clear glycerine - sample B
  • 50 ml clear detergent - sample C
  • 50 ml white vinegar - sample D
  • 4 clear plastic mini pop bottles or lidded containers around 30ml per group of 4 children
  • Pipette x 1 for each child
  • Teaspoon or similar for stirring
  • 100 ml measuring cylinder 


  • To describe changes that occur when materials are mixed
  • To make systematic observations and measurements
  • To know that that some liquids do not mix, can be separated easily and are termed ‘immiscible’
  • To observe that detergent can cause immiscible liquids to mix, producing an emulsion

What happens when oil is added to water?

Each child in the team of 4 to pour 10ml of water and 10ml of oil into one of the containers.
Ask them to wait for 1 minute to see what happens to the oil and water.
Tip the containers upside down four times and ask the children .....
  • Did the oil and water mix?
  • Did shaking make the liquids mix?
  • Why do you think this happened?

The oil and mixture quickly separate when they are on their own.  But will adding any of the other ingredients make a difference?

Investigate whether adding sample A, B, C or D affects the separation of water and oil.

Using the pipette, add 10 drops of sample A to one of the bottles, 10 drops of sample, B to another bottle and 10 drops of samples C and D to the other two bottles.
Ask children to observe how long it takes for the oil and water to separate after 4 shakes.
Ask them to consider how they will record their observations.

Health and Safety
Remind the children not to drink their samples.

  • planning different types of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variables where necessary
  • Taking measurements, using a range of scientific equipment, with increasing accuracy and precision, taking repeat readings when appropriate
  • Use observations, measurements or other data to draw conclusions

Subject Knowledge

Learning Objectives
  • Know that changes occur when materials are mixed and some of these are reversible