Gill O’Donnell explores more external funding opportunities that school bursars can source in order to spice up their science curriculum

As a follow-up to my earlier article on sources for inspiration in science, I’d like this time to focus on some different approaches to fostering scientific development and scientific thinking.

First, have you ever thought about trying to bring alive the teaching of ecology? If so, the British Ecological Society (BES) has an excellent scheme that aims to encourage teachers and others involved in formal education to develop new approaches in communicating ecology and to promote good practice, making ecology both exciting and intellectually stimulating. The BES’s Educational Innovation and Research Grants are for up to £750. The grants are designed to encourage teachers to develop innovative ways of teaching the subject or to help them to undertake research to evaluate methods of teaching ecology. Projects can be classroom-based or take place outside the classroom. Applications need to be tightly focused and should include an outline of what the project is about, including the rationale and methods to be used, along with an explanation as to why the project is innovative and educational.

There should be a clear identification of the target groups and an explanation as to how the project promotes ecological good practice. You will also be required to submit budgetary details. Applications will be accepted from December onwards for the 2009 award scheme, with the first deadline falling in January 2009. The grants are open to both primary and secondary schools.

Science curriculum leaders will be interested to know that the BES is also offering funding of up to £500 specifically to enable institutions to buy ecology fieldwork equipment. It is believed that the provision of quality resources will enable students to access high quality educational experiences outside the classroom. The BES actively promotes the development of school grounds for the teaching of practical ecology in an outdoor setting, but will not fund projects which are solely horticultural, aesthetic or landscaping-based. A project in this sense is defined as a clear development task such as the creation of a pond or planting a wildflower meadow, and each project should stand alone as a distinct task. The application must demonstrate clearly how the grant will improve the learning experience of the students involved and be of a long-term benefit to the school science curriculum. It should also show how the proposed development will enhance the teaching of ecology in the school. Unfortunately, projects such as growing plants for food, developing a sensory garden and other projects which do not have a clear ecological focus can not be regarded as eligible. Details of the BES funding schemes can be obtained from www.britishecologicalsociety.org/articles/grants/.

Rolls Royce Science Prize

A wider view of science is taken by the Rolls Royce Science Prize. This is an annual awards programme with a two-year rolling cycle. It is open to all teachers of science for projects for three- to 19-year-olds with a top prize of £15,000 and fifty special commendation prizes of £1,000.

There are three age categories: three to 11, 11 to 16 and 16 to 19. Teachers are required to submit an idea for a science teaching project which will fulfill a need in their school. It may be a new project or it can be a development which they have been working on for some time, and it can be in any area of science. The key is that it should be innovative. Previous prize winners have included an ecology-based project called ‘In the Footsteps of Darwin’ which involved a comparison of current local flora with flora present in the area a century ago; a project examining scientific theory and religious belief through the medium of art; a primary school which created science resources for community groups; and a robotics project relating to animal movement.

The competition covers two years and in the first year the teacher and a team of between three and six people (who may include other teaching and non- teaching staff but should not include students) submit their proposal. This should be a detailed, budgeted proposal, setting out teaching objectives, the implementation outline and methods of monitoring and evaluation. It should also include a rationale for the selection of its members. The proposals can form part of a formal school improvement or development plan and schools and colleges can enter more than one team or join with others to form joint entries.

Entries are submitted online and are then judged by a group of practising teachers and science education advisors. They recommend a list of finalists, who receive £5,000 each and the support of a specialist mentor to help them to implement their proposals. Fifty entries also receive Special Merit Awards of £1,000. In the second year, the finalist schools carry out their proposals over a 24-week period and document this online. This is then assessed by a panel of judges and a winner and runner up are recommended. The winning team receives £15,000 and the runner up receives £10,000. Throughout the competition the schools concerned receive specialist advice and support.
The competition has very tight schedules and details can be found at www.rolls-royce.com/scienceprize, along with information on previous winning projects. The scheme accepts new entries in September 2008.

The Wellcome Trust

Another key player in scientific endeavour is the Wellcome Trust. It is particularly active in supporting areas that promote an understanding of how science affects our everyday life. It is currently sponsoring two schemes:

The People Award
The People Award is designed to encourage people from all walks of life and of all ages to consider, question and debate the key issues relating to the impact of biomedical science on society. Projects could focus on historical roots, effects on different cultures and the ethical questions posed by biomedical developments. Projects should inform, inspire and involve people in their study of science. The awards will support projects that aim to achieve at least one of the following:

1. Stimulate interest, excitement and debate about biomedical science through various methods.
2. Support formal and informal learning about biomedical science.
3. Reach new audiences not normally engaged with biomedical science, as well as continuing to target existing audiences.
4. Examine the social, cultural, historical and ethical impact of biomedical science.
5. Encourage new ways of thinking about biomedical science.
6. Encourage high quality interdisciplinary practice and collaborative partnerships.
7. Investigate and test new methods of engagement, participation and education.

Projects could include workshops, events, debates, discussions and exhibitions in public venues. The development of teaching materials or techniques to encourage wider discussion is also encouraged. It is also anticipated that projects might utilise the collections of the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Collection at the Science Museum.

All projects are expected to have some biomedical scientific input either through a scientist taking on an advisory role or through direct collaboration. Applicants are encouraged to investigate new methods of interdisciplinary working as well as new models of engagement in biomedical science. The grant available is up to £30,000 for a maximum of three years. Partnership projects (between different people and organisations, eg scientists and ethicists, educators and artists) are particularly welcomed. Applications must be made on the Wellcome Trust application form available from their website at www.wellcome.ac.uk/people.

The Pulse Programme
The Pulse Programme provides funding for arts projects that: 1. engage with biomedical science.2. encourage debate about issues raised by scientific developments.

3. interact imaginatively with children or young people (up to 22 years old).

The Trust is keen to encourage projects that tackle historical, social, ethical, cultural or contemporary issues arising from science. The work may be in any art form or combination of art forms. This could include dance, drama, live arts, visual arts, music, film, craft, photography, creative writing or new media. Pulse projects can run for up to two years, and you can apply for funding at two levels: up to £10,000, and up to £50,000. Due to the scale envisioned, it is perhaps best to consider this as a project undertaken by a group of schools or by a school working alongside other organisations or individuals (such as artists or scientists) in the community.

Café Scientifique

The Wellcome Trust is also active in supporting the Café Scientifique movement, particularly its activities in schools through Junior Café Scientifique. The Café Scientifique movement began (initially without any external funding source) as a way of encouraging informal debate about scientific issues at evening meetings between scientists and public. An event will normally take place in a bar, café, theatre or pub, outside the academic environment. Junior Café Scientifique (JCS) grew out of this movement and provides a unique opportunity for students to meet working scientists in an informal, relaxed, ‘café’ atmosphere and together explore contemporary issues in science and technology. The events are student-led, giving those involved the chance to turn concerns into participation, based on classroom experiences. The events are open to all secondary schools, with both teachers and students welcome.

A JCS event typically takes place in a cafeteria, common room or library, not a classroom. They are staged at lunchtime or after school, so that audience and speaker meet as equals, without barriers. The format is deliberately kept simple. The scientist speaks for about 10-15 minutes; time enough to introduce the topic and their interest in it, and then the floor is open for questions and debate. The talks are deliberately kept uncomplicated and low-tech. Speakers are volunteers from local universities and industry, and range from professors to young PhD students, depending on the topic and their expertise. Wherever possible, issues in the headlines are used as the starting point for an event. More details of JCS and how to establish your own café can be found at www.juniorcafesci.org.uk.

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