So the deadline for submission is fast approaching and I just wanted to write up a short, last post to summarise my experience of this course and what I’ve created from it.
In the end, my final product can be summarised as follows:
5 activities with associated worksheets
A comprehensive teacher’s guide
Additional materials such as certificates, introductory letters and risk assessment
I’ve titled it “Wizards, Magic and Science” (and resisted adding “Oh my!” in a nod to the Wizard of Oz). I’ve created activities that use materials that can be easily, cheaply found in any supermarket and don’t require any specialist equipment to carry out. The activities are an introduction to ideas like Density, Viscosity, Reactions, Code Breaking and Latin and I have done my best to make them interdisciplinary and promote student centered learning.
I am really happy with what I’ve created and really believe that it’s a great way of introducing scientific concepts to young learners in a fun way. I put a lot of effort into it and it has paid off.
I also received a great email from my supervisor JC. He had been in touch with some of his contacts and had found an Easter holiday club that was interested in putting on my activities. I finished up my documents for printing and collected the materials that would be needed. I was hoping to get a little feedback from them before submission that I could include in my report or use to make some last minute improvements but as the timeline is a little short I’ll have to do without. In any case the feedback I receive later will be very useful to me in future projects, and knowing that JC thought my project was good enough to share was a great confidence booster.
Being on the MPhys course, generally students in their fourth year take on an intense, semester long research project. After hearing about the option to do the GeoScience Outreach and Engagement course instead of a project I jumped on the chance and I’m extremely glad I did. This course has felt like one of the first things in my degree that I’ve truly enjoyed and been excited to do. The course is incredibly different from anything I’ve done before and I highly recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested in science education, outreach, or just wants to do something different.
After a lot of researching and trying out different methods, I decided to completely scrap my Invisible Ink Potion idea. Unfortunately there was just no good way to carry it out without some form of heat. As using heat would be rather unfeasible in a classroom, I decided to look for something else instead.
To replace that activity, I found a really interesting experiment that played with liquid densities and introduced it in a really fun way. It was fun, safe, can be completed with easy to get and cheap materials, and also looks a little magic, so it ticked all the boxes for me! Here’s a quick video I made of the experiment in action! You can really see the layers that the liquids put themselves into.
Last post I mentioned I was going to host a Wizards Activity Evening with my friends, and that happened on Saturday the 6th of March! (Recording Here.) I invited my friend group and their partners if the lived with them, and on Sunday I also roped in my mum, dad and sister to try out the activities. As all of my friends are currently on the same degree program that I am, having their partners and my family involved allowed me to get viewpoints from people with different levels of experience with science and physics.
I dashed around Edinburgh on Friday to deliver everyone their costumes and any ingredients they didn’t already have in their cupboards, as well as a small thank you for taking part.
As part of the activities, I had everyone fill in three surveys for evaluation purposes. I had two identical surveys to gain their view on science and knowledge about certain aspects (which would be integral to the activities), and had them complete it before the activities and then again immediately afterwards.
As I had hoped, every single one of the questions gained a more positive response after the activities. Everyone who had taken part had a more positive view of science and how it related to themselves, and felt more confident in their knowledge of certain areas of science. The third survey was slightly more detailed, and I asked for specific feedback on each activity including how engaging it was, and how age-appropriate it was. On a general note, the favourite activity as voted by over half the respondents was the Explosion Potion, and the least favourite activity was the Code Breaking activity.
After reviewing the feedback I’ve decided to make some minor edits to my activities, these include:
Making a Beginners and Advanced worksheet for my Latin Spells activity.
Removing the food colouring from the Slimy Potion activity.
Reviewing the quantities of the Slimy Potion activity.
Emphasizing that a small but vertical glass would work best in my Magic Liquids activity.
Giving a few more hints on my Code Breaking worksheet.
Instructing the swap codes with a partner instead of discussing as a group on my Code Breaking worksheet.
I’m currently working on a “Teacher’s Guide” to my activities, as well as a Risk Assessment. The Teacher’s Guide will include any hints or tips, such as specific types of containers that will work better than others, and the full set of answers to all of the activities. After a suggestion from my supervisor Kay I also want to complete a Risk Assessment of the activities, to make any risks or hazards really clear and how to avoid any accidents in the classroom.
I am also working on modifying my 4 Lesson Plan that accompanies my worksheets. The 4 Lesson Plan is for a teacher who would rather have a series of lessons on each activity and work more as a class, instead of in small groups rotating around each activity in one afternoon.
I do sense that I am coming to the end of my project, with only tidying up certain things as I go along. My timetabled exams start on the 30th of April and I do not wish to be working on my project up until our 22nd April deadline!
It’s been a little while since my last blog post, so I thought I keep you updated on where I am now with my project.
I’ve got a firm plan of what I want to do with my project and ideas for individual activities, although not fully fleshed out to the point I’m 100% they’ll work in a classroom environment. I want to try to take a multidisciplinary approach, including not just science but also language and other areas. I’m doing this through creating a Grand Wizard, who is on the search for the new generation of wizards, and so has some tasks for you to complete. I’m hoping that this will create a purpose to the activities, as well as drawing the children in.
The two main experiments/magic activities I had come up with for the classroom were a bicarbonate of soda and vinegar potion, and invisible ink for writing secret codes. I felt those experiments bordered the line of being fun and exciting, but simple to set up and with simple equipment needed.
Recently we also had to present our ideas in our course conference. I wanted to try to make my presentation as engaging and personalised as possible and so I decided to include some videos of the experiments I want to include. Doing them live would have been a bit tricky so I’m glad I didn’t attempt that.
However, while trying out the experiments in order to film them or get some good pictures, I came across a problem; my invisible ink just wasn’t so invisible. I tried a few different methods, with different ingredients and couldn’t find one that worked. Luckily it wasn’t an integral part of my presentation, and my bicarbonate of soda – vinegar potion experiment worked wonderfully, video linked below.
I’m very glad I discovered the problem with the invisible ink experiment sooner rather than later. I’m currently on the look out for any alternative methods (without heat), or perhaps an experiment that can go in its place. It does mean I will have to make some changes to my plans, but I prefer to do that than to have an experiment that doesn’t work!
A few days after my presentation, I had another meeting with my supervisors JC and Kay. Kay has replaced Brian as one of my supervisors, who retired during the winter break. With her fresh eyes on my plans she was able to pick out some small details of things to consider which hadn’t crossed my mind, such as considering that certain things may be irritants to the skin, and that letting children loose with food colouring near their white clothes wouldn’t be the best idea! I very much appreciated these things and I am looking out for alternatives, or fixes for them.
Another slight setback is due to the ongoing situation, it does not look like I’ll be able to collaborate with a teacher on this activity and have them host it in their class, at least not before my due date. Having some feedback on the activities from participants is really important to me, and so as a solution, JC and Kay suggested that I could trial it out with some of my friends. I think this would be a great thing for me to do, and so I’m hoping to organise a Wizard Fun evening with a few people, via Zoom, and if possible obtain some costumes from JC to dress up. I could record the activity and get some pictures taken of my friends making potions and trialing worksheets.
My goal right now is to have that set up for sometime mid-March, before everyone is too busy thinking about exams to want to participate! However, before that can happen I need to 100% nail down my activities, make sure they all work and make sure they are all kid safe!
It’s been around a month since my first blog post and I feel quite happy to say that some things have changed and I’m on a slightly different path than before, in regards to the project.
I had a meeting with JC and Brian, who are my project supervisors, in order to talk about some of the ideas I had and their thoughts on them.
I had big ideas of creating a video series, which could be watched in the home or at school with fun science experiments full of explosions and reactions, which the child (or adult!) could then recreate. While discussing this idea, a few drawbacks and issues came up.
The first issue being that not all people have access to a computer, the internet, or internet fast enough to run a video in their classroom or home. Growing up in an environment where after 2010 none of these things would have been an issue to me definitely blinded me to the reality that not everyone is as lucky as I am and as I was growing up.
The current situation, with many people relying on laptops and their internet connection in order to receive their education, has shone a light on this issue. I definitely want my project to be as accessible as possible and experiments that require someone to be spending money on equipment they might not ever use again, and might not even be able to access in the first place due to internet speed is not really something I’d want to do.
Thinking about the funding and budget disparities in classrooms led me to do a little research for the figures. A report from the Wellcome Trust in 2017 found that 25% of teachers are concerned they may not be able to answer children’s questions about science, and on average science is only taught for 1 hour 24 minutes each week. Another report from the Confederation of British Industry in 2015 found that 53% of primary teachers believe that teaching science had become less of a priority in the last five years. These were good things to consider when trying to decide what kind of resource I should be making.
Another issue is that sitting a group of kids down to watch a video, and then getting them to repeat exactly what’s in the video isn’t teaching them a lot or getting them to learn for themselves. Ideally I want to create something that’s not just fun to recreate, but also has the participants think through things and learning, instead of passively copying things they have read on a board or computer screen.
My last issue, it’s not extremely innovative. If you Google “kids science experiments”, there are 900 million results, with 70 million of them being videos. If a teacher or parent wanted to have a class where they show a video and have the children repeat the experiment, there are literally millions of videos to go for.
However, JC had a suggestion. He send me a DropBox folder full of pictures and resources for a Harry Potter themed day he had hosted at multiple venues, for adults and children, and asked me if I’d be interested in developing them for the classroom or for home use.
The resources were full of Harry Potter experiments and activities, pretty similar to the type of experiments I had been wanting to do in the first place, so I said yes. I went away and wrote a rough draft for 4 lesson ideas, careful that any resources needed could be easily found in the supermarket, or already on the kitchen shelves.
JC and Brian were quite happy with the ideas I had produced, and with some guidance I have decided to cut a few things down (particularly the messy things), and I’m aiming to create something that can be published as part of Edinburgh Uni’s resources for schools. There also might be the opportunity to work with a nearby school and deliver a box of resources to have them put on the activities for an afternoon. I’m very keen on getting some results from what I eventually create, as well as some feedback, so I’m particularly excited about that.
Due to the Covid-19 rules and regulations, it will be pretty much impossible to go into a school to host any activities or lessons, so I’m going to focus on making my resources as clear and comprehensive as possible. My aim is to have something that can be repeated in classrooms across the country, if they so choose, without there needing to be any input from myself.
My exams aren’t really that far off, so I’m not sure exactly how much more work I’ll be able to put into the project before January, but I’m happy to have settled on an idea and have a firm direction on where I want to take it. I’m excited to be doing something that I really want to go well and to put a lot of work into.
The first post is the hardest apparently, so I’ve decided to jump into the deep end and go for it.
I’ll start off with a little about me and why I decided to enroll on the Geoscience (and Physics!) Outreach Project course.
I’m a fourth year (out of five) Physics MPhys student at the University of Edinburgh, which means that this year I get to take on my first big project. However, this year we were offered the chance to join the GeoScience students on their outreach course- for the first time ever.
I knew immediately that I would prefer an outreach project over the research and experimental projects that are usually on offer. During a year out between high school and university I spent time working in an underprivileged school in Santiago, Chile. During this time I worked as a teaching assistant in the English department, encouraging the children at the school to continue learning English, creating fun lessons and taking some stress off of the overworked teachers.
With this experience in mind, I knew that an outreach project would be extremely rewarding for me and an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. After an information session, phone call, and nerve wracking interview, I received the exciting news that I was in!
So far we’ve had 4 (virtual) workshops. One introductory, one on blogging, one on active learning and one on the Scottish Educational System. I’ve found it extremely refreshing to be doing something quite different to my usual degree programme. The workshops provide a break in the week and I’ve enjoyed getting to speak to students from other courses, including GeoSciences and Archeology.
I found the workshop on the Scottish Educational System quite interesting. Having been brought up within the system and Curriculum for Excellence myself, I expected to know everything in the session already and it would just be for the benefit of the students from outside Scotland, but learning the “behind the scenes” of the system was really beneficial. Knowing how teachers are expected to structure their lessons to fit within the curriculum will really help me to create my project and work together with my client.
Speaking of the project, I’m excited to soon be finding out who my client is and be able to start work on it. I have some ideas but at the moment they’re slightly chaotic and not very well organised. I would love to be able to go into a school and do some practical experiments with the children and let them really have fun while learning about science. However, with the ongoing Covid situation, I don’t want to plan anything that requires me being there. Therefore, my next thought is to make an online video series (à la CrashCourse,minutephysics, or PhysicsGirl – all great science communicators) where I perform the experiments and talk about the science behind them, and write a lesson plan or instructions for the children to repeat them in the classroom. However I do want to be aware that not all schools have the equipment or budget for doing lots of fun experiments- and 30 children setting off a baking soda volcano might not be the most fun for some teachers. I have some other ideas, like holding a family fun-day exhibition about the solar system, planets and other aspects of our Universe, or like creating a guide to the Edinburgh night sky, where people can learn about what’s going on right above their heads.
I think what I need to do first is have a look at some of the final projects from previous students to have an idea of what will work, and what won’t. I’m excited to keep developing these ideas and hopefully at the end being able to produce something that’ll be fun and useful to educators and learners as well!