This Scientist Visits a Primary School for the First Time

So today was my first foray into being a Scientist In A School. The school I’ve been partnered with is quite small, and most of the classes are split year groups. I spent roughly 15-20 minutes with 6 of the classes, meeting the teachers and kids and helping them with the activities they were working on. The teachers had all organised a science activity or project to be taking place while I was visiting.

The preps each planted a seed in a cup, which was then left on the windowsill of the classroom to germinate. Their worksheet entailed drawing a picture of the seed they had just planted, and then drawing what they imagined the seed might grow into. Most of the kids imagined the seed was going to grow into either a flower, or a fruit-bearing plant. I got involved by asking the kids what the seed needed to turn into a plant. They all knew that it needed water, and some knew that it needed sunlight. I also asked them if they thought that plants needed food, and most of them said yes, and suggested things like fruit and chocolate would be good plant foods 🙂 One boy even thought that if he fed the plant chocolate, then it would grow chocolate. Very cute!

The 1/2s went outside and had to draw a picture of at least 2 living things they observed. When returning to the classroom, they grouped the living things first into plants and animals and then further sub-groups. I thought this was quite an advanced activity for this year age, but they all did really well so maybe I underestimated them.  One of the girls in this class wanted to hold my hand when we walked back to the classroom which just melted my usually icy heart.

The kids in 2/3 had been learning about states of matter, in particular, gases. Their teacher had arranged an experiment called ‘Dancing Sultanas’.
It tied in really well with the topic they had been studying and is visually appealing for the kids. I think they also get a kick out of using household ingredients in experiments, I think it takes away some of the mystery of chemical reactions – in a good way!

The 3/4s started off their lesson about acids and bases with the teacher relating it to swimming pool maintenance. The teacher covered some common acids and bases, things they might see around their house, and the pH scale. Already they have the idea ingrained into them that acids are ‘bad, dangerous and harmful’ which is a bit of a worry. The teacher may have confused the ideas of weak and strong acids and bases with concentration – either that or he was just trying to keep it simple. After I left the classroom they made up some solutions of teas and tested the pH with indicating paper.

Y4/5 & Y5/6
These 2 classes were working on their research skills by doing a project on a particular branch of science they were interested in. I was surprised at the range and specificity of the subjects the kids had chosen. One of the boys in 4/5 was doing ichthyology, and another solar physics (!). A couple of girls in 5/6 had chosen immunology and toxicology. The teachers had encouraged them to find Australian-centric information, including trying to identify some Australian scientists that worked in their chosen areas. This proved really problematic for them, as most of the information available to them online and in books is Northern Hemisphere-focused. I did manage to point a few kids towards the CSIRO website, where they were able to find some local information and local practising scientists.

I found working with the older kids really rewarding, which I wasn’t expecting. They were really enthusiastic and interested in asking a lot of questions. They also had much better attention spans than the younger kids which makes things a lot easier and less frustrating. I was really amazed at the amount of time that is ‘wasted’ in the lower age groups just getting the kids to focus, sit down, stop talking/playing etc. Although the teachers did have some great methods for getting the kids to focus, cleverly using clapping or rhyming to catch their attention.

I’m really looking forward to going back to the school and spending some quality time doing science with the kids.

New Directions

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, so I’ve decided that it’s time to take things in a new direction.

Over a year ago now, one of my colleagues gave a presentation at work about his volunteer work with CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools program. It’s something I had been interested in for a while, and now that I find myself in a permanent job, with a boss supportive of such endeavours, I decided to sign up on the spot. After much to-ing and fro-ing and several delays, I have now been partnered with a primary school in Melbourne’s inner south eastern suburbs. This week I’ll be making my first visit to the school, on World Science Day.

So my plan is that this blog become a journal of my experiences in the Scientists in Schools program, and a record of any experiments and activities that I might do with the kids. Stay tuned for an update at the end of the week.