Monday 23 September 2019

Primary kids to have an absolute Blast learning about science

New event provides a platform for entire classes to showcase thought-provoking experiments, writes Kim Bielenberg

Stock Image: GETTY
Stock Image: GETTY
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Have you ever wondered if milk can be turned into glue, or if you can charge your mobile phone with a banana? These are the kinds of questions that will be answered by thousands of primary pupils at the ESB Science Blast, which takes place in March next year.

Thousands of children will soon be preparing to carry out thought-provoking experiments inside and outside the classroom and showcase their work at the event. The Science Blast will held at the RDS in Dublin, Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and at the Waterfront in Belfast as a revamped version of the hugely popular Primary Science Fair.

The fair used to take place at the same time as the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. The new ESB Science Blast is a standalone event that will take place at three venues, and it will have the capacity to have many more schools involved. Rather than being a magnet for children with specialist science interests hoping to be the next Einstein, the Science Blast asks for projects where an entire class can take part. And there are no winners or losers.

Each project starts with a question, and some of the submitted projects at past events have been rather quirky. They have included investigations into the following:

* "Can a parachute save an egg from a two-storey fall?"

* "How can I make my snowman last longer?"

* "Why is sweet and sour chicken sour?"

* "Why do onions make us cry?"

Karen Sheeran, Science and Technology Programme Manager at the RDS, says: "This is not just for a small number of children who are really into their science. It is aimed at children of all abilities, and it is non-competitive."

While the classes taking part receive feedback from judges on their projects, there are no actual prizes or awards.

St Peter's National School in Bray is among the 500 schools expected to take part in the Science Blast. In the past, the school has presented a range of projects at the event.

Previously, students at St Peter's set out to design and make a Hawkeye-type system of goal-line technology that could be used to check if a ball had crossed the line in a football match. In other years, children have explored the science of chocolate and lifeboats. This year, one class plans to do a project on the science of the funfair.

Deputy principal Emer Whyte says: "I have found that science, and taking part in something like this, can be a great leveller in the class. You might have a child who is not top in literacy or maths, but they become very interested in a project. The children love making things, and it encourages them to use their imagination."

Coding is particularly popular among pupils at St Peter's and Whyte says it comes naturally to them.

"We encourage the children to learn from everyday things that are all around them. It could be water or the weather."

The Science Blast is likely to help children acquire skills that are a core part of the science curriculum: designing and making.

"The children tend to make a lot of things in the class from recycled materials," says Whyte. "It is not just a matter of making things - it is also about making sure they work, and also working out ways to make them work better."

Teaching of science on the Irish primary curriculum focuses on four themes. Rather than looking at physics, chemistry and biology as distinct subjects, children explore the world around them by looking at the four strands - Energy and Forces, Materials, Living Things, and Environmental Awareness and Care.

Time devoted to science is considered well below the international average in Irish primary schools, and research has shown that a significant number of teachers are not comfortable with teaching it.

Margie McCarthy, Interim Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, underlines the importance of the Science Blast as part of the primary calendar.

"Engaging students in informal learning programmes that go beyond the confines of the classroom is crucial, as it can positively influence their education and career pathways."

Teachers in classes from fourth to sixth are asked to come up with a question with their pupils - something they can investigate by predicting, measuring, counting or observing. Students then investigate their question, using core skills from the curriculum, before displaying their work and presenting their findings at the event.

There is capacity in year one of ESB Science Blast for up to 13,000 primary school students to take part, making it one of the largest events of its kind. Every participating school will receive €75 towards their travel costs.

To participate, schools must submit their class question by November 30. They will receive confirmation of their class place by December 14.

A second deadline of February 27 is operating for Limerick and Belfast showcase events only.

Irish Independent

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