Sharon Macnab: Vital experiment for nurturing scientists

The concept of learning by doing is not a new one. As Irish poet William Butler Yeats is claimed to have remarked: 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.'
The STEM Hub at St Patricks Primary. Picture: Martin ShieldThe STEM Hub at St Patricks Primary. Picture: Martin Shield
The STEM Hub at St Patricks Primary. Picture: Martin Shield

Putting the theory into practice, Glasgow Science Centre recently launched our innovative STEM Hub, the first of its kind in the UK. It has revolutionised the way that science is being taught and learned at St Patrick’s Primary in Dumbarton.

The unique design and philosophy of the STEM Hub (for science, technology, engineering and maths) is based on the principle that children learn best through hands-on activities and working collaboratively which builds on their capacity and appetite for learning, discovering and exploring.

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Often primary school teachers don’t feel confident leading lessons in science to younger pupils, which affects pupil engagement. Instead of teachers delivering a lesson to the class, the Glasgow Science Centre education team encourages them to become facilitators to a child’s learning, allowing pupils to experiment and discover for themselves. Through upskilling teachers to deliver interactive sessions, we aim to give children a greater sense of accessibility and ownership over their own scientific education and development.

Our aim is to help improve science teaching methods through innovative learning experiences, rather than book-led learning. As well as introducing a new physical space for scientific discovery, the STEM Hub is the embodiment of our philosophy on how STEM subjects should ideally be taught and learned.

The STEM Hub is an integrated learning environment that combines specially developed lesson plans, software and apparatus, which are housed in a physical environment and supported by training.

Specifically designed to be as different from an ordinary class as possible, the Hub is comprised of three areas through which pupils physically move, and each is designed to encourage different behaviours.

The first is a nurturing, cave-like space where the pupils are made to feel comfortable and confident to explore and discover science. The class will then move to the hands-on area, where their scientific awareness and curiosity is activated, and the pupils can explore science in an experiential way. Finally, children are encouraged to share their findings and theories with the teacher and their class verbally and through a special app on tablets in the social space.

As well as the physical properties of the STEM Hub, an integral part of the initiative’s new approach to learning are the tailor-made lesson plans designed to be delivered in the immersive environment. Staff also benefit from professional learning sessions from Glasgow Science Centre’s specialists, including example experiments to engage pupils, and guidance on how to best use the Hub’s technology.

Our very future is dependent on the update of STEM careers and encouraging this by demonstrating the many ways in which STEM affects our day-to-day life is a clear focus for the Glasgow Science Centre – especially with its Powering the Future interactive exhibition on the science behind the power industry. Only by truly engaging children and getting them excited about learning can we improve the uptake of STEM subjects and careers later in life.

When our education unit engages with teachers, science lessons are no longer a scary subject. We are flipping the teacher’s traditional didactic role on its head. I want teachers to be facilitators allowing pupils to broaden their understanding of practical science and develop their ability to think critically and inquisitively about the world around them.

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This work, coupled with amazing facilities, such as the new STEM hub, means that pupils are being taught science in a better way. One that can increase the pupils’ sense of ownership of science and the freedom to express themselves. This is critical to ensuring a healthy stream of future scientists, engineers and mathematicians; and in turn securing our future.

Dr Sharon Macnab is head of partnerships at Glasgow Science Centre

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