The results are in - Explorify is working!
Support for primary science provision is improving. Louise Stubberfield looks at Explorify’s impact so far, and shares our next steps for the project.
Early in January none of us could have predicted exactly what would happen in education as coronavirus became a regular item on the news. Here at Explorify HQ in Wellcome, we didn’t anticipate the high level of demand that would follow or that we’d be busier than ever. We’ve learned a lot and are humbled by the sheer dedication of teachers and the desire to always teach better.
Through Explorify we’ve reached 88% of UK primary schools. We work very closely with other UK organisations to secure better primary science teaching, and together we’ve seen an increased demand from teachers seeking online professional development, an indication perhaps that blended learning is here to stay.
Our social media campaign and Explorify at home collections, linked to the BBC Bitesize science lessons, saw many pupils and families join in with investigations and explore science. Pupils of key workers in schools worked together to investigate if all daisies had the same number of petals, to explore what happens to the water in a puddle, and to survey pollinators in school grounds. Science leaders looked for additional support for their role in school and membership of our closed Facebook group doubled. We’ve loved receiving your posts and have been excited that teachers want to develop scientific skills rather than just teach about science.
Teachers implement interventions in the short-term, but this rarely results in long-term change. Our campaign is designed to change the approach to teaching science, thus improving practice and quality of teaching. We can’t use a before-and-after test, which you might adopt to measure the impact of an educational intervention, but must instead use a comparative approach, collecting and analysing a range of data. So what impact are we having?
In 2017 we established a baseline, our ‘State of the Nation’ of primary science. This week we have published an interim evaluation showing the impacts in England. Data were mostly collected before school closures (between December 2019 and March 2020) and provide good evidence of the behaviour changes we’re looking for.
Increased emphasis on science in school development planning.
More time set aside to teach science, particularly for pupils aged 8 and above.
Over 60% of school science leaders now have dedicated time to lead and develop science, with many of them attending professional development specifically for leading science.
Teachers using Explorify enjoy teaching science more and actively seek to improve their teaching, using support articles and tools from Explorify and our stakeholders.
When we first designed Explorify activities in 2016, we thought very carefully about providing the right amount of background science to help teachers feel confident and creating appealing activities that would enhance teaching linked to all UK curricula. We knew that too many teachers saw science as stressful or scary. Now Explorify teachers report increased confidence in teaching science and making better use of allocated teaching time which improves pupils learning. Crucially children are developing and applying scientific skills across all learning and understand better how science works. Science is becoming more accessible to them.
“They make scientific connections outside what they consider as 'Science'. It develops their scientific thinking.”
“It [Explorify] has a low threshold/ high ceiling approach which makes it accessible for all children, regardless of their abilities.”
What will we do this year?
We’ve already reached the target of engaging 50% of schools in each of the UK nations but teachers in England use Explorify a lot more than those in other nations and this year we want to increase the consistent use of Explorify in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We’re looking carefully at the content to make sure it matches each curriculum fully and we’re also supporting delivery of regional Explorify webinars too by some of our partners.
It’s wonderful to see more science leaders accessing training and having leadership time but it shouldn’t be a luxury. Therefore we will advocate it is essential that science leaders/coordinators/mentors have regular access to professional development and dedicated time to lead science in all nations.
We will also continue to advocate science is part of a rich and balanced curriculum for all pupils. With school closures this year and concern that the attainment gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils is now widening again, there is a temptation to narrow the curriculum focus to English and maths. Our research shows that learning and achieving in science boosts learning in other subjects, and it’s clear that teachers using Explorify really value that.
Louise Stubberfield, Primary Science Programme Lead at Wellcome Trust
Image credit: © Wellcome Trust
Take it further: read the full report, Is primary science teaching improving?