I was interested to read a recent blog by Dr Mark Roberts – Why should scientists be engaging the public? It is great to hear that the Biochemical Society is supporting scientists who want to engage the public with their science.
However, primary school children and their teachers are rarely considered in any engagement or dissemination strategy. There are several possible reasons: it is often assumed that it is impossible to convey cutting-edge research to such young learners given their level of science understanding; their teachers are not science specialists and may also struggle to understand the science conveyed; the science curriculum taught in a primary school context may appear to restrict the topics that can be addressed.
In an emerging project, funded by the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT), Fellows of the PSTT’s Primary Science Teacher College, who have previously obtained a PhD in a science discipline and have experience teaching in primary classrooms, are using their expertise to gather recent research papers (published within the last two years in peer-reviewed journals) and are writing articles which explain cutting-edge research in language that primary children can understand.
These ‘I bet you didn’t know…’ articles are linked to primary science topics. They suggest questions for children and their teachers to discuss in the classroom and describe investigations which children can do to mirror the scientists’ research and support students in understanding the research paper. The articles are published on the PSTT website monthly (fortnightly during the recent Covid-19 school closures) and are freely downloadable for primary teachers. You can access all the articles here.
For example, in 2017, Li et al. published a paper showing that scientists have synthesised a family of tough adhesives that adhere very strongly to wet surfaces, including biological tissue. This was presented to Year 5 children (ages 9-10) through an article called, ‘I bet you didn’t know… Slug slime might be the answer for medical adhesives.’ They discussed different methods to test the strength of adhesives (Figure 1): some used Newton meters to measure the force needed to pull card apart; some measured the time taken to pull the card apart.
Early feedback from children and teachers suggests that learning about cutting-edge science research enriches children’s science experiences and provides young children with a connection to science research taking place now. These comments are from children ages 9-10:
- It helped me think like a scientist as it gave me ideas to base my ideas on.
- Now I’ve read this, I think I know how to read science so I might read about science in a magazine.
- I got better at using the science vocabulary that real scientists would use.
It is important that children recognise that the science they do in the classroom uses the same processes followed by real scientists, and that children see that there is a purpose to studying science: to help to understand the world around them and see the potential for a future career.
If you are a research scientist and would be interested in working with us to write some materials for our webpage, or if you have published papers that you think would be suitable, please email PSTT at email@example.com
Trew A.J., L. Bird, C. Early, R. Ellis, T.G. Harrison, J. Nash, K. Pemberton, P. Tyler, and D. E. Shallcross. (2019). Cutting edge science research and its impact on primary school children’s scientific enquiry. Journal of Emergent Science 17: 40-44. https://www.ase.org.uk/resources/journal-of-emergent-science/issue-17/cutting-edge-research-and-its-impact-primary-school
Trew, A.J., J Nash, C Early, R. Ellis, K. Pemberton, P. Tyler and D E Shallcross. (2020). Cutting-edge Science in Primary School: support for classroom practitioners and the development of Teacher Guides. Primary Science Special Issue: PSEC Conference 2019 1590: 8-11. https://www.ase.org.uk/resources/primary-science/issue-1590/cutting-edge-science-in-primary-schools-support-classroom
About the author: Dr Alison Trew is an Area Mentor and Website Resources Developer for the Primary Science Teaching Trust (www.pstt.org.uk). Alison worked as a postdoctoral research biochemist for five years before training to teach primary children. She taught in primary schools for nine years and now writes primary science resources and provides CPD for primary teachers and trainee teachers.