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After-school science club

Dr Susie Martin reflects on her experience of developing an after-school club where researchers from across psychology and physics engaged primary age children.

Dr Susie Martin (Experimental Officer, Department of Psychology) received £1250 to launch an after-school club for primary age children.

Project overview

St. John’s Catholic Primary School in Bath wanted to start an after-school science club and were interested in getting support from the University. They contacted researchers from the Collaborative Research Evaluating Advanced Technologies in Education (CREATE) Lab in the Department of Psychology for help. Researchers from the department ran a club on a different topic each week.

Postgraduate researcher Eleanna Skoulikari, who had prior experience of working in primary schools, led the project. She coordinated a different postgraduate researcher to run the club each week. As the key point of contact for the school, she also attended every session. Myself and Dr Chris Bevan (Research Associate, Department of Psychology) supervised the creation and running of the club. The funding for the club was supplemented by the school charging the parents to have their children attend.

Demonstrations, explanations, and creations

The club ran once a week on Thursday afternoons with each session being an hour long. Topics covered were related to the postgraduate researchers’ areas of expertise and included: memory, stress, perception, emotions and robots. The postgraduate researchers also introduced the children to research methodology and analytical skills and encouraged them to design their own simple experiments. Before their session, the postgraduate researchers met with Eleanna to plan what they would do, to make sure they could present their research in an age-appropriate way and to develop a related activity for the children to do.

At the end of the term, the children hosted a table at the Bath Taps into Science Festival where they explained the concepts they had learned and experiments they had carried out to other children. This was particularly successful as it brought science outside of the school environment. It gave the children a chance to showcase what they had done, take a little ownership and to become ‘teachers’ themselves.

'During the Bath Taps event some of the children were better able to describe a phenomena than the PhD students!'

Successfully engaging children with science

The children who attended the club were introduced to science concepts and methodologies. The club fostered an enjoyment of science in an informal, engaging environment. The topics covered were often different from the topics in their classes as little psychology is covered at primary level so they got to learn about different types of science. Often they were given activities or things they’d made to take home to show their parents and families. Parents mentioned that the children were taking more of an interest in science in school since joining the club and that the club was a positive experience. At the end of each club the children were given the opportunity to write about what they liked and disliked on post-it notes so that future sessions could build on their feedback.

The project was initially intended to last for one term but due to requests from the school and parents, the club was run for another term. Postgraduate researchers from the Department of Physics were then recruited to increase the variety of topics presented. The postgraduate researchers were included in the development and planning of the club. The club also donated one of the Makey-Makey kits used in the sessions to the school.

Reflecting on her experience Eleanna Skoulikari said

'There’s no better way to learn than having fun, and we aimed to introduce psychology and science to the pupils by engaging them in fun activities and simple research projects.'

What we gained from running the after-school science club

Several postgraduate researchers were willing and interested to take part. To prepare them ahead of the clubs they attended a training session about engaging with primary schools. The training was delivered by Ed Drewitt who spoke about different types of engagement and how to communicate with different audiences. He made the point that the postgraduate researchers could inspire the children without needing them to remember every fact. The training was valuable for public engagement in general and the postgraduate researchers can take the skills they learned beyond the science club. The whole process enabled the postgraduate researchers to interact with a new audience, thereby developing their communication and presentation skills. They were encouraged to reflect back on their research and to develop how to talk about it in a way accessible to primary school children.

Eleanna initially intended to call the club a psychology club as the researchers involved at the start were from the Department of Psychology. However, there was some resistance from the school about this who thought ‘science club’ was more appropriate. Communicating with the school generally took more time than anticipated, in terms of both confirming health and safety information and organising for the children to attend Bath Taps into Science.

At the start of the project, I tweeted The Psychologist magazines for suggestions of activities. They asked their readers for suggestions and wrote an article featuring the researchers and club from Bath. This article led to contacts with other researchers at other universities and some of the ideas suggested were used in the science club.

I was keen that this activity be a long term collaboration with the school and at the end of the funded project the Department of Psychology through their outreach team have incorporated the learning from the science club and have developed similar activities.