For the past four years, the Leamington Spa Primary Partnership has run an annual science fair. Jane Catto, the Teacher Fellow who leads the partnership from Briar Hill Infant School says, “the science fair is our most successful collaborative enrichment activity each year, so many children from all of the schools in our partnership get so much out of participating”.
Each year, the 10 schools in the partnership launch their science fair in January – a member of the partnership creates the presentation that shares the optional theme and inspiration for project ideas, outlines the rules and requirements and sets the deadlines. Each Science Subject Leader then leads a whole school assembly to encourage participation as well as sending information home to parents in the weekly school newsletter. Children spend the next few weeks completing their projects at home, some independently, some in collaboration with peers and many with the support of parents, which all the schools strongly encourage.
In British Science Week, each of the participating schools holds is it own in-school science fair, inviting families and members of the local community to come and see the children’s projects and speak to them about their learning, a headteacher from one of the partnership schools thinks this is the highlight of the project. “Our school science fair is one of the major annual events in our school calendar, we get a great turn out from parents and governors – the whole school hall is buzzing with excitement. It great to see the children leading the show – engaging their audience and developing fantastic levels of confidence in communicating with a wide range of people.”
Another subject leader comments on how their science fair has helped bring reluctant parents into the school: “We have always had trouble getting parent to come into school for workshops on phonics and mathematics – in fact we don’t always get a great turn out for parents’ evenings, but science fair seems less intimidating and threatening for our families – their children drag them in and they seem to have lots of fun.” School-based Science Fairs are great events in the school calendar that really celebrate the children’s passion for science as well as giving the children opportunities to develop confidence in talking about their ideas and their learning.
In some of the participating schools, it has taken a while to develop, as one Subject Leader explains: “in our first science fair we only had 15 projects but we tried all sorts of initiatives to make sure that as many families as possible came to have a look at them and talk to the children about what they been doing at home. The following year we had 40 projects and then the next year there were 72 children who participated in a Science Fair – you just need to be patient and let it grow through the children sharing their enthusiasm”.
In addition to the school-based science fairs, the Leamington Spa Partnership use their Science Fair as an opportunity to collaborate. Following the school Science Fair, each school selects approximately ten projects to represent their school at the regional Ogden Trust Science Fair at Warwick University. They use their partnership funding to arrange transport and to buy trophies. This is a really prestigious event thanks to the efforts of Ally Caldecote, Physics Outreach Officer at Warwick University. The shortlisted children selected to represent their schools feel proud and excited to be sharing their projects with academics and researchers from Warwick University Physics Department.
The children arrive at about 10am and set up their projects in a large lecture theatre. While half of the children are given a tour of the University by volunteering physics undergraduates, visiting laboratories and finding out more about what it is like to live and work on campus, the remaining children get the opportunity to speak to professors, lecturers and PhD researchers about their projects and then they switch over. Walking into this lecture theatre is always an impressive sight with floor-to-ceiling science, high-quality reports and enthusiastic young learners.
At lunchtime, the judging panel have the tricky job of selecting winners in each category – all participants in the University Science Fair get a medal and certificate but 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies are awarded to outstanding projects in Upper KS2, Lower KS2 and KS1 categories. This year the partnership added a new category for EYFS because so many children from Reception classes also wanted to take part – instead of trophies these winners received special Ogden Trust Science Fair teddies.
While the judges deliberate, the children get to listen to a fantastic speaker who comes to share amazing physics knowledge in an engaging keynote talk. This year the children were privileged to have Professor Andrew Levan come to talk to them about supernova explosions and how they are all made of stardust – full of awe and wonder moments. As always, the audience was exceptionally engaged and full of questions taking in every single word that Professor Levan had to share.
The day finishes with the awards being given out and the children being congratulated on their fantastic work. As they climb onto the coaches to return to school, all the children are buzzing with excitement having had a great day, full of ideas for what science fair project they going to do next year and excited to tell everyone back at school what happened.
“Science Fair has had a huge impact on the status of science in our school,” adds Caroline Ashcroft, Science Lead at Clapham Terrace Primary School. “Parents and children alike expect it to happen and are so eager to get involved. It is almost as high a priority in the school calendar as Christmas and Harvest. As a subject leader, I find the organisation straightforward and not time consuming. It is by far the best activity we do in National Science Week because it is all about the children as scientists, sharing their knowledge and understanding – it is just a great opportunity for children to lead their own enquiries,” she concludes.