What can be done to bring enthusiasm into the teaching and learning of science? Gill O’Donnell describes the role school bursars can play using external funding

Despite the ongoing debate about the need to improve standards, in many respects science is still the Cinderella of the curriculum when it comes to looking for ways of funding projects. Science has not enjoyed the most exciting of profiles and, as a consequence, while many people are attracted to ‘technological advances’ and can see the benefit of investing in IT, there is very little interest in investing in developing scientific awareness. This is actually doing both science teachers, and our students, a grave disservice, as understanding everyday science is a key to understanding our world.

At the end of January, schools minister, Jim Knight, outlined a new £140 million strategy designed to educate the next generation of scientists and mathematicians, and to assist with recruiting and training more science and maths teachers. He also emphasised that ministers felt that lessons for the new generation of scientists should be more exciting in order to inspire them, while still retaining high academic standards.

It is the government’s wish that, in coming years, there is a steady increase in the number of young people opting for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and, following a related career which will help the UK compete in the global economy. The proposed package will, over the next three years, more than double the amount spent between 2005 and 2008, and will include £18 million to fund the regional science learning centres, plus continued funding for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics.

Notably, there will also be £4.5 million made available to schools to encourage them to release teachers for professional development at our science learning centres and £9 million to improve students’ learning experience through enhancement and enrichment activities, including doubling the number of science and engineering clubs in schools from 250 to 500. It would seem, then, that this is an area in which funding sources may well increase in the near future, with a greater emphasis on projects which encourage mathematical/scientific thought among young people.

In addition to government funding, there are also a number of funding sources available to schools that wish to focus on developing their science curriculum through project-based activities.

Volvo Adventure
Volvo Adventure (previously known as the Volvo Young Environmentalist Awards) works in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme. It is an international competition which rewards environmental activities among the decision makers of the future with substantial top prizes ($10,000 for first place, $6,000 for second and $4,000 for third).

Environmental projects are undertaken by young people to improve their local environment, and there is clearly a lot of potential for including science in such projects. The projects are published on the site’s web pages and the best projects are selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to Sweden. Free teacher and group leader resources are available to help start or develop projects. These resources offer guidance on how to help young people research, plan, publicise and carry out a project, and how to monitor and report the findings. Volvo Adventure is open to young people around the world aged between 13 and 16 years. Teams must be between two to five young people, with one adult as a supervisor, and they must submit their project online. This outline should provide their project objectives and show research to support the need for their project.

They must then create an action plan, and implement it, and report on the results of their action plan. They should also include 20 photographs along with a summary of their project. This year’s deadline for submitting environment projects is midnight on the 31 January 2009 (CET). Throughout, the project teams get support from ‘Monthly updates’, an interactive environment journey, access to educational expertise, and documents and activities to help start projects. Details of this year’s award and previous award winners are available on www.volvoadventure.org/home.aspx.

Young Engineer for Britain Award
This is open to students aged 12-18, and is concerned with turning ideas into real products and providing practical solutions to everyday problems. Entries are accepted from individuals, or teams of up to four, and the age of the oldest member will determine the age group in which the team is judged. The age groups are: Group 2 (11-16) and Group 1 (16-19).

The task set is to come up with a bright idea (it could be an everyday task, a social need, or a brilliant innovation) and dream up a creative solution. The students should then carry out appropriate market research before moving on to design, develop and consumer test their product. They then are required to create a design portfolio and record the project in some way (eg photos, PowerPoint, video). The final stage is to demonstrate the project at a regional final and prepare a presentation.

The projects are judged across the board, with judging categories as follows:

  • Award for Design, Innovation and Presentation.
  • Award for Product Development and Marketability.
  • Award for Integration and Application of Electronics.
  • Award for Manufacture and Finish.

The regional winner in each award category and age group wins £150, with the national winner in each award category and age group getting £1,000. Overall regional winners receive £200 and qualify automatically for the National Final held at the Young Engineers’ Annual Celebration of Engineering. The overall winner, Young Engineer for Britain, wins £5,000 and a trip to America to represent Britain in the 2009 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). In addition, selected other projects of merit will be chosen to attend the national final. All prize money is shared 50/50 between the competitors and their school. At the National Final, several Awards of Merit are given to projects when judges believe a project deserves additional recognition for a particular aspect of the project. These Awards of Merit are not rigid and are selected totally at the judges’ discretion. An Award of Merit is worth £500 in itself. Details about the competition are available at www.youngeng.org/index.asp?page=127.

The Waterways Trust
By comparison this is a much smaller scheme but it does offer annually a limited number of small grants for wildlife, environmental, access and educational projects connected to the waterways, again with many science-related possibilities. The scheme is supported by general fundraising activities and grants are distributed through the Small Grants Scheme. Grants do not exceed £1,000 normally and the projects must fall into one of the following categories:

1. Conservation and community projects along the non-tidal River Thames, Teddington to Cricklade
2. UK Waterways grants programme

Details can be found on the website at www.thewaterwaystrust.co.uk.

Bill Bryson Prize
Backed by The Royal Society of Chemistry, this scheme was launched in 2006 and is about communicating enthusiasm for science. The competition is in two categories, primary and secondary, and cash prizes of up to £500 are available to the best entries. Awards are presented at a special ceremony during Chemistry Week in November. The theme for the competition changes annually. This year, for example, was ‘science and sport’, and all formats are acceptable for the competition eg posters, PowerPoint presentations, information leaflets, work from after-school science project clubs, etc. Information on next year’s competition topic will be available on the website shortly, after the close of this year’s scheme in May. Details can be found at www.rsc.org/Education/BillBryson. There are also a number of schemes where the focus is not on providing funding for a particular project, but rather on supporting the teaching of science in schools.

Royal Society Partnership Grants for Science
The underlying ethos of this scheme is that teachers working with practising scientists and engineers can create fascinating scientific experiences for young people in school. Teachers are encouraged to increase their scientific knowledge, and scientists and engineers increase their communication skills by mixing with young people and making science and engineering accessible. The emphasis is on encouraging young people to recognise how science and engineering are relevant to the modern world. The partnership scheme is open to any teacher, as long as the students involved in the activity are aged between 5-16. Funding is up to £3,000 for an investigation. Creativity is encouraged – consequently activities don’t need to be linked to the National Curriculum, there are, however, very specific regulations about what can and cannot be funded, and so it is advisable to study the guidelines carefully before submitting an application at www.royalsociety.org. The website also has full details on previous award winning projects, and guidance on how to put together an application, and where to find a partner to work with on the project.

Science and Technology Facilities Council
The council operates a School Grants Scheme, supported by STFC and the Institute of Physics, which can provide schools with up to £500 funding for small-scale projects or events adding value to the teaching or promotion of physics. Projects linked to astronomy, space and particle physics are particularly encouraged. Funding could be used to support a range of projects, for example:

  • running a school/college-based science week activity
  • purchasing materials/resources outside of the normal department resources
  • organising a visit to or from a working physicist.

The scheme is open to all UK educational institutions (schools and colleges) catering for students in the age range 5-18. Applications can be made at any time and are normally processed within two months. However, it is important to allow sufficient time for your application to be studied prior to the date if funding is requested for a specific event. Examples of projects funded include:

  • Ampleforth College – A Visit to Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory.
  • Burnsall Primary School – Exploring Space: workshops for science week.
  • St John’s High School – Practical Rocketry: designing a water propelled rocket.
  • Church Aston Infant School – Towards the Light: cross-curricular two-week project on space and astronomy.
  • Eggbuckland Community College – Rockets, Radios and Robots: science enrichment week, including building crystal radios and rockets.
  • Meden School and Technology College – The Waterwheel Project: building a waterwheel to move the greatest mass.
  • William Morris Special Secondary School – The Funky Forces Factory: Science Museum’s outreach team’s hands-on show.

Work with your university
Many schools are managing to enrich their science curriculum thanks to linking projects with local universities. Most universities now employ schools’ liaison officers, and these people are the first port of call to find out how your local university might help. Money has been provided to universities through the AimHigher and gifted & talented initiatives to work with schools in their region, and a wealth of exciting projects have already been staged.

Details can be obtained from: www.scitech.ac.uk/PandS/Fund/School/SchoolGrants.aspx