Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Meet the Mentor: Filipa Vance


School Science Club? Just do it.

I love Science. I really do!

I love the challenges it poses, the buzz of making sense of problems, the excitement of checking whether an experimental approach has worked, the never ending questions and, above all, the fact that we learn something every step of the way.

Having said that, it will come as no surprise that I like to talk about Science, too. I like to discuss thoughts and ideas; I like to hear other people’s views and thoughts on anything from Maths problems, to antibiotics usage. More recently, I have discovered the joy of talking about Science to primary school kids. I have learnt so much from their bright, young, unbiased minds and I have been challenged in a way that I never imagined possible.

In October of last year, I (finally) managed to set up a Science Club at my children’s school, St Louis RC Primary School in Frome. It was not an easy thing to do, I have to be honest. It took me almost 2 years to get a Science Club going and, in hindsight, I must admit I was the one who slowed it down. Had I been more confident in my ideas I could have set up this club long time ago.

It all started back in 2014 when I joined ScienceGrrl and, together with Becky Smith, formed the Oxford Chapter. Our ambition for this Chapter was clear – we wanted to act locally and share our passion for STEM with the next generation. The Chapter allowed me to meet fantastic ScienceGrrls with diverse science-based careers: from communicators to helicopter engineers. The group we formed was inspiring in more ways than one and planted the seed to go out to the community to talk about Science. We did the usual festivals and fairs but I never managed to develop the close relationship I had hoped for with any local schools. I was working full time at that point and about to move away from Oxfordshire, so things were a bit chaotic.

In late 2014 my husband was offered his dream job and so we moved to the South West. It quickly became apparent that moving kids away from friends, changing school, football team etc. was going to be challenging. So, to give the children the support they needed, I decided to take a career break of sorts. I found myself a part time job at the University of Bath and started to help out at their school with the usual tasks – reading, taking kids on walks and days out. The idea of a Science Club was still very much inside my head but I was not sure how to get it off the ground. I contacted the STEM Ambassadors, and enrolled to become one. The induction course was great and I really enjoyed it. All of their courses are free and the follow up sessions are always very informative.

I continued to help out with reading at the school and mentioned my newly awarded ‘STEM Ambassador’ status to anyone who would listen. Teachers are busy people and the road not taken is often a scary one. In fairness, I could have tried harder. It wasn’t until this academic year that my words fell on the right ears and together with Ms Hannah Jones, Science Coordinator at St Louis RC Primary School, we established a weekly Science Club. My pitch was simple:
  1. This will cost you no money
  2. You will not need to do anything. I will do everything from devising the sessions to tidying up afterwards.
In return I asked that they would promote the Science Club on the understanding that both genders would have to be equally encouraged to attend.

What followed was a series of fun filled lunch time sessions where we investigated why belly flops hurt (water tension), how we can get marshmallows to grow (air pressure) and how we can make raisins dance (densities of matter). Unfortunately, we have not managed to clone any dinosaurs as yet, but the request has been duly noted.

All activities are designed to ignite passion amongst pupils for Science in general, whilst at the same time challenge gender stereotypes associated with all science-related jobs. The Science Club runs on Fridays at lunch time. There is no charge associated with the club and all (except pre-school pupils) are welcome to attend. There are 2 sessions of 30 minutes each. Each session takes 10 pupils who attend on a rolling basis. There is no budget for this Science Club (see point 1 of my pitch above) so I’m always looking for free stuff (from CDs to bottle tops). It is great to see the support from the whole school with parents bringing in half of their recycling box to the office with donations for the Science Club. This demonstrates how funds are not really an excuse to stop you from having a Science Club in any given school. It also has the added bonus that sessions are skewed towards experiments which can be done at home with every day materials.

The Science Club has already grown and, in addition to the Friday sessions, I organised a one-off whole day session with Yr1 on ‘Why do green leaves go brown?’. With a view to introducing pupils to jobs in a Science related subject, the whole of KS2 went on a trip to the Somerset Earth Science Centre. Every Yr3 to Yr6 class had the opportunity to spend a whole day at the Centre learning about rocks, their uses and how to classify them. They also got to visit the Moonhill Quarry and make their own volcanoes erupt. The School also arranged to be part of Bath Taps into Science during Science week which was great to see.

Sometimes, I’m not sure who has more fun, the kids, myself or Ms Jones, who has been absolutely amazing in her support, and instrumental with ensuring that attendance is high. Her support and real passion for Science is very valuable to me and I really enjoy running new ideas by her. Her expertise on how to teach kids is very important for the success of this club. The kids’ attitude towards science is definitely changing and I can honestly say that there is nothing more rewarding than sharing knowledge with young minds and watching them develop a positive attitude towards the world around them. After Science Week the majority of Yr4 wanted to be marine microbiologists. Before that, I’m not sure how many of them knew that was even a career!

If you are thinking about setting up a Science Club, my advice to you is, just do it! There is plenty of material on the web which you can use, plus organisations like The School Gate SET and STEMnet offer plenty of support. I know it is daunting to come up with your own plan for the duration of the session and that is why I have set up a webpage where I will be documenting my ‘lesson plans’, together with details of the experiments and the necessary risk assessments. You can also find me on twitter @PipaVance so please get in touch if you would like to discuss science clubs in more detail.

About the Author:
Filipa Vance is originally from Portugal. She studied Microbiology at the University of Glasgow from where she also graduated with a PhD in Cancer Studies. She worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Imperial College before embarking on a career in Grant Management and development with the Wellcome Trust. She now works at the Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation and lives in Wiltshire with her husband and her 2 kids.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Follow by Email