Books as hooks

16 October 2020

Ogden partnerships are continuing to work together in these challenging times. Instead of events that bring schools together, many are looking at different ways of enhancing the teaching and learning of science. The North Cambridge Academy (part of the North Cambridge Partnership) has launched a science book club for Year 7 and Year 8 students this week.

“One of our key ethos at NCA is achievement for all and we are always looking to raise the aspirations of our students,” explains Natasha Dhari, science teacher at the school. “The science department normally tackles this through extensive extra-curricular opportunities with the aim to raise the science capital of our students. Although the idea of book club was born pre-lockdown, a club like this is now more important than ever.

“Due to restrictions, we have had to put a stop to many of our existing clubs and activities,” explains Natasha. “Book club has been the perfect solution to still encourage our students to think about science, but safely.”

Students at the North Cambridge Academy take part in their new science book club.

“Students are provided with a book to read in their own time. They have four weeks to read it and are encouraged to share their thoughts as they go using Microsoft Teams. Half termly, we will meet as a (socially distanced) group, over refreshments, to discuss what we have enjoyed and learned. The students have already really engaged with the idea and have brought me articles that they would like to discuss too,” adds Natasha.

“Science is a really fun subject to learn. Book club lets us read lots of different books and learn about different parts of science!”
Student

The Ipswich Partnership physics book club is well established, and although sharing across the partnership is currently on hold, the books are still an inspiration within the schools.

“A good book on physics can be a truly inspiring read,” says Simon Snowden, teacher at Northgate High School and co-ordinator for the Ipswich and East Suffolk Partnership. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that quite a few students have had a revelatory moment when reading a popular science book, inspiring them to take the subject further. I’d had a small library of such books for a long while, lending them to interested students, but in autumn 2017 I decided that we could try a physics book club.

“We started with 12 copies of Simon Singh’s The Big Bang – I advertised the idea, handed them out to a dozen students, waited half a term and then had a half-hour meeting after school in the library (with juice and cake). We discussed the book and students had a chance to ask further questions about some of the ideas raised,” explains Simon.

“I then expanded it, and bought five more sets of a dozen books, with a 10L plastic box and lid to contain them. Each box had a picture of the cover on the front, and a sheet for recording names inside – I numbered each book and at the next partnership meeting, each of the six schools took a box and ran a similar club.”

“We’ve swapped book boxes at each of our partnership meetings ever since,” says Simon. “By my reckoning, each school has had six sets of books, so 36 ‘cycles’ of book club have run. Assuming all books are leant out, over 400 books have been read in the first two years, at a cost of £540, not including refreshments. COVID-19 has brought complications to book-swaps because our meetings have gone online, but out of our initial stock of books only three have been lost, and they’re still in fairly good condition, so this should continue to run for years to come,” concludes Simon.

Books included in the Ipswich & East Suffolk Partnership book boxes:
The Big Bang – Simon Singh
Stuff Matters books – Mark Miodownik
Six Easy Pieces – Richard Feynman
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
Storm in a Teacup – Helen Czerski
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
The Double Helix – James Watson
Six Not so Sasy Pieces – Richard Feynman
The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
This is more than just a book about a single concept. You get relativity, astronomy, cosmology and interesting anecdotes about the scientists involved, some of them well known. It’s a long read, but worth it and a rewarding book. It’s easy to understand, but still complex enough to be interesting.
A short review of The Big Bang by a Year 12 student

Using books to support the delivery of science at primary schools also works well, encouraging cross-curricular learning and helping to engage young learners. The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage is a popular choice to link literacy and the topic of electricity. Last year, the Hertford & Ware Primary Partnership hosted an inter-schools Electricity Science Fair with teams competing in a challenge based on the book: how could the children modernise the pulley system used by Mr and Mrs Grinling to transport the lunch basket from the cottage to the lighthouse? Although an interschool challenge may not be possible at the moment, the activities and the learning could still work well in a bubble!

For younger children, Can’t you sleep, Little Bear? is a partnership favourite for lessons introducing materials and light. Why not look at the Ogden phizzi practical: Bear cave. It provides an opportunity for younger children to explore how different materials interact with light and begin to develop their own explanations about how we see.

The boy who harnessed the Wind is the fascinating story of William Kamkwamba who was born in Malawi and faced a challenging life of poverty, hunger and drought. With some old textbooks and an incredible determination, William constructed a simple windmill which eventually brought electricity and water to his village, changing the community and transforming the lives of those around him. William features in our research cards looking at the lives of six inspirational Black physicists.

An image from the Ogden research cards looking at six inspirational black physicists.

Interested in forming an Ogden partnership with schools in your area? Applications are now open. Find out more. (Closing 1 February)

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