Improving science education (2018)
Research and evidence is at the heart of our work in education. It helps us champion the most effective ways to improve young people’s understanding of and interest in science.
In collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation, we are funding five projects which explore how science education could be improved.
University of Lincoln
1-2-1 Ascents aims to improve GCSE science results among disadvantaged students by pairing secondary school students with a tutor (an undergraduate student) studying at a local university. Students will receive 23 one-hour weekly tutoring sessions throughout year 11. These will take place at school, outside of the school timetable, and the topic of each session will be determined by the year 11 pupil.
The University of Lincoln leads the programme and is supported by the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool, University College London’s Institute of Education and the University of York.
In a pilot study, students in the tutored group achieved significantly better results in their mock GCSE results on average compared with pupils who had not received the tutoring. We are also tracking whether involvement in the project encourages the tutors to enter teacher training as this could be a positive unintentional outcome.
Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM)
University of Hertfordshire
Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) is a whole school accreditation programme led by the University of Hertfordshire. It aims to improve science teaching and learning in primary schools and it covers science leadership, teaching, learning and enrichment.
Science subject leaders will audit current practice and develop and implement an improvement plan. They will join a local PSQM hub where they will be supported to achieve the accreditation. The programme includes four compulsory half-day face-to-face training sessions for the primary science subject leader and one teacher from a year five class from each school. Leaders will also receive mentoring via an interactive e-portal and have access to resources.
We will compare knowledge and attitudes towards science among year five pupils (aged 9-10) in schools using PSQM to those in control schools. This will test the impact of PSQM on science attainment and the attitudes of pupils and teachers towards science.
The Science Self-Testing Toolkit
The Science Self-Testing Toolkit, developed by Kingsbridge College, involves five simple activities which all aim to increase the amount of self-testing among students studying Key Stage 4 science. Self-testing has been proven to be an effective way for students to memorise new information.
Flash card revision, mind mapping tests and structured note taking are three examples of the activities included. Training is provided to science teachers to ensure that the activities are used in a way which maximises active retrieval. This is currently being run as a pilot study with the intention to run it as a randomised controlled trial if successful.
This pilot study will assess whether the programme shows promise and feasibility and whether it is ready to be scaled up.
Carmel Education Trust
Deeper thinking is a two-year intervention which aims to improve performance in GCSE science. Teachers are trained to teach year 10 students how to use structure of observed learning outcome (SOLO) taxonomy and metacognitive approaches, such as concept mapping and constructing success criteria.
SOLO taxonomy breaks learning into five steps and pupils are taught how to apply them to their scientific knowledge and how to use them to structure their responses to exam questions. Each school will identify a leader for the implementation of the project and this person will be trained in key elements of the approach at a one-day training event.
This project is being run as a pilot study with the intention to run it as a randomised controlled study if the results are promising.
Bath Spa University
Evidence demonstrates the importance of high-quality pupil assessment, which is an issue for science and particularly science teachers in primary education.
Focus4TAPS is a three-day continued professional development training programme for primary teachers. There are also tasks to be done in school over the course of an academic year. It focuses on supporting teachers to use formative assessment of scientific reasoning skills and then the use of self- and peer-assessment to develop pupils’ metacognitive skills. The Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) resources were developed by staff from Bath Spa University with funding from the Primary Science Teaching Trust.
The training provides resources and activities for teachers to use, and they are also encouraged to apply the principles to their own planning, so that the approaches become embedded in their teaching.
Improving science teacher retention (2018)
Schools are facing an ongoing crisis in teacher retention and science subjects are among the hardest hit. Almost 60% of science teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying.
In collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation, we are funding three projects which explore how science teacher retention could be improved.
Carmel Education Trust
Leadership ‘Lite’ aims to reduce teachers’ workload by eliminating unnecessary practices that are commonplace in school, such as over-complicated marking policies. This programme has been developed by school leaders at Carmel Education Trust, a multi-academy trust and teaching school in north-east England. It is a broad, whole-school leadership and culture change programme which takes place over two years.
Science teachers, senior leaders in the school and governors each have access to three training sessions focusing on a broad range of strategies in four strands:
Training is delivered by experienced staff, such as specialist leaders in education, with a mix of face-to-face sessions and online materials and tasks.
KEEP teaching matched timetabling project
The Institute of Physics
60% of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) with a physics specialism leave the profession within five years, with workload being cited as a big factor in science teacher retention. The Institute of Physics’ KEEP Teaching project aims to test methods to improve teacher retention by providing physics teachers with an easier beginning to their teaching career.
This trial will take place over three academic years and involve 300 schools.
Mentoring for early career chemistry teachers
The Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s project involves a one-year mentoring programme for new chemistry teachers, with a minimum of six bespoke mentoring sessions.
Mentors will have more than five years’ teaching experience and new teachers will volunteer if they feel that they need some support with their chemistry teaching.
Mentoring will be flexible in both frequency and format. The RSC will provide additional support with an online forum, a conversation once a term with a coordinator for each mentor, and signposting to the RSC’s chemistry-based resources.
- leadership of change
- quality assurance of teachers (including observation)
- marking and assessment; and planning and classroom practice.
Assessing practical science skills in schools and colleges (2017)
In partnership with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Royal Society, we are funding two projects which explore the best ways to assess practical science skills in the classroom.
Assessing practical skills in GCSE science
Project leads: Judith Bennett, University of York, and Christine Harrison, King’s College London
Since 2016, students’ practical science skills have been assessed through written examinations only.
We want to explore what impact this has had, and look at how GCSE written examination questions could be designed to differentiate between students who have undertaken practical activities, and students who have only read about them, for example.
Our study will involve developing a series of classroom interventions in which students experience a practical activity through either:
- hands-on practical work
- a teacher demonstration
- a video recording
- a written description.
Students will then complete written examination questions relating to the interventions.
Enhancing summative assessment of practical science: a systemic approach
Project lead: Sibel Erduran, University of Oxford
Scientists use different approaches, techniques and materials when they do experiments. This allows them to observe and measure phenomena, and use this information to reach conclusions. However these aspects of practical science aren’t always reflected in GCSE examinations.
We will review existing practice to inform the design of a new robust, scalable and reliable assessment tool(s) that can be used to measure students’ understanding of different aspects of practical science, and how they work together. The assessment tool(s) will be designed to be used widely, including by teachers and exam boards.
Any new assessment tools that we develop will be tested and refined in collaboration with a diverse range of teachers and students.
Science Learning+ (2014 and 2017)
Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school.
In partnership with the National Science Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council, we supported ten projects over two funding rounds.
Partnership grants were awarded in March 2017. Each project received funding of up to £1.5 million, lasting from three to five years.
Partnering for equitable science pathways for under-represented youth
Project leads: Louise Archer, UCL Institute of Education, and Angela Calabrese-Barton, Michigan State University
Access to, and opportunities within, informal science learning (ISL) remain limited for young people from historically under-represented backgrounds. However, there is evidence that ISL experiences can expand opportunities for youth agency, learning and development, both in science and more widely.
Our four-year project responds to three challenges in ISL research and practice:
- how young people from historically under-represented backgrounds perceive and experience ISL
- improving the evidence around the tools and practices that can support such young people to progress with ISL
- how ISL might be equitable and transformative for young people.
During the project, practitioners and researchers will work with young people through design-based implementation research, surveys and critical ethnography. Our goal is to develop new understandings of how:
- young people participate in ISL over time and across settings
- young people might connect ISL experiences and make pathways into science
- ISL settings (like science centres, zoos and community organisations) might develop more equitable approaches to working with young people.
Researching the impact of integrated art science programmes amongst non-dominant learners on science and technology affiliation
Project leads: Joseph Roche, Trinity College Dublin, and Bronwyn Bevan, University of Washington
An integrated art and science approach can help young people to engage with and learn about science, particularly those from low-income and under-represented communities.
Our project will develop:
- a research framework for investigating the relationship between informal art and science learning experiences and young people's engagement with science
- design principles for informal art and science programmes, drawing on programmes that have already been effective in cultivating youth engagement with science and making connections across settings
- practitioner-friendly programme evaluation tools that integrate findings from research and practice related to current art and science projects.
STEM teens: examining the role of youth educators as learners and teachers in informal STEM learning sites
Project leads: Adam Rutland, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Adam Hartstone-Rose, University of South Carolina and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia
One way to encourage young people to pursue training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields and enter the STEM workforce is to foster interest and engagement during adolescence. Informal STEM Learning Sites (ISLS) frequently provide opportunities to participate in volunteer programmes, internships or work.
Following youth participants longitudinally over the course of five years, we will document the impact of youth educators on visitor learning at six ISLS in the USA and UK.
The specific outcomes are to:
- measure the impact that participating as a youth educator has on teens
- explore visitors’ engagement with and learning from youth educators
- examine differences in visitor engagement based on different demographics, and compare outcomes of youth educator experiences across different types of ISLS.
We will use the results to develop best practices for implementing youth educator programs in ISLS, and disseminate them to academic and practice-based communities.
Understanding the role of embodied interaction in pre-school children's learning about science in informal settings
Project leads: Andrew Manches, University of Edinburgh, and Judy Brown, Museum of Science, Miami
Science education researchers and practitioners often face the challenge of designing and evaluating learning experiences for young children whose language skills are still emerging. Building on evidence that movement is tightly intertwined with thinking, this project will investigate how thought and movement link as embodied learning to accelerate science understanding.
During a three-year period, researcher-practitioner teams across six museum sites in the UK and USA will collaboratively investigate the links between movement and learning at selected science exhibits designed for young learners, aged 3-6 years. We will conduct research with a diverse population of children and explore the application of embodied learning to communities under-represented in science.
We will use a design-based research methodology to address three key questions:
- What elements of sensory and action experiences are key to informing the design of exhibits that aim to exploit embodied interactions for learning?
- What is the role of bodily enactment/gestures in assessing children's understanding of science concepts?
- What cultural differences in kinds of embodied engagement emerge across diverse museum settings?
The project will raise awareness of embodied approaches to learning as well as build stronger collaborations between informal science educators and learning sciences researchers.
Youth learning in public participation in science research opportunities (crowdsourcing and citizen science) facilitated by natural history museums
Project leads: Lucy Robinson, Natural History Museum, London, and Heidi Ballard, University of California, Davis
Our four-year research study is looking at citizen science projects led by natural history museums (NHMs). IWe want to establish what impact citizen science projects have on the young people that take part in them.
The study focuses on three types of citizen science experiences:
- short-term outdoor events like bioblitzes
- long-term outdoor environmental monitoring projects
- online citizen science projects such as crowdsourcing the ID of field observations.
We will use observations, surveys, interviews and learning analytics to explore three overarching questions about youth learning.
- What activities do young people engage in when participating in NHM-led citizen science?
- To what extent do young people develop an understanding of the science content, identify roles for themselves in the practice of science, and have a sense of agency for taking actions using science?
- What programme features and settings in NHM-led citizen science foster these three science learning outcomes among young people?
We will share the findings with other organisations doing citizen science projects to improve young people’s engagement with science.
Planning grants were awarded in 2014 and lasted up to 10 months. They focused on developing initial ideas and creating new partnerships.
Broadening participation in science and technology through transdisciplinary youth development activities
Project lead: Lynn Scarff, Science Gallery Dublin
Science and technology-related skills, such as computational thinking, design, data visualisations and digital storytelling, are increasingly important. Many new jobs will need a blend of skills, such as programming and design, that students who have disengaged with academic STEM pathways may already have and would be eager to develop further.
Our project investigates out-of-school time (OST) programmes that integrate epistemic practices from the arts, sciences, computer science and other disciplines in consequential activities, such as creating radio segments or building online games.We want to understand how such activities can engage young people who do not already identify as science or technology learners.
The project will involve:
- five three-year studies documenting learning in different technology-rich contexts
- a four-year longitudinal study, involving 100 young people
- the creation of practical measurement tools to monitor how programmes are leveraging the intersections of the arts and sciences to support student engagement and learning
- a professional development programme conducted at informal science education conferences in Europe and the USA to engage the informal STEM field with emerging findings.
We want to build the knowledge base in emerging 21st century transdisciplinary approaches to broadening participation.
Enhancing informal learning through citizen science
Project lead: Richard Edwards, University of Stirling
Citizen science can be described as scientific research conducted by amateur or non-professional scientists who crowdsource their contributions as part of a wider research project. Research in the USA and UK suggests that citizen science can help people to participate in and learn about science.
Our project aims to:
- explore and evaluate existing frameworks and instruments for designing citizen science projects
- examine the learning outcomes of citizen science projects, the processes through which that learning occurs and its contribution to the building of science capital and science identity
- look at the role of families and intergenerational learning within citizen science projects.
Project lead: John Durant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Public science events range in scale from intimate group conversations to festivals for tens of thousands; from one-time events to long-term campaigns. Whatever their setting, they aim to engage the public with science in a social context.
Public science events already happen in both the US and UK, and initial evaluations demonstrate beneficial impacts for public audiences, organisations that collaborate on events, and scientists that participate.
Our project will deliver a report and website that summarise existing activity and findings related to live science events, and suggest areas for future investigation.
The contribution of natural history museums to science education
Project lead: Michael Reiss, UCL Institute of Education
Relatively little is known about how natural history museums (NHMs) and schools can complement each another to maximise young people’s learning about and engagement with science.
In this project, researchers in UK and US universities will work with practitioners in NHMs and school teachers in the UK and the US to:
- undertake a critical review of the published and grey literature that explores the contributions that NHMs have made to learning and engagement
- develop improved common instruments to determine the efficiencies of learning experiences
- map the areas of science curricula that NHMs might most valuably address
- review current pedagogical approaches employed by schools and NHMs, with a view to developing and studying new practice models.
Our project will devise validated instruments (of the sort that are increasingly used in large-scale social psychology studies) and explore whether data obtained from museum visitors can be matched to external datasets, both in the UK and in the US.
Youth access and equity in informal science learning: developing a research and practice agenda
Project lead: Louise Archer, King's College London
Our project will develop a research and practice agenda around youth access and equity in informal science learning. We will focus on addressing equity issues for young people, aged 11-14, primarily from communities from minority backgrounds who have historically tended not to engage with science outside of school.
The project will involve researchers and practitioners from three informal science learning contexts:
- designed spaces, such as museums
- community-based settings, such as afterschool clubs
- science as it appears in everyday life, such as in the media
We will document the multiple pathways young people take within/across informal science learning settings over time, the impact these pathways have on learning and development, and the influence they have on informal science learning organisations. This will help to identify the aspects of learning environments which shape youth access and development.
Education and Neuroscience Initiative (2014)
In collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation, we launched the Education and Neuroscience Initiative to:
- develop and evaluate evidence-informed teaching and learning practices based on neuroscience
- support teachers to better understand and access research on the science of learning, and use it to improve their practice.
These projects are some of the only educational interventions informed by neuroscience to have been systematically tested at scale for academic impact in the classroom.
They all had to demonstrate potential to be effective, scalable and affordable for schools.