Monday, October 12, 2020

What’s in a Fire Extinguisher?

This blog post is brought to you by Nicky Waller, one of our advisory teachers who works across the North East of England.
This blog post is brought to you by Nicky Waller, one of our advisory teachers who works across the North East of England.

In this very safety-conscious age, where rules and regulations determine very strictly what we are and are not allowed to do, lighting fires and watching different materials burn might feel like a distant memory to an older generation. As a result, primary-aged children today may be less likely to know about what causes fire and what action to take to reduce fire hazards.

 CIEC’s activity: ‘What’s in a fire extinguisher?’ begins with a class discussion of extinguishers, buckets and blankets, and their use in putting out fires. Children will then enjoy the practical aspect of modelling for themselves how one type of real fire extinguisher works. 

Children model how a CO2 fire extinguisher works by creating carbon dioxide gas from a solid (bicarbonate of soda) – liquid (vinegar) mixture, to extinguish a candle flame.

This activity links perfectly with the National Curriculum for England statutory requirement for year 5 pupils in science which states that pupils should be taught to: ‘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 bicarbonate of soda.’

Proving to be a favourite with Key Stage Two teachers, the activity requires simple equipment (as shown in the diagram) and minimal set up time to provide an almost instant wow factor! Full safety guidance is provided in the detailed teacher notes.

Probing class discussions will help children to make links between this ‘table top’ classroom activity and the real world including some of the jobs related to fire safety and awareness. These sorts of links help to raise children’s science capital as they see how the science that they do in school has real life applications and is relevant to their lives both now and in the future.

To coincide with this blog post, we have published a new IndusTRY at Home resource for you share with families.  Why don’t you put a link on your school website?

For a broader set of activities linked to this topic, have a look at our free resource Kitchen Concoctionswhich expands the wider topic of ‘kitchen chemistry’ by looking at creating mixtures, separating mixtures, reversible and irreversible changes, fair testing and observations over different periods of time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Making Medicines for Pets

This blog post is brought to you by Nicky Waller, one of our advisory teachers who works across the North East of England.

Our latest research shows that over 80% of children think that women can be scientists and engineers (only 20% to go), but less than 25% think young people carry out these roles in industry – the myth of the ‘old male scientist persisting’ with some. So, we must all continue to address misconceptions and ignite interest in STEM careers at a young age.

 There are lots of primary schools who are currently doing great work to get their children engaged in STEM careers; using CIEC’s publications for lesson plans and ideas to provide a real life context and offer insights into the varying roles of scientists and engineers.

 CIEC’s Medicines for Pets publication is a great example of this. It focuses on the processes involved in developing and making medicines, within a context closely related to the challenges faced by research scientists and manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry. Activities investigate the extraction and purification of the active ingredient, the formulation of a tablet, the best tablet shape and developing a suitable coating.

Top tip: Giving children specified roles to carry out during a practical activity (such as time keeper, resource manager etc) will help children to remain more socially distanced during the current pandemic.  Free to download role badges can help with this.

 This activity is easy to resource and engaging for children to carry out individually or in pairs whilst facing forwards in the classroom. They are challenged to investigate which tablet shapes would be the easiest for a dog to swallow.  With some previous knowledge of different shapes, children are keen to predict how spherical shapes might be easier to swallow because they are rounded whereas shapes with a number of vertices might be unpleasant to swallow due to corners and sharp edges.

 One approach to testing might be to observe and measure the time taken for different shaped (plasticine) tablets to reach the bottom of a measuring cylinder or pop bottle (use the tallest cylinders or bottles you have) filled with a clear liquid (water and glycerine mix works well, although cellulose paste more closely replicates industrial practice). This represents the journey the tablet takes when swallowed from the mouth and down the oesophagus. 

Top tip:  Attach a thread of cotton or thin string to each clay shape so that it can be pulled back out of the liquid after testing. This will avoid having to pour out the liquid to retrieve the shape, refill the cylinder and top-up the volume after each trial.

As different shapes travel the length of the cylinder, children may decide to video the journey in ‘slow-mo’ so that they can make more careful observations and accurate measurements of time taken. It is also important for the investigation to end with comparisons of different shapes’ performance and what children would try to improve in future testing.

This activity links perfectly with the National Curriculum for England statutory requirement for the Year 5 ‘Forces’ topic in science which states that pupils should be taught to: identify the effects of air resistance, water resistance and friction, that act between moving surfaces.

There are many opportunities for children to work scientifically, such as planning different types of activities, taking measurements, recording data and reporting findings.

Full safety guidance is provided in the detailed teacher notes which can be found with the free resource Medicines for Pets

 Additional COVID-secure advice can be found in the document CLEAPSS Practical Activities in a Bubble which urges schools to return to delivering a broad, balanced and full curriculum, especially for practical subjects like science, D&T, and art. This means getting back to doing hands-on activities, investigations and enquiries. Remember that using equipment is allowed because it’s essential for delivering the curriculum and to support learning in practical subjects.

 The CLEAPSS COVID-19 risk assessment safety ladder (image below) represents the government’s suggested safety measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. The statements (the rungs) are not an ‘all or nothing’ check list; apply as many as you can. Implementing any of the options, even partially, will benefit you and your children. The more safety measures you can put in place, the further up the ladder you get. The advice is to aim to get as far up the ladder as you can without compromising learning.


Probing class discussions will help children to make links between this ‘table top’ classroom activity and the real world including a wider range of jobs linked to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Now is a particularly good time for children to realise the importance of research into medicines and how ‘the race is on’ to develop vaccines with human trials currently taking place all around the world. These sorts of links help to raise children’s
science capital as they see how the science that they do in school has real life applications and is relevant to their lives both now and in the future.

To coincide with this, we have published a new IndusTRY AT HOME follow-on activity for you share with families.  Here, children investigate to find out which material makes the best coating for a tablet to delay its rate of dissolving so that it may travel to the dog’s stomach because it begins to fizz.

Why don’t you put a link on your school website?


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Water for Industry: Leaky pipes

This post is by Jane Winter, one of our advisory teachers who works in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
I have always been a massive fan of teaching outdoors; children are more engaged and motivated and, in my experience, behaviour is much better.  The noise is less intense when not trapped by four walls and, much to the caretaker’s joy, any mess is in the playground instead of on the carpet.  In the current pandemic there is the added benefit of less risk of transmission of Covid-19.  The first half of the autumn term is a particularly good time to use your outdoor space as the weather tends to be at its best; no need for sunscreen or too many outer layers either.

Top tip: Make sure that families know that you will be regularly teaching outdoors and ask them to provide suitable warm clothing.  It may be worth having a supply of spare jumpers and coats (ask for donations of outgrown ones) so that one or two cold children don’t scupper the lesson for everyone.

Although today’s activity can be carried out indoors, it also works very well outside as the equipment is sturdy enough not to be blown away if it is windy.  Moreover, instead of mopping up any spills you can just leave them to evaporate.  This activity is cheap to resource and uses empty food cans which you could ask children to bring from home, although you will need to double check that there are no sharp edges and that the cans have been thoroughly cleaned.  If they have not been adequately sanitised they will also need quarantining for 72 hours.

Full details of the activity, including list of equipment and safety advice can be found in our free resource Water for Industry
The children are asked to test different potential sealants to see which is the best for connecting pipes and preventing leaks.  This is an engaging way for children to work on the Y5 objective ‘give reasons, based on evidence, for the particular use of everyday materials’.  Equally it could be adapted for use with Y2 children who need to ‘identify the suitability of a variety of everyday materials for particular uses’. The activity also gives children the opportunity to practice accurate measuring and making graphs.  Asking them to report their findings to a pipe-line company provides extra motivation and would be a novel way for children to record their findings.

Our Leaky Pipes IndusTRY AT HOME activity is ideal for you to share with families. Why don’t you put a link on your school website?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kitchen Concoctions: The Best Bubbles

Children from Ysgol-y-Lys primary school in Wales gather to see which group of young scientists has developed the best bubble mixture

The first time I came across this activity I was still teaching full time and was attending a course run by my now colleague, Nicky Waller.  I am not going to lie to you, I had much more fun than a middle aged lady should be having with some washing up liquid and a bubble wand!  We had been challenged to investigate the proportions of three ingredients (washing up liquid, glycerine and water) to develop an economical bubble mixture that would make the ‘best’ bubbles, and I was determined that my team would ‘win’.

Top Tips: If you ask people to find a mixture that produces the ‘best’ bubbles without giving any more guidance, it is likely to lead to some interesting discussion.  After a while they will realise that they need to think about what is meant by best; it could be the size or the quantity of the bubbles or how long they last for example.

Deciding how they are going to measure bubble size is yet another challenge – my favourite that I have seen children chose over the years being … popping the bubbles on sugar paper, which leaves a lovely measurable ring!

I have delivered the session myself many times in the intervening years both as a primary teacher and in my current role.  I have run it with various groups including groups of teachers, parents and with children from nursery through to year 6, including in mixed age groups.It never fails; participants are always fully engaged and, if approached carefully, there is a high degree of relevant discussion and science learning.

Full details of the activity, including teacher notes, risk assessments and activity sheets can be found in our free resource Kitchen Concoctions

Because it can be done in mixed age groups, works well outside and is cheap enough to provide enough resources for each child to have their own equipment this activity could easily be adapted for socially distanced circumstances.  However, it does need to be approached thoughtfully if it is to move beyond being  more than ‘a fun thing to do’.  Having said that, it is also important not to move children too quickly to formally measuring and recording their recipes as they benefit from an initial period of play, exploration and discussion before formulating their method.

The challenge of devising an economic yet effective bubble mixture for a ‘toy manufacturer’ is an engaging start to this activity.  The poster is provided as part of the free online resource.
Top Tip: Do give children small containers to work with as this forces them to produce smaller quantities of bubble mixture.  I know from bitter experience that larger containers will lead to them using industrial quantities of washing up liquid!

After the initial exploratory phase, children work together to work out the ratio of ingredients that produces the ‘best’ bubbles, while keeping the costs of ingredients as low as possible (there are lots of opportunities for the application of maths at this point).  It can be tempting to organise children to work efficiently, and difficult to give children space to make their own mistakes and ‘muddle along’; for a conscientious teacher this can feel as if you are not doing your job properly.  I find that making a few explicit notes on my planning helps me to feel better about this ‘hands off’ approach.

For teachers brave enough to take this approach and then allow time afterwards for a discussion to evaluate how they worked the learning opportunities are immense, especially if there is time for children to repeat the activity.  At this stage I used to add an extra level of challenge by providing more than one brand of washing up liquid (preferably in different colours; not all washing up liquids are green).

Developing an effective product and reporting the results is engaging for participants of all ages, and helps them to understand the diversity of science related careers.  This helps to raise children's  science capital.

Children will need to find ways to present their findings to the toy manufacturer that set the challenge and this will inevitably lead to further discussion and the opportunity to use their literacy skills, and maths too if they decide to use a table and include costings.  I find that enthusiasm is maintained throughout in a way that doesn’t always happen with many other ways of recording science as children have a real reason to share their results.  If your children send their report to they will be delighted to receive a reply from the ‘toy company’ that set the challenge.

This is a great activity to share with families so why not provide a link to our IndusTRY AT HOME page on your school website?

This post is by Jane Winter, one of our advisory teachers who works in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sustainable Stories: Which Plastic?

This blog post is brought to you by Jane Winter, one of our advisory teachers who works in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Although the materials for this investigation are free and readily available, they can be a little tricky to source.  However, it is well worth taking the trouble to do this as, once you have, everything else is very straightforward.  When I have done this activity I have found that there is a real buzz in the classroom.  Moreover, you could easily provide enough equipment for a whole classroom full of socially distanced youngsters to do the activity at the same time.

The tricky bit

You will need samples of some different types of plastic. 
Sample 1: The thin clear plastic that often comes around packs of Christmas cards and in some other packaging
 Sample 2: Foam plastic (expanded polystyrene, PS) used as for takeway foods such as burgers and chips
Sample 3: Polystyrene, as used for the lids of takeaway coffee cups. The name of this plastic surprises the children, as ‘expanded’ polystyrene is commonly referred to as polystyrene, but for scientists, there are two types, and this one is un-expanded!
Sample 4: The plastic used for milk bottles (polythene, HDPE)

Each child will need a strip of each plastic cut to approximately 8 x 1 cm.  They will also need a bowl, jug or tub of water large enough to put their hand into and some table salt.

Top Tip 
This is one activity that you really must try out for yourself before letting your class lose with it.  Manufacturers sometimes change the formulation of their plastics and so they don’t always behave as you expect them to!

The fun bit
Children test each sample to see if it floats in water or in salt solution (brine) and how it reacts to being folded.  The results of their tests will let them identify what each sample of plastic is made of.  For example, PVC and polystyrene will both sink in plain water; but if salt is added the polystyrene will begin to float.
This is an important thing to be able to do as different plastics are recycled in different ways so we need to be able to identify them.  At this stage I have found that providing children with a simple table helps them to organise their data as they carry out the tests.  

Full instructions, including safety notes, for how to do the activity are provided in this free to download resource.

This activity builds on the work that children have done on materials in KS1. It helps them to develop their skills of working scientifically by sorting in a more sophisticated way.  There is a simple sorting key on activity sheet 5 of the resource which will support children develop their understanding of how keys work, as they use it to classify their plastic samples.

As children start to think about the reasons that we might need to be able to classify materials more precisely they can begin to consider why and how this science might be used in industry.  A class discussion will help them to understand that being able to use post-consumer waste makes processes more economically viable as well as more environmentally friendly.  These sorts of links help to raise children’s science capital as they see how the science that they do in school has real life applications and is relevant to their lives both now and in the future.

To coincide with InternationalWomen in Engineering day we have published a new IndusTRY AT HOME activity for you share with families.  Why don’t you put a link on your school website?

For a broader set of activities linked to this topic, please go to which expands the topic to look at the heat insulation and shock absorption properties of plastics – and children design and test packaging to protect parcels of fragile crisps, which they post back to themselves in school – the ultimate test of their designs!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Medicine from microbes: Investigating mould

This month’s somewhat mouldy offering is written by Clare Docking who is one of our advisory teachers in the East of England.
Children always love the yuck factor and growing mould is no exception!  I have found that they are fascinated to watch how mould changes over time and keen to record what happens when given the opportunity to deliberately do something that we usually tell them to avoid.

In the news
I had been looking forward to highlighting that 2020 was Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday when doing this activity in school this year.  However, the pandemic put an end to me doing any work with children for the time being.  However, this is a great opportunity for you, if you are currently working in school, to involve children in an exciting science activity while making relevant cross-curricular links with history and English.  It also ties in well to the current situation as children will have been hearing a lot about microbes lately. This is also a chance to reinforce messages about hand washing as this gives children direct evidence of some of the microbes in our environment.  Furthermore, you can use this activity to allay children’s anxieties by encouraging discussion about science helping us to overcome many health issues over time (such as the discovery of antibiotics for example).  Let children know that scientists around the world are collaborating to find a vaccine and treatment for Covid-19.

The information here is for teachers working with children in the classroom.  There is also support for families trying the activity out at home in our free to download IndusTRY ATHOME activity sheet. We think the activity lends itself to being done at home or in a socially distanced classroom, as the resources needed are cheap and readily available so each child could have their own.

Let’s investigate!
Children love a challenge so start the investigation by reading the news report from a fictional bio-tech company (provided in the resource), and tell the children their help is needed to find out which conditions are the best for growing mould. Encourage them to draw on their own experiences when thinking about different conditions – why do they think food left in a cupboard or lunchbox for too long goes mouldy?  Where do we usually store food and why do they think this is? Is food kept warm or cold to preserve it? At this point listen to the children’s ideas and see if they suggest that moisture, temperature and light make a difference to growth. This is a good opportunity to bring in previous learning about growth of other living organisms such as plants which may prompt ideas. 

Did you know?
A microbe is any living thing too small to be seen with the naked eye.  This includes some fungi (which include the ones which cause mould), bacteria (some of which cause diseases) and viruses such as the one that causes covid-19.  However, not all microbes are harmful and many, such as the ones that live in our gut, are essential for our health.
I have not used this activity with younger children but Jane Winter, in the CIEC team, asked Kathryn Horan (@SciKathryn) about her experience of doing a similar activity with her EYFS class.  Apparently they were fascinated when they compared bread that they had touched without washing their hands and a fresh piece of bread.  They were able to make sensible predictions based upon their experience, saying such things as ‘I think that the dirty one will go black’.  We agreed that this would be an activity that would lend itself to being used with a mixed age group in the current situation.  

Kathryn Horan's (@SciKathryn) class were fascinated to watch what happened to a slice of bread that they touched without washing their hands first!
One of the things I particularly like about using our resource is that children are motivated to record their findings knowing that it is going to be used by a real bio tech company. A mixed age group could work together to produce different elements of a report which could include videos, letters, captioned photographs and graphs.  If they send their report to they will be delighted to get a reply from the company!

Top Tips
Here are some tips to make your investigation a success:
  •  Spraying the bread with water will ensure that the moisture is evenly spread before it is sealed in the bag. 
  •  Make sure the bread doesn’t contain preservatives or it may take much longer to get results. 
  • Very occasionally, the children find they don’t get the expected results from an investigation, especially if working with living things. Use this as a learning point to do further investigations and tell the children that scientists sometimes experience this as well, however, discoveries are often made from things not turning out as expected.   
IMPORTANT Don’t reopen the bag once the investigation has started. This is because potentially harmful spores from the mould could be released into the air.  Once the experiment is complete, enclose the sealed bag in another sealed bag before disposing of it.

Full details of this activity can be found in our free resource and includes teachers’ notes, children’s activity sheets and national curriculum links.

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