Full Steam Ahead

Would I like to write a STEM article in the Autumn term?  As Heywood’s Head of Science and STEAM my answer was of course, yes! Even if I wasn’t quite sure what to shine the spotlight on in particular as this is my first year where I am dedicated entirely to these subjects. So, when it came to write about where Heywood’s STEAM curriculum is at this point of the year, it was a welcome surprise to see that even within the first few weeks the pupils have actually experienced an awful lot.

One of the most immediate shifts within my newly focused role was within our core curriculum content. Following a whole-school curriculum evaluation and reflection, I was able to further accelerate the experience for pupils within Science and STEAM. Simply taking the time to evaluate past lessons, pick out problems and place and encourage investigation of key concepts, children have a thorough set of experiences on offer to them. These include getting into the details of how magnets work in Year 3, rather than simply accepting it as a force, why volts jolt and current kills with Year 6, rather than just observing the effects of a higher voltage battery on a bulb, and the maths behind octave changes in frequency with Year 4, rather than just accepting that the frequency of a sound wave creates pitch. I have experienced even more ‘Ahhhh’ moments of understanding clicking in to place as a result which is hugely rewarding. Adjustments were often derived from the pupils themselves – they have a knack for finding questions that will inspire further investigation and research!

Assured that the basics are thoroughly covered, going further is always the next thing to do, and Heywood is all about discovering more after all.  How lucky we are that our STEM and SEQM awards are engrained in what we do and have the freedom to peruse even more innovative approaches for pupils to experience.  I recently undertook training with ESA Education for the Astro Pi projects – teachers zooming in from all across Europe to compile code in Python to send to the ISS.  This year both Year 5 and 6 have participated in the project and it has been a joy to teach.  Their understanding of coding from Computer Science and personal interest is evident, they have embodied the engineering approach of collaborative and communicative problem solving, leaning on their fellow keen coders for support.  Their codes, joyful messages for the astronauts and humidity readings, will be transmitted in the new year with confirmation returned by June – evidence that they can indeed reach for the stars.

As Pupils walk out of the lab doors, the week’s activities complete, there is still more to do in the wider community.  Reflecting on our STEM successes and reaching out to ESERO-UK, we have been invited to become a case study school, evidencing the positive impact working towards the SEQM award, whilst also contributing back useful resources and plans so that others may benefit from the experience and adventures our prototype engineering curriculum has created.  Similarly, I have returned to Bath Astronomers but this time as a member of the coordination team.  Attending talks such as those given by Prof. Lucie Green on the Solar Orbiter, or Dr Hannah Sargeant on Lunar Regolith have been hugely beneficial to our conversations in class, particularly Year 3 Science (magnetism is at the heart of solar flares, did you know?) and Year 4 STEAM (why should we mine the moon, and how will we do it?).  You can also come and experience my STEM Ambassador volunteering directly should you so wish at Bath Abbey’s Museum of the Moon event, where fellow astronomers and I will be guiding visitors to Luke Jerram’s Moon installation where you can check out the telescopes located on the top of the tower. Events like these are a super exercise in public teaching and outreach which help keep the classroom skills sharp.  At every one of these gatherings I have returned to Heywood with new ideas, information and contacts which helps keep our pupils’ learning continually fresh and relevant.

A recent connection came to good use during World Space Week, when Keith Wright BIS got back in touch to let us know he was doing well.  Keith worked to install instruments aboard the lunar landers during the Apollo Era. He kindly volunteered his time to us so that Year 4-6 pupils might ‘Ask an Engineer’ their burning space industry questions, whilst Simon Holbeche of Bath Astronomers similarly answered Reception to Year 3’s burning space science questions in our ‘Ask an Astronomer’ opportunity.  Pupils were thrilled to receive personalised answers, even to questions about the type of cheese found on the moon!

As the term progressed, pupils across the school worked steadily through these experiences against the backdrop of COP26 and what feels to be a growing sense of climate awareness. I was asked just a few weeks ago, ‘Isn’t space travel really bad for the environment?’, which opened the discussion about how satellite technology has taught us so much about emissions, extreme weather events and shifting climates on our planet. There is so much to unpack and explore, it seems appropriate that we should turn our next phase of STEM curriculum development to addressing children’s understanding of climate change and how science can best solve the myriad of problems it brings. After all, solving problems is the core concept within engineering, and our early engineers have very creative solutions worth exploring and strong opinions on how to shape their future world. It would be foolish not to work that into our pupils’ academic and personal development.

In refection that’s an incredible amount to have set in motion for our pupils within a single term and I am sure the rest of the year will continue to keep apace. After all, the Spring term is all about British Science Week, and I can’t wait!

Mrs Camilla Evans

Head of Science and STEAM