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Being a scientist

Published: 16 July 2021

This term, children at St Peter’s Primary School in Henfield, West Sussex took part in an exciting science week focused on ‘being a scientist’. The school is now using a set of symbols for the working scientifically skills which help pupils and teachers identify which working scientifically skills they are using. Dr Rose Learner, science lead at the school, tells us more about how the event worked and how well it went!

Children from reception to Year 6 were buzzing with excitement all week. We were delighted to hear children who are not always fully engaged in science lessons talking with enthusiasm about what they wanted to investigate and asking to take the investigations home to show their families.

Each morning, classes used the PSTT Pictures for Talk resources to lead an open discussion – Year 5 even participated from isolation and had a heated debate over google classrooms about whether robots are better than humans at making popcorn.

A foot stands on a plastic bottle rocket

Over 400 brave rocket mice took trips into space over the course of the week. Each year group chose a working scientifically skill to focus on and develop with the children, and investigations ranged from testing the effect of capes and ears, to adding plasticine and tracking how far the rocket mice could travel. There was plenty of time for the children’s individual ideas too, for example testing whether a water-filled bottle would work better. The children also made some counter-intuitive discoveries, such as the fact that the heavier rockets went further. We had great fun trying to puzzle out together what was going on.

Later in the week, margarine tub catapults pinged off around the school, with classes focusing on a different working scientifically skill. The slow motion videos, which we collected for a video assembly, had the children transfixed!

A girl is under a chair or a science experiment whilst a boy watches

But the real talk of the school was the mystery boxes. I am the only one who has seen inside them! The children and the teachers were in the same position, trying to puzzle out what was in the boxes.

In KS2, we talked with the children about how real life scientists can’t just ‘open the box’ – for example, no one has ever cut the moon in half, but we know that it is solid. Instead of ‘opening the box’, scientists have to use different ways to prove what is going on. The children shook, smelt, weighed and listened to the boxes, as well as pulling the strings and observing closely what was going on. Their responses and reasoning behind showed sophistication, even from KS1 and EYFS. We are not going to reveal to the children what is in the boxes – despite their many requests – but may bring this challenge back next year, with a greater focus on modelling and trying to prove their ideas.

“I know what maybe must be in here. It won’t stop [pulling the string]. There’s something like plastic. It feels not that heavy. There’s like nothing in here. These are just flipping. I can’t hear anything. Nothing – I cannot hear the nothing.”
Reception pupil

“Nothing’s in it. String’s in it because there’s string coming out the holes. When I pull the string…I don’t know what’s in there. A fossil – I can’t hear anything so I don’t think it’s a fossil.”
Reception pupil

We have great plans for next year at St Peter’s – further developing our working scientifically skills, as well as a big focus on developing science capital, especially for disadvantaged pupils. And of course, we’ll find time for another awesome science week!

Two young pupils shows off their bottle rocket mice

If you want to use some of the resources and ideas that inspired the St Peter’s science week you can find the links below:

Symbols for the working scientifically skills

PSTT Pictures for Talk

Rocket mice

Mystery boxes (this resource was modified by Rose)

Dr Rose Lerner will be joining Ogden Trust as a regional rep in September supporting other partnership schools in her region, whilst continuing to lead science at St Peter’s.

After studying physics at Oxford University, Rose went on to complete a PhD in theoretical cosmology, studying the origin of the Universe. She then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki (Finland) and DESY (a research institute in Hamburg, Germany). In 2015, Rose decided to take her career in a completely new direction, becoming a primary school teacher.

“I love working with children, and find that I am still learning new things every day – I find that children often have better questions than researchers. I’m really excited to take up my role with the Ogden Trust and help spread a love of physics across the South East.”

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