Friday, January 26, 2018

The Science of Storytelling

Next week (January 27th to 3rd February) is National Storytelling week.  Human beings, of all ages, love stories and have done since the dawn of time, although these days we are more likely to be waiting for the next episode of our favourite soap opera than sharing tales around a log fire.

One of the ways that teachers can ensure that stories are given the prominence that they deserve within a crowded curriculum is to combine them with other subjects; stories make a fantastic starting point for science. Research shows that combining subjects in this way leads to improved outcomes in both.  Moreover, in their report, 'Maintaining Curiosity', OFSTED suggest that some of the best science happens in schools where links are naturally made between English and science. 

The structure of a story usually involves a situation or problem that needs to be solved and this is where science comes in!  Science is a means of investigating ways that problems can be solved, whether it is exploring the most effective material for making a house for the three little pigs or discovering which bowl of porridge will have cooled down the most before it is tasted by Goldilocks.

The CIEC resource Pencils, Poems and Princesses has a host of ideas for basing science investigations on three books; Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole, Grandfather’s Pencil and the Room of Stories by Michael Foreman and Out and About by Shirley Hughes.    

One of the investigations, prompted by Princess Smartypants, is to test different bags to see which is strongest and most suitable for carrying a lot of heavy shopping; this investigation is particularly pertinent in light of current interest in plastic waste and pollution.  It is important to give children time to plan the experiment for themselves.  For example, they may suggest testing bags to breaking point by filling them with heavy weights.  In this case they need to be encouraged to think about the safety implications of having heavy weights suddenly drop, and plan what they will do to make sure that no one is hurt.  This activity will give lots of opportunities for maths; perhaps children can make graphs to show how much each bag held before it broke?

Further cross curricular links can be made as children are supported to write to Prince Grovel to advise him of the best way to carry the Queen’s shopping.  If this is done during an English lesson no time need be taken from children’s science entitlement, and the teacher will be able to concentrate on supporting children with their English targets. Consequently, the writing is likely to be of a much higher standard than that done during a science lesson when the teacher is focussing on children’s science learning.   Nevertheless, the subsequent letters may well reveal children’s progress in science understanding and be a rich source for science assessment.

We would love to hear how you combine science and stories with your class.  Please let us know by leaving a comment below or tweeting us @ciecyork.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dr Stan Higgins receives Outstanding Achievement award

Picture taken at 2017 award ceremony
Earlier this month we reported that long time CIEC supporter Dr Stan Higgins has been awarded a well-deserved OBE in the New Year’s Honours.  Now we have heard that Stan has been honoured again; this time by the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) from which he has recently retired as Chief Executive.  He received an Outstanding Achievement award at the annual NEPIC  awards dinner on Friday evening.

Stan speaking at the 2017 NEPIC award ceremony
Recipients are given £2000 to be spent supporting school children in a STEM related project.  CIEC are incredibly proud that Stan has chosen to donate his prize to Children Challenging Industry (CCI).  Stan explained his reason for this in the speech that he gave as he received his award 

the Children Challenging Industry Primary School Programme is the most effective way to get young people interested in STEM subjects in an industrial context. It really does excite them and we have the evidence to show that”.

As Stan explained to us last time we interviewed him, it is possible for companies to organise their own activity days with local schools.  However, he believes that although these days are likely to be enjoyable for staff and children alike, they are unlikely to have a long term effect upon children’s attitudes to either STEM or industry.  Consequently, he spoke passionately about the importance of industry investing in CCI.

“I would ask more companies in this room to support the Children Challenging Industry programme and still have the benefit of the nice day, but with the real lasting impact that CCI has on both the children and their teachers. In part because there is continued professional follow through when you have gone back to work”.  

Stan was in no doubt that by choosing to invest his prize in CCI it would definitely

“impact on thousands of local children and hundreds of primary school teachers”.

All of us at CIEC are grateful to Stan for his generosity in donating his prize to CCI, as it is only with this kind of financial support that we are able to continue the programme.  We are also delighted that someone that we respect and admire as much as Stan Higgins holds CCI in such high esteem and recognises its long term benefits.

Thank you Stan!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Request for help from KS2 and KS3 teachers of science

We met Liz Coppard, a doctoral student, at the ASE conference earlier this month.  Liz, who is from Oxford Brookes University, is carrying out a research project looking at how teachers deliver the ‘matter’ and ‘materials’ sections of the National Curriculum in the Key Stages 2 and 3 Science Programmes of Study.

Could you help?
Liz is seeking teachers and schools to help with her research and is keen to hear from those who teach science to years 4,5 and 7 who could assist by completing a short, anonymous online questionnaire.  The questionnaire for primary teachers can be found at and the questionnaire for secondary teachers can be found at

In addition, Liz would like to hear from primary and secondary school teachers who would be interested in participating in a short interview focussing on how they teach the materials strand of the national curriculum in KS2 and KS3.  She would also like to hear from primary and secondary schools who would be willing for her to do some lesson observations.  She would be willing to work as a voluntary teaching assistant as a participant observer.

If you would like to discuss this further please email Liz on:

Researcher’s Background
Liz has a first degree in Chemistry, MA in Science Education and holds the Chartered Science Teacher accreditation C.Sci.Teach. She has taught science for many years in English secondary schools.  She is on the 11-19 Committee of the Association for Science Education (ASE) and is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 11-16 Curriculum and Assessment Working Group.

This research is jointly funded by the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) and Oxford Brookes University and has been approved by the Oxford Brookes University Research Ethics Committee.  All data collected during the study will be anonymised and kept strictly confidential in accordance with Oxford Brookes University Policies.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Year's honour for Dr Stan Higgins

Dr Stan Higgins with children on the Children Challenging Industry programme
CIEC were delighted to hear that Dr Stan Higgins, recently retired Chief Executive of North East Process Industries Cluster (NEPIC), has been recognised in the New Year’s Honours and has received an OBE.  Stan has supported CIEC’s Children Challenging Industry (CCI) programme for many years and he took time to chat to us about why he considers their work so important and why he firmly believes CCI is such an effective model.

Stan, who is an alumni and honorary fellow of the University of York, explained that when he first took on the role of Chief Executive, fifteen years ago, the previous organisation already invested time and money in working with school children.  At the time CCI was one of a number of educational projects they supported, as well as two mobile laboratories that visited both primary and secondary schools.

Reduced funding resulted in CCI being the only remaining NEPIC supported project. As Stan points out, research shows that CCI is an incredibly effective way for companies to invest in their future workforce.  Stan believes that this is for three main reasons.  Firstly, CCI targets primary school children when they are beginning to form ideas about their future careers; it is consequently able to raise young people’s awareness of STEM careers at the start of this decision-making process. Secondly, it employs specialist teachers who are able to deliver engaging and effective lessons which link closely to the school curriculum.  Thirdly, it supports class teachers to teach the curriculum in a way which helps children to understand the importance of industry as a future career choice.  CCI also leaves teachers with well-written and relevant resources.  Stan suggests that when industry works directly with local schools, without this specialist support, it is often little more than ‘a nice day’ for both children and staff, and is unlikely to have a long term impact on young people’s aspirations.

Over the years Stan has been impressed by the excellent behaviour of school children that he has met through CCI.  “I was not that well behaved when I was at school” he laughed!  He has been particularly impressed by the attitudes of disadvantaged children who are clearly excited by the science that they do with CCI and are able to persist when faced with challenges.  Going forward, he would like to see CCI delivered to as many primary school children as possible as he believes that this would have the best impact for industry.  As he explained, CCI not only puts STEM subjects into context for primary school children but it lets them know that there is a place for everyone in industry.

Top left Stan with his ‘European Cluster Manager of the Year’ 2014 and right with a lifetime achievement award from the Chemical Industries Association

Monday, January 8, 2018

ASE conference 2018

Delegates enjoying CIEC's assessment session delivered by Nicky Waller.

It's that time of year again when everyone in science education who can possibly make it dust themselves down from the excesses of Christmas and make their way to the Association of Science Education annual conference.  There can be little doubt that many of us find ourselves regretting our decision to book a place as we get up on a dark morning to make a wintery trek accross the country to that year's venue.  However, there can be no doubt at all that by the end of the conference everyone is very glad indeed that they made the effort.  

Jane Turner and Shaun Reason making density column 'martinis' on the CLEAPS stand at the 'Primary Pop-up'.
The ASE conference is a chance to experience some brilliant CPD delivered by a wide variety of professionals from a number of different perspectives.  It is a place to learn about new approaches and innovative ideas backed up by first hand experiences and cutting edge research.  It is also an opportunity to share our own latest initiatives, activities and research. 

Dr Maria Turkenburg shared some of the latest researh about CIEC's 'Children Challenging Industry' at her session 'Attitudes up: CCI sucess'

Just as important as being introduced to new ideas is being reminded about tried and tested lessons and approaches which we had forgotten about.  In the same way, the conference is a place where we make new friends and contacts as well as reconnecting with old ones and seeing familiar faces.  Most importantly, the ASE conference is a place where everyone believes in the importance of high quality science education for all children and where we are reinvogorated by each other's enthusiasm and excitement.

CIEC's Practical idea's for teaching materials session led by Joy Parvin.
When I was working in the classroom, especially in the early years of my career, the ASE, largely through the conference, played an important role in shaping my attitudes and understanding.  The influence was not only on science teaching in particular but on education in general.  I still have to pinch myself as I realise that now, as well as continuing to learn from other teachers at the conference, I am able to contribute  by running my own session!

Teachers extracting starch from a potato during CIEC's 'Potatoes to plastic' session led by Jane Winter.
Another important part of the conference is the exhibition where (as well as picking up several 'freebies') we find out what is available to support science education.  This includes products and  books but also ideas for activities to support the curriculum.  When I was teaching I found lots of ideas for things things to do in my school including visits from Sphere Science and activities from Practical Action.  Of course no trip to the conference would be complete without a visit to the ASE book stand.

The ladies from Sphere science, the newly released ASE guide to primary science from the ASE book stall, a bug from Zoolife and the Practical Action stand; a tiny sample of the exhibition.
If you haven't been before make sure that you make a note now of next year's conference which will be on the 9th to the 12th January in Birmingham.  If you were at Liverpool no doubt you will already have resolved to go and we look forward to seeing you there.

Nicola Beverley listening to Nicky Waller telling everyone about her book at the Primary Teachmeet on Saturday.

by Jane Winter