We’ve had plenty of primary schools take part in I’m a Scientist zones in the past, nestled in among secondary schools. Feedback from primary teachers and students shows they get a lot out of taking part. Primary schools are looking for science enrichment activities too, and talking with real scientists is exciting at primary school as well as secondary. Scientists often wouldn’t know the students were Year 5 & 6, not Year 7 & 8, if we didn’t tell them.
This March we decided to run 2 primary school only zones, for Year 5 & 6 students. In part to avoid possible situations of primary students reading questions on non-primary-friendly topics asked by secondary students in their zone (think sex, drugs, rock’n’roll). Partly to open up I’m a Scientist to a wider group of UK schools and students. And importantly because one of the conclusions from the ASPIRES project about young people’s science and career aspirations, is that STEM education projects need to begin earlier, at primary school.
The 2 primary zones – Caesium Zone & Xenon Zone – were general zones, each with 5 scientists from a range of research areas, but avoiding any non-primary-appropriate topics (no IVF experts for instance).
What we learnt:
- There is demand for primary zones. We had too many teachers wanting places and had to turn some away. We’ll be running more primary zones in future events.
- Primary zones aren’t that much different to secondary zones. They felt like just any other zone. We don’t need to change the format for primary students. The main difference we saw was that the questions were often more factual than conceptual, live chats were less disruptive than with older students, and students left lots of comments thanking scientists for their answers.
- Being in a primary zone didn’t seem to affect the scientists’ experience of taking part. When we offered them a place we mentioned it was in a primary zone but that shouldn’t change how they approach engaging with the students.
- Online safety is more of a worry for primary teachers and parents. We need to be clearer about how secure the site is and giving advice, such as students not using their first and last names in their username. This is true for secondary zones, too.