Continuing professional development (CPD) comes in many forms.

A science teacher with two students

Continuing professional development (CPD) comes in many forms, from photos on twitter to STEM Learning’s courses that are several days over several terms. There are new online courses you can do whenever you like, as well as books and magazines.

Not many people know that the Royal Society also run a small number of CPD days for teachers, far fewer know that they can be relevant to primary school teachers.

I have now been on two of these.  Last year I learnt about some of the research work that the Royal Society is involved in. One was looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the other was looking at mineral resources hidden in our oceans. At the end of the day we were also introduced to Science in the Making, a wonderful online resource including expedition notes and photographs from Scott of the Antarctic.

This year the theme was ‘Big Data’.

Teacher at the Center for Life, Newcastle

Teacher at the Center for Life, Newcastle, for the Royal Society’s CPD: using bid data in the classroom

Now, anyone that knows me knows I am passionate about primary science, passionate about the importance of CPD and love the networking opportunities that going along to these events gives me.  For example, where else would I be sat with such a range of people; one from the Institute of Physics, another the Royal Society of Chemistry, an incredible author of science books and a mixture of teachers from all levels of education in diverse circumstances and, in this case, across the north of England.   But I wasn’t 100% sure of the title.  Big Data – would it be relevant to me?

But there I was, sat on a Thursday during half term and the title was Big Data. I still wasn’t sure, but what I did know was the fact that the Royal Society had put the CPD together and this gave me confidence that I would take something away from it.

Yes, Big Data is about information, I quickly learnt that it has been around for hundreds of years and that the Royal Society archives has lots of lovely archived resources that can be used with children from primary upwards.  My favourites were the paintings of Maria Merian (1705) showing the life cycle of insects, the 1564 sketches of Halley’s comet and John Herschel 3d structure of the milky way. I am sure that given the time there are many more to be discovered in the archives that are relevant to primary school children.  One of the CPD attendees, Rosemary, reminded us that children need to sit and observe, make detailed sketches and this promotes their questioning and natural curiosity.  A teacher does not need an excuse to get their class sitting and drawing for an afternoon, it enhances scientific skills that need fostering from an early age.

Vanessa Pittard from Mathematics Education Innovation (MEI) immediately linked the use of Big Data with well paid job opportunities for the future – which links in nicely with increasing children’s science capital.  Sue Finnigan from Sheffield County Council explained how we should value our own data and reminded us how our online data is cleverly used to target advertising and that, for the children we teach, this will be the norm in their future.

Carole Haynes from the Royal Statistical Society showed a great Titanic infographic by Bron in 1914, and this was interestingly compared to a current version in their newsletter.  I thought this would be a good resource to use alongside the Primary Science Teaching Trust’s Titanic book of science investigations, and it also made me think about how we should use inforgraphics in our reading sessions as these resource become more common.

Teachers working on an activity

Teachers working on an activity set by Darren Macey, from Cambridge Mathematics, looking at data interpretation.

Darren Macey from Cambridge Mathematics gave an insight into what it is like being a learner and trying to make sense of information when you don’t quite understand it.  Yes, understanding infographics is a skill that needs to be learnt. Already in other countries such as New Zealand and Australia it is statutory.

The rest of Darren’s session is a bit of a blur as I had switched on my laptop to find gapminder and I was hooked. Hooked on the changing variables, animations and amazing information it produced.  It would be difficult to select one element, but as our school is looking at air quality and CO2 emissions this seemed a great place to start.

Finally, the Royal Society’s Louisiane Ferlier finished the day with beautiful artwork and complex charts from the depths of history, reminding us to ensure that others understand what and how you are representing information for those who look back at our work in decades to come.

Thanks to Jo Cox and Elizabeth Chambers for encouraging me to come along, and organising an interesting set of speakers and making the subject relevant to me as a primary school teacher –  I will certainly be looking out for the CPD theme for February 2020.


  • Sarah Eames

    Sarah Eames