As a primary teacher and science lead during lockdown three, one of my main concerns was: how will we ensure that British Science Week is meaningful and purposeful to all children, regardless of whether they are learning from home or being taught in school?
Through much discussion, it soon became apparent that my concerns were shared by many teachers across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. This got us thinking...wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a city-wide Science Week project for all the teachers and pupils of Stoke-on-Trent? We were further challenged that we were within a period of remote learning and so whatever we planned to do in a school setting we also had to make available to parents and families to engage in quality experiences too.
Science Across the City (SATC) is a Stoke-on-Trent opportunities area (OA) project, which aims to raise the profile of primary science and ensure that every child experiences child-led, enquiry-led science for success. As the science subject leader of the lead school for the OA project (Moorpark Junior school) I began to work with Tina Whittaker, co-lead to SATC and Renee Watson, Founder of the Curiosity Box, to create initial ideas on how this project would or could work. We wanted the week to be a real celebration of science and something that was relevant to the children’s lives; this is where the idea of utilising the Royal Society’s Machine Learning resources came from. Being signposted to this website was like hitting the jackpot; the resources focused around an idea, exactly as we had discussed. Something that wasn’t only meaningful and purposeful but as a teacher, would also save me hours worth of work. Amazing!
At first our ideas were huge and quite overwhelming. How would we ensure that all children could access the resources? Could we create curriculum links relevant for both primary and secondary? As a teacher, I knew that the resources needed to be easily accessible and ready-made for teachers which led us to refine some of our initial big ideas, whereby we would have solved several of the global challenges in a single week! We needed to create something that had the ‘wow factor’ for children but was also easy for teachers and parents to use, purposeful to children and made the city proud.
By working with Curiosity Box, we were able to create resource packs that enabled all children to access the project, regardless of where they were learning. We wanted families to feel involved and proud to be part of a project that engaged young people all across the city. Project PotterBot wove together something identifiably Stokean - its proud history of pottery, with cutting edge science and engineering, that embedded the Royal Society’s Machine Learning resources in a real world challenge - What kind of learning machine would you create to make your lockdown life better?
The PotterBot kits we created were tailored for use at home and at school and it was important that we minimised any barriers to engagement. We were conscious that many of our families might not have access to, nor be able to afford to supplement the kit with additional resources so everything needed was supplied in the kits. Children worked through the engineers design cycle to think about and create their lockdown-easing PotterBot.
The icing on the cake was gaining CREST accreditation for the PotterBot Resources as a Discovery Day. This brings the Royal Society/British Science Association link full circle, and adds legacy value to the children and the participating schools.
Lockdown three left many teachers working in isolation from home with stress beyond that experienced previously, crazy times. The vision of a collective city-wide classroom energised and enthused teacher positive talk and focus. Many of those involved declared their own learning to have been stretched with many bubbles of exclamation that ‘I did not know that!’ from both adults and children. Furthermore pupil work and ideas are being collated in a single huge digital mosaic and can be found at: https://stemday.co.uk/potterbotlive/.
We set ourselves a target of reaching 50 of the 72 schools in Stoke-on-Trent, and in the end the ‘Potterbot’ resources were distributed to all 72 schools (this included infant and secondary schools) engaging just over 4,000 children! The excitement that flooded the schools even extended beyond our original goal and we were able to leverage funding from other local organisations to support the distribution of additional PotterBot home kits through Food Banks to approximately 800 families. Project PotterBot evolved into an inspiring example of how a collaborative approach to STEM learning, both at school and community level, can have an extensive impact that bridges the classroom and the home.
When Science Week came around, the majority of children were now back learning in school with a select few still isolating at home. The resources that we had created ensured that all children were able to access the learning. The buzz in my school was astounding and feedback from teachers across the city has confirmed that this was the case for all schools involved. Karen Peters, headteacher at my school, Moorpark Junior, said ‘The Potterbots were not just a fun activity for science week, the level of appropriate technical vocabulary the children were applying during their exploration and ‘tinkering’ was a direct impact of the well planned focused teacher pack materials that had been developed in learning through the week.’
One of the activities, (adapted from the Royal Society resources) that the children extremely enjoyed, was looking at interactive tools. One of my classes' favourite websites was a drawing tool - the children were so engaged and enthusiastic when thinking about how this tool actually works! The tool can be found at Quick, Draw! if you would like to have a go!
Throughout the week, the children were also being given access to the Royal Society’s Why science is for me posters as well as participating in activities to reinforce this concept. The project has therefore enabled the pupils to also make links to STEM careers and ponder on why science is relevant to them. By the end of the week, the children were talking about a range of different careers that machine learning could lead into!