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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What is your school doing to prepare children for a life beyond education?

The role of primary schools  in developing children's aspirations is becoming increasingly recognised.
Teach First is working in collaboration with Education and Employers to understand the role of primary schools and teachers in preparing young people for future success beyond school. 
This research will be used to begin to define best practice and make recommendations for the support schools and teachers need. Please share your views to ensure the research is as reflective as possible of school and teacher voice.
The survey takes 7-10 minutes and closes on 29 June

This picture: Children on a CIEC site visit to Chemoxy
At the top of the page: Children from St Patricks enjoying a CCI lesson

Friday, May 25, 2018

School visit to Sartorius Stedim Biotech

Children are captivated when they see the sophisticated Computer Aided Design programme that is used when designing the machines that are built by Sartorius Stedim Biotech

After taking part in several science lessons which reinforce their understanding of the science learned in school, as well as preparing them to get the most out of the Children Challenging Industry (CCI) experience, children are ready for a visit to the company that they have been partnered with.  

The children from St Thomas More RC primary school have been partnered with Sartorius Stedim Biotech and recently the day of the eagerly anticipated visit to the Sartorius site in Royston arrived.  As soon as the coach pulled up children were given an introductory talk which reminded them of the work that they had been doing in school and how it related to what they would see at the Royston plant.

Children then went for a tour of the factory and were shown the different stages in the production and testing of the Ambr machines which are built at the site and used for growing the microbes that are needed to make some medicines.  The tour began with a demonstration of the sophisticated Computer Aided Design programmes that are used to design and test the machines.  The children were all given the chance to try manipulating the images on the screen.  As they left this department they were given a list of parts that they would need to collect in order to build their own pump.

Children watch the pump that they have built being tested

Next they were taken to the stores where they were amazed at the fully automated parts collection process; they only had to key in the serial number of the part that they needed to have it delivered to them by the machine!  They then took their parts to the department where the pumps are assembled and tested.  They worked as a team to build their pumps and then to progamme the machine to test it under several different conditions.  This was a tense moment for the children as they knew that the results of all the pumps were being recorded and compared.

Children watch a demonstration of a full scale Ambr in use.

For the last stage of the process children donned white coats as they took part in an activity which involved handling microbes.  They learned that you do not always need to wear white coats when doing science but only where there is a good reason.  This might be to protect themselves from micro-organisms or harmful substances - or it might be to protect the experiments; in this case the children need to be careful not to contaminate the yeast that they were working with, with dirt from either themselves or their clothes.

Wearing white coats so that they do not contaminate the samples.
The visit ended with a well earned snack as they found out how well their pumps had performed.  Afterwards children said how much they had enjoyed the visit and many said that it had made them think about pursuing a career in science.  It was also clear that children had revised some of their preconceptions about industry as before this experience many had had a very negative image.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Children Challenging Industry Class Visit

Children from St Thomas More RC primary school during a recent CCI lesson

In a previous blog post we described how Children Challenging Industry (CCI) schools participate in a staff meeting run by one of our advisory teachers.  Additionally, Y5 children from participating schools have the opportunity to visit a local industry where they see science in a real life context.  Prior to the industry visit the children enjoy a series of lessons, some of which are run by one of our advisory teachers.

The lessons are made up of several engaging practical activities which help children to understand the industrial scale processes that they will see taking place, and also helps them to make relevant links with the science that they do in school.  Su Mennie has been working with St Thomas More RC primary school prior to their visit to Sartorius Stedim Biotech in Royston.  The activities that she and their class teacher have been doing come from the CIEC resource Cough Syrup which can be downloaded for free from our website.

Sartorius Stedim Biotech make machinery which is used to grow the microbes that are needed to make the active ingredients in some medicines; these microbes then need to be filtered out of the liquid in which they are grown.  A relevant activity for the children involves testing different filters to see which would be most effective for harvesting the microbes, although instead of microbes the children filter flour from a mixture of flour and water.

The children worked in groups of three or four to choose their equipment and decide how they would measure the effectiveness of the filters being tested.  Some groups decided to time how quickly the substance passed through the filters while others devised a scale to measure the clarity of the water after it had passed through the filter.  Because the children were given a high amount of autonomy they did not always immediately work in the most efficient or accurate way.  However, this led to discussions within the group which were then picked up by Su towards the end of the session.  This approach leads to a much deeper understanding of, for example, the most important criteria for assessing the effectiveness of a filter, than if children had been following a more structured method which told them exactly what they had to do and how to present their findings.  The activity also gives the children a lot of opportunity to apply the materials strand of the Y5 science curriculum and to rehearse some of the vocabulary.

The session ended with children being given the opportunity to handle and talk about industrial scale filters and to discuss the qualities of the materials that they have been made of and the reasons for their shape.  At this point several children were keen to point out how they would like to be able to modify their experiments if they were to do them again.  This was a useful assessment opportunity for their teacher as it showed how they were able to apply their content knowledge to the situation as well as demonstrating their growing confidence in working scientifically.

Carefully pouring the mixture of flour and water into one of the filters

Friday, March 23, 2018

Job Opportunity at CIEC

If you live in the Hertfordshire area and would like a new challenge you may well be interested to learn that there is an opening for a new advisory teacher to join the CIEC team.  The vacancy is for two days a week and previous post holders have successfully combined it with a continued classroom commitment, although other advisory teachers make this their sole job.

Children working with science ambassadors as part of the CCI programme.

The successful candidate will be working with partner industries and schools on the Children Challenging Industry (CCI) project.  They will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are involved in an initiative that evidence has shown, over many years, has a measureable impact upon the aspirations and attitudes of primary school children.  You can read more about some of this work in Hertfordshire and in other areas in previous posts.

Children watch a science demonstration at the start of their visit to Johnson Matthey in Royston.

You can see more details in the job advertisement and in the candidate brief. The closing date for applications is April 4th.    

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Pinch of Salt

As part of her work with St Thomas More primary school,  Su Mennie recently led a staff meeting to share some CIEC science activities with the teachers.  St Thomas More has a gold Primary Science Quality Mark and they were keen to add to their existing smorgasbord of engaging ways to teach the science curriculum, including 'Salt for my chips' from the free CIEC resource 'A Pinch of Salt'. They particularly appreciated that this activity provided a real life context in which children could apply  learning objectives and practise vocabulary from the science curriculum.

The teachers first compared a sample of pure salt with some rock salt and considered how they could extract salt that was pure enough to use on food from the rock salt.  They started by dissolving the rock salt sample in water before filtering it to remove all of the undissolved solids.  
Then they evaporated the water from the salt solution to leave behind salt. Of course, important discussion should also focus on whether this salt could actually be used on chips, therefore providing an opportunity to discuss microbes.   Teachers also discussed whether it would be safe to use a candle in class; the teachers decided that, with an appropriate risk assessment, they would be happy to do this with upper KS2 children, but other heat sources could be used, such as a radiator.
If you would like to try this, or any other activity, from A Pinch of Salt you will find that it is fully supported with teachers' notes and activity sheets for children.

We would love to hear about your experiences of using this, or any other CIEC resource, and will send a hard copy of our acclaimed 'Working Scientifically' to anyone who shares their experiences with us.