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Going into Orbyts

UCL-led project is the first recipient of a three-year collaborative funding award from the Ogden Trust.

Published: 28 October 2022

This year, the Ogden Trust launched a new programme of collaborative funding designed to support and facilitate strategic outreach collaboration between university physics departments and to influence positive change in the physics education landscape. Following a hugely competitive application process, the award for 2022 was made to the Orbyts programme which partners university researchers with schools to empower pupils to undertake original research.

Orbyts builds longer term relationships between schools and universities, researchers and pupils. Projects last a minimum of three months and involve regular meetings between pupils and researchers. This interaction with real scientists, positively shifts students’ perceptions of who can be a scientist, dispelling harmful stereotypes; participation in authentic science research increases student confidence and science capital, both of which are widely reported as barriers to science entry.

“I used the whole experience in my uni application. Orbyts opened my eyes to the possibilities of science. The project helped me see that science was something that anyone could participate in. I learned about simple computing (python) for analysis and realised it can be used by anyone – I had no idea about coding but now I realise it’s something I can actually do.”

Established in 2015/16, Orbyts has already delivered more than 100 projects working with over 1,000 students. More than 14 academic papers involved nearly 200 school students have already been published because of Orbyts. This Ogden award will support expansion, offering these research opportunities to new regions in the UK. The universities of Surrey, Newcastle, and Northumbria, and the Mullard Space Science Laboratory will now be involved with new hub co-ordinators facilitating the projects and supporting the researchers involved.

“Since receiving our Ogden award, we have launched a new website and are aiming to implement 12 new projects over two years with a sustainable plan to continue that engagement into Year 3 and beyond,” explains Orbyts Head of Evaluation and Impact, Dr Mark Fuller from UCL. “The funding will directly contribute to over 1,700 pupil hours with more than 140 Year 10 and 12 pupils who would otherwise not have access to this level of repeated intervention.”

“Our experience with this project shows that as well as enabling us to reach pupils who may not traditionally engage in science, the knock-on effect on teacher CPD and morale has a positive impact on physics specialist teaching across all year groups,” adds Mark.

“In a tough year with significant professional challenges to overcome, this has been a real ‘get out of bed in the morning’ project. The project has fed through the school with Orbyts members giving presentations to lower year groups and it’s changed my teaching to my 13-year-old students … Multiple staff became involved and had valuable subject knowledge gains and through school publications the wider community.”

Developmental funding from the award will now be channelled into writing up previous projects for publication and sharing of best practice. “This bank of resources will make it easier to create new projects in the future and can be published as a resource for others to benefit from,” explains Mark. “We have plans to create a long-term relationship with the pupils and schools involved by offering a funded campus visit, conference and seminars.”

“Orbyts is an integral part of our extra-curricular offerings. The opportunity to work with researchers at UCL is gold dust to students and they show their appreciation through professionalism and dedication to the project. To have students as named authors on a paper was a great honour to them and the school…. More important than this stretching of understanding and the glimpse of life as a researcher are the skills the students develop such as teamwork, resilience, organisation and not being afraid of asking questions!”

students talking by a research poster

Orbyts’ aims

Orbyts seeks to address chronic diversity issues in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and shortages of science specialism in schools. Orbyts goals are to:

  • provide pupils with the tools and aspirations to pursue STEM subjects/careers
  • widen STEM participation from under-represented communities
  • improve STEM literacy and provide high-level training for school pupils
  • Provide role models and dispel harmful stereotypes regarding who is suitable for STEM careers
  • Provide schools with science specialists
  • Make pupil-led and pupil-contributed scientific research possible

Visit the Orbyts website to find out more.

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