The Art of Teaching Them to Love Science

Article excerpt

More pupils are choosing arts subjects over chemistry, physics and maths. But a new initiative aims to bring scientific topics to life - and help secure our economic future. Will it help? Chloe Hamilton reports

I dropped science when I was 16. The day I set my hair on fire with a Bunsen burner, prompting screams from teachers and pupils alike, was the day I realised my skills lay in prancing about in a drama class, reading Hamlet aloud in English and debating ferociously the existence of God in religious studies.

Science was too hard. It was boring. Although I enjoyed messing about with sulphuric acid, my science teachers relied too heavily on work sheets and textbooks.

But as I sit at the back of a darkened room at the Science Museum with a gaggle of exasperated adults, deafened by the 40 over- excited 11-year-olds in front of me, all awaiting the hotly anticipated Rocket Show, I start to wonder whether science education has changed in the eight years since I packed away my protective goggles.

On average, 2,000-2,500 school visitors pass through the Science Museum's doors every day (50-60 school groups). On a busy day that number can be north of 4,000 (90-100 school groups).

I visit on a Tuesday morning and head straight to the Launchpad, which was redesigned and reopened in November 2007 and houses more than 50 interactive exhibits illustrating different scientific concepts. Helpers are on hand to demonstrate how the exhibits work, conduct experiments and perform shows to schools and the visiting public.

It's chaotic; the air filled with the sound of children fighting for a go on the latest exhibits.

However, according to Department for Education statistics, the amount of students choosing to study Stem subjects (sciences, technology, engineering and maths) is worryingly low. The number of girls studying physics is dwindling, with only 6,452 taking the subject to A-level in 2012, compared with 24,298 boys; 44,729 students took chemistry A-level in the same year, no match at all for the 82,825 students who chose English. Furthermore, low-income students are half as likely to study physics, chemistry or maths as their higher-income peers, suggesting that somewhere between the school trip and the classroom, students are losing interest in science.

In an attempt to breathe life into our science education, the Science Museum, BP and King's College London have launched Enterprising Science, a 4.3m learning initiative which is the largest UK-wide science learning programme of its kind.

The five-year partnership aims to engage more children in Stem subjects, and ensure Britain remains at the forefront of science. "Science is the key to our economic future," says the Education minister, Liz Truss, who thinks students would be more attracted to Stem subjects if they realised the "cold hard cash" that can be gained in Stem professions.

"It's about engaging young people and making them understand the real opportunities and potential that lies in a career in science."

The resources, the first of which should be in classrooms by the end of the 2014-15 academic year, will be piloted with students, families and teachers - and it is hoped the programme will be rolled out to 2,000 secondary teachers, reaching 400,000 students.

Partner bodies plan to recruit the brightest Stem graduates into the teaching profession to inspire students to continue with the subjects.

"Teachers need to be well trained," says head teacher Sir William Atkinson, who was knighted after turning round what was labelled "the worst school in the country" - Phoenix High in Shepherds Bush, west London, "Not only do they need great subject knowledge but they need to be passionate. …