Explorify: a new and easy way to teach science in primary schools
Opinion / Published: 19 September 2017
Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning, explains why it’s so important for children across the UK to experience great science teaching at primary school, and how Explorify, our new free online resource, can help.
Over the last decade, Wellcome and others have amassed a wealth of evidence about how science is taught in primary schools and how this affects young learners.
We've found many fantastic examples of primary schools that are giving all of their pupils rich opportunities to explore and learn about science inside and outside of their classes.
However, a worrying number of children encounter science infrequently and with few chances to develop the intellectual and practical skills of inquiry.
Why we care
Every child should learn about science in a way that is engaging, educational and relevant throughout their school years. By the time they finish primary school, pupils need the right knowledge and investigative skills for their secondary education. They should already be able to see the relevance of science to their own lives, and imagine future science-related careers based upon it.
We know all of these things are important and recent research has highlighted that children's ‘science identities’ – the extent to which they see science as 'for them' – are formed early and affect their future interests and aspirations.
What we’d like to see
We'd like every primary school class teacher to take pleasure and feel confident in their science teaching.
We'd like them to be teaching science for a minimum of two hours a week (the international weekly average for primary science teaching in similar nations). In general, countries that teach more science in primary school have pupils that perform better in science.
We know that you don't have to have a science degree or even science A levels to be an excellent teacher of primary science. But teachers do need to have the necessary subject knowledge and understand how to teach it.
What we’re doing
The resources and opportunities already available to support primary science teaching are mostly used by teachers who are pretty confident in the subject and keen to improve.
For example, through Project ENTHUSE, we help teachers with the costs of professional development courses, which can benefit their teaching and their pupils, and even increase the likelihood of them staying in teaching altogether.
But maybe school leaders don't see science as important enough to let their teachers out of school for the courses. Or teachers themselves may be wary of committing too much time to a subject they are not particularly comfortable with.
That’s why we’re launching Explorify – a free digital resource focused on inquiry and curiosity, designed to appeal to children but also ignite or reinvigorate teachers’ passion for science.
Explorify has been developed with help from teachers and partners, such as BBC Learning and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. It also incorporates thinking from behavioural science to understand the barriers that teachers face in their lessons. Activities are easy to do and accessible for teachers, including those not particularly confident in science or struggling to prioritise it.
What if dinosaurs still walked the earth? What if there was no electricity? What if children were the teachers? Explorify sparks questions and conversations among pupils – developing thinking skills through creative activities. It is based on a series of activities that have been shown in a randomised controlled trial to benefit pupil outcomes.
We've designed Explorify to provide such a positive experience for teachers and their classes, that they come back for more. And after using it for a few weeks, we hope that teachers will want to go further, and start using a tailored range of additional resources and professional development options, from Wellcome and a wide range of partners.
Explorify will continue to evolve. We’ve already had great feedback and will keep working with teachers and our partners to understand how Explorify is being used, and how we can improve it based on what works best.
Keeping an eye on our progress
We hope our efforts will help primary school teachers teach more science, better. We’ll see how teachers across the country use Explorify and how many go on to use other resources. We'll also be looking at the amount and nature of science in primary schools nationally, and whether this changes and improves. The first report of our monitoring programme [PDF 1.6MB] is published this week.
What you can do to help
If you have any contact with primary schools or their teachers, leaders or governors, please encourage them to sign up for Explorify for free.
You can also point them towards our website, where they can find out more about why children across the UK should enjoy great science teaching from their earliest school years onwards.