Thursday, October 25, 2018

Oil for Beginners

Full details of the activities can be found in the CIEC resource 'Oil for Beginners' which can be downloaded from

The activities in this resource tell a simple story of oil, beginning with its recovery from beneath the sea bed, to its uses. The activities ‘Hard or soft?’ and ‘Making Holes’ would provide a real-life context to teach the materials strand of the science curriculum for Year 1 and Year 2, with excellent links to design and technology.      

The Activity: Hard or soft?
  • Children are asked to discuss the meanings of the words 'soft' and 'hard' and are then provided with a range of common materials, such as sponge, rubber, clay, soil, sand, cardboard, stone, cardboard etc to help extend their discussion further.
  • Children are challenged to sort the objects into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ categories and encouraged to suggest ‘tests’ that might help them with their classification, such as scratching each object with a finger nail.
  • Confusion of categories will be addressed through further discussion and clarification. Young children often confuse properties such as ‘softness’ with ‘flexibility’ or ‘smoothness’.
  • During the activity, there are plenty of opportunities to think and talk about things, such as: How will you sort things which are soft or hard? • Why are some things soft? • Why are some things hard? • What do we use soft things for? • What do we use hard things for?
  • Children will consolidate their learning by exploring hard and soft materials in the classroom. They could sort items into P.E. hoops and learn to place items with both properties in the intersection of hoops.

The Activity: Making holes
  • Children learn that underneath the soft sand of the sea bed there is hard rock. This hard rock must be drilled through in order to reach the oil.

This image shows a 'Derrickhand' handling the upper end of a series of connected pipes as it is hoisted out or lowered into the hole.
  • Children will then use their knowledge about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ properties to explore the effectiveness of a variety of tools (nail and hammer, scissors, junior drill, pencil, hole punch etc) to make holes in different materials.
  • Children investigate making holes in each material provided, using their suggested methods. They should decide which methods children can be attempted safely, and which methods need adult supervision.
  • Children can further their understanding of classification of objects and materials according to their properties by suggesting which tool is the 'best' for making holes in each material and why.
  • During the activity, there are plenty of opportunities to talk and think about things, such as: Which tool could make holes in the most materials? Why? • Which tool could make the least holes? Why? • Which tools were made from hard materials? • What do you think you would need to make holes in bricks or rocks?
Activity sheet 7 can be used as both prediction and recording sheet.
     Links to the National Curriculum for Science:
Y1: Everyday materials
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Y2: Uses of everyday materials:
  • identify and compare the suitability of a variety of everyday materials, including wood, metal, plastic, glass, brick, rock, paper and cardboard for particular uses
  • find out how the shapes of solid objects made from some materials can be changed by squashing, bending, twisting and stretching

Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions


Key Stage 1

  • select from and use a range of tools and equipment to perform practical tasks [for example, cutting, shaping, joining and finishing]
  • select from and use a wide range of materials and components, including construction materials, textiles and ingredients, according to their characteristics

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tidy and Sort: Investigating the properties of materials

Full details of the activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Tidy and Sort' which can be downloaded from
This resource contains lots of ideas for separating different mixtures of materials from each other.  It would be a wonderful way to teach the materials strand of the science curriculum for Y1 or to introduce and then extend the topic with Y2s.

The Activity: Sorting Materials
  • Children are given a series of problems to solve including separating paper clips from stamps, Lego from marbles and rice from sand.
  • They are supported to consider how the different properties of the materials including their size, shape and whether they are magnetic, can all be used to make the job of separating materials much easier than laboriously separating them out by hand.
The resource has some lovely illustrations, in the form of a story book, which can be used as a starting point for children's explorations.
  • The activities also give children the opportunity to select and use a variety of scientific equipment.

  • There are a series of challenges of increasing complexity so that by the end children are invited to consider how they could separate the impurities from muddy water.

Cards to support children's thinking and planning
  • Although ideas are given for ways to separate the different mixtures we would encourage teachers to give children enough time to find their own solutions.  This may include introducing a problem one day and going back to it later once children have had a chance to think about it.  
  • A nice way to do this is to set up a hands on display in the classroom that children can return to as they have fresh ideas.  Don't make the mistake of providing too much equipment straight away; it 'kinda' gives the game away if you leave a magnet next to the box of stamps and paper clips!
  • Having given the children plenty of time to consider the problems you are more likely to see a wider range of creative solutions than if they are expected to solve the problem on the day that they first encounter it.
Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pencils, Poems and Princesses; Exploring the properties of sand

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Pencils, Poems and Princesses' which can be downloaded from

The activity can be found on page 45 and is linked to the Shirley Hughes book 'Out and About'.  This is a poetry book which celebrates the seasons, the weather and the joy of exploring a variety of materials including mud, sand and water. There are opportunities to make links with EYFS Understanding the world, Mathematics and Characteristics of effective learning and Y1 Mathematics and working scientifically.  More details can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Activity: Making Sandcastles

  • Children are given some dry sand and water and encouraged to experiment to find the consistency which makes the best sandcastles.  This gives lots of opportunities to use language such as more, less, too much and not enough as well as to describe the different mixtures. 
  • Children can also be encouraged to notice how the properties of sand alters; when it is dry it flows like water, but once wet it begins to behave more like a solid.  They could also be shown how to use a hand lens to look carefully at the sand and to notice that it is made up of tiny particles. 

All of the poems in this beautifully illustrated book could be used to teach Early Years and KS1 science as they follow two small children through the changing seasons.

  • The activity could link well with Y1 maths if children are encouraged to count how many cups of water and sand are needed to make the perfect sandcastle.  However, I would urge teachers not to rush to start measuring and recording the quantities needed too soon.  Instead, allow a period of extended exploration and play.   
  • Interestingly this is an activity that I have done with a wide range of ages from nursery children to PhD students and the only people who made any attempt to begin the activity by accurately measuring the ingredients were primary school teachers!
  • The activity can easily be sized up or down.  Children might enjoy making enough sandcastle mixture to make 'giant castles' with a builders' bucket in the outside sandpit.  Alternatively, they could make 'fairy castles' with shot glasses, teaspoons and pipettes in trays indoors.  

Suggested equipment:
Dry sand, water, buckets in various shapes and sizes, smaller containers such as shot glasses and plastic beakers, spoons, spades, pipettes

   Links to the Statutory framework for EYFS:

Areas of learning and development
  • Understanding the World
  • Mathematics

Characteristics of Effective Learning

  • Playing and Exploring
  • Active Learning
  • Creating and Thinking Critically

   Links to the National Curriculum:

Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Monday, September 10, 2018

Making Toothpaste

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Healthy drinks and tasty toothpaste' which can be downloaded from

This is a series of two lessons taken from ‘Healthy Drinks and Tasty Toothpaste’.  In the first children are supported to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of some commercial toothpastes.  In the second, children use a recipe to make their own toothpaste.  
The activities primarily link to content knowledge in the Y4 curriculum for Animal including humans, but can also be linked to Y2 Animals including humans.  There are also plenty of opportunities for working scientifically (more details of curriculum links at the bottom of this post).

The Activity: 'Making toothpaste': 
  •  Children evaluate some commercial toothpastes, for example by comparing how well they stick to a toothbrush in a 'shake test', how long they take to clean some permanent marker from a tile and also taking into account aesthetic considerations such as smell, taste and appearance.

Testing homemade toothpaste to see how effective it is at cleaning permanent marker from a tile (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

  • Next, children are given a recipe so that they can make their own toothpaste which they then evaluate in exactly the same way.

Recipes for making toothpaste (the full instructions can be found in the resource).

This activity has lots of opportunities for cross-curricular links.  Julie’s class designed toothpaste cartons and advertising slogans for the toothpaste that they made. (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

Suggested equipment:
As well as the equipment and ingredients listed in the illustration above you will need the instructions for making toothpaste from pages 35 and 37 of the resource, at least one plain white tile per group, a permanent marker pen,  three different types/brands of commercial toothpaste (try and find ones that are distinctive from each other such as paste or gel, different colours and different functions such as whitening, for sensitive teeth etc.), and two toothbrushes per group of children.
Health and Safety
  • Children should wear goggles during some of these activities to prevent toothpaste getting in the eyes.
  • Be aware that recipe B, which includes gelatine, would not be suitable for vegetarian children.  You will also need to be aware of the source of the gelatine as, depending upon the religious beliefs of families in your class, you may need to avoid any that has been produced from pigs or cows.

Links to the National Curriculum:
   Y4 and Y2: Animals including humans

  • (Y4) identify the different types of teeth in humans and their simple functions 
  • (Y4) find out what damages teeth and how to look after them
  • (Y2) describe the importance for humans of .... hygiene
  • (Y2) ask questions about what humans need to stay healthy

Working Scientifically 
  • use results to draw simple conclusions
  • use scientific evidence to answer questions
  • report on findings from enquiries, including oral and written explanations, displays or presentations

Friday, August 17, 2018

Runny Liquids: testing viscosity

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Runny Liquids' which can be downloaded from

In this activity children think about how the viscosity of a liquid affects its properties, and how this can be important for scientists in industry when they are creating different products.  The activities link strongly with the content knowledge for Year 5 'Materials' and there are also ample opportunities for working scientifically.  There are more details of curriculum links at the bottom of this post.

The Activity 'Runny Measuring': 
  • Children are given a selection of liquids to explore.  They are encouraged to predict which is the thickest and which is the thinnest.
Sheet for children to record their predictions of the comparative viscosity of various liquids
  • After talking about how scientists need to collect data children are invited to devise a way to test their predictions and to measure the relative viscosity of the liquids that they have been given. There are several suggestions for possible tests in the resource.
Children from Greengates School Stockton on Tees measuring the viscosity of a liquid.

  • Children are then supported to evaluate their own test, to consider how effective it was, whether it was fair, and whether it was accurate enough.  They are given time to refine their test and then to present their findings as clearly as possible.
Table for children to record their results

Suggested equipment:

 A range of liquids of varying viscosities (e.g. washing up liquid, mouthwash, conditioner), measuring cylinders, funnels, marbles, small beakers or yoghurt pots, paint trays, pipettes, syringes or spoons, lolly sticks, timers

Further Explorations:
  • What would happen if we poured the different liquids on top of each other? Would they mix up? Which liquid would sink to the bottom? 
  • Children could use their understanding of viscosity to explore if runniness is related to density by making their own density columns.

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

  • compare and group together everyday materials on the basis of their properties
  • give reasons for the particular use of everyday materials
  • find out how chemists create new materials
Working scientifically
  • Design a fair test 
  • Make systematic observations
  • Take accurate measurements
  • Recording data
  • Look for patterns

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Exciting children about science; promoting industry for a secure future

Pupils from the North East have recently taken part in a Children Challenging Industry Celebration Event.
Children from four primary schools in Tees Valley and County Durham collaborated with industrialists from across the North East to help CIEC, celebrate it's highly successful outreach programme, Children Challenging Industry (CCI).
The celebration event was held at the Wilton Centre, Redcar. A wide range of demonstrations, exhibitions and talks showed how CCI has helped hundreds of primary school pupils, along with their teachers, to learn at close quarters about science based industries.

Children who have been involved in the CCI programme share their experiences with the audience at the Wilton Centre Redcar

Over the years, the CIEC team have worked with over sixty companies in the North East to ensure children receive balanced messages about the region’s industry and related careers. Over 45,000 children have been involved in this substantial project involving practical science work in school and a visit to a local site. This leads to greater understanding and more positive attitudes in children and their teachers. 

Philip Aldridge emphasised what a valuable part CCI played in shaping children's attitudes to industry and how important it was that industry continued to support the programme 
Over 80 attendees from past, present and potential future participants came together to celebrate the successful impact of this great initiative. Children and teachers from Newham Bridge Primary School in Middlesbrough, Bewley Primary School in Stockton, Chaloner Primary School in Guisborough and Heighington CE Primary School in Newton Aycliffe demonstrated recent practicals from CCI sessions.    

Staff from Fujifilm share their positive experiences of working with CCI
 Micropore Technologies, CPI and Fujifilm Diosynth, who host regular visits, also displayed what happens on the actual visits and talked about the benefits of being involved with CCI. 

Dai Hayward from Micropore Technologies spoke about the origins and background of the programme and the need for sponsors and donors to come forward to help us ensure its continuation and expansion.

 Information about Children Challenging Industry is available from or 01904 322 523.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Six goals to England; let’s celebrate turf!

England is celebrating Harry Kane’s hat trick and England’s 6-1 defeat of Panama

While England celebrates Harry Kane’s hat trick and England’s 6-1 defeat of Panama have you ever stopped to wonder about the role of turf in the game of football?  The vast majority of games still take place on grass, a plant so humble that it sometimes seems to have been assigned the role of honorary artificial surface on a par with asphalt, concrete and tarmac. Indeed, many children need reminding that grass is a plant at all!

This free CIEC resource consists of three investigations into the best ways to grow grass.  By the end of it children will understand that more than being just a plant, grass is a whole family of plants which look different from each other and have different qualities and that not all would be suitable for a football pitch.  The grass needed for a bowling green would not be hard wearing enough for example.

Children will understand that more than being just a plant, grass is a whole family of grasses which look different from each other and have different qualities

There are also lots of opportunities for working scientifically including planning fair tests and observations over time.  For example, in one activity children are asked investigate the effects of different drinks that are often spilled on grass in a range of municipal situations.  They are then invited to predict and compare the effect on grass of watering with a range of liquids.  In another they are asked to find out the optimal amount of water for healthy plant growth and in another to compare different growing mediums for a company which grows turf commercially.
Why not involve the whole family and set one of these investigations as a challenge over the summer holidays?
These activities have the potential to raise children’s science capital by helping them to understand the range of applications of science and how it impacts upon their current lives and interests.  If you set it as a challenge over the summer holidays you could even impact upon the science capital of the whole family.  Alternatively, you could take advantage of the lovely warm weather which is providing the perfect conditions for growing and experimenting on grass for an engaging end of term topic.