Category Archives: School

An update on widening participation

In September last year we wrote about Widening Participation. We’ve refined our criteria a little since then; below is our definition of a widening participation school.

We’ve decided on these criteria because they match, in broad terms, the kinds of criteria universities use to identify widening participation students.

A widening participation school is…

In England and Wales

  • A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
  • A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
  • A school where the % of students achieving 5 grades A*–C at KS4 is below 45%, or…
  • A school where the % of students level 4 in reading, writing, and maths at KS2 is below 45%, or…
  • A school more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI.

In Scotland

  • A school in a remote rural area, or a remote small town

Where an independent school matches the criteria it will not be counted as a widening participation school.

Distance as measure

The Aspires project, from King’s College London found that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to a science-related career. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).

We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. This is where an online activity, like I’m a Scientist, has a great advantage. There is no distance barrier, no travel time. A scientist in central Manchester can have a live chat with a school in Cornwall followed immediately with a school in the Highlands.

To this end, we’ve added to our criteria: A school will count as distant if it is more than 25 miles from a major research higher education institute (HEI).

Starting with England and Wales, we took all of the schools, mapped the distance to the top 70 institutions by research output, and worked out the shortest distance between a school and a university. The map shows the schools which are more than 25 miles from one of these institutions.

We did not include smaller institutions, or those with more focused research areas as contact with scientists working in a wide variety of subjects and fields is important.

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

In Scotland the Department for Education lists schools with an urban/rural classification. Largely this covers what we are looking to achieve with the distance analysis in England and Wales (though we do plan to add HEI distance data for Scotland and Northern Ireland).

In Scotland, a school in a remote rural area, or remote small town will count as widening participation.

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

This measure excludes schools in accessible and urban areas; in effect the schools accessible from universities.

What about the most recent event?

In June 2016, by prioritising places for widening participation schools (meaning teachers at those schools are more likely to be given additional classes), 27% of the students taking part in I’m a Scientist came from widening participation schools.

21% of the schools taking part in June 2016 were widening participation schools.

Last year, in June 2015 we reported that 16% of the classes taking part were from schools meeting our criteria.

What’s next?

  1. Targets — By 2020, our aim is that 30% of the schools taking part meet the widening participation criteria.
  2. More data — We’re missing criteria for schools in Northern Ireland, and we’re missing attainment data for schools in Scotland. We need to add this.
  3. Improving the definition of schools in relation to their nearest HEI — Do we need to look at creating a more nuanced definition of distant schools in England and Wales? The current definition looks at distance rather than travel time. Travel time is likely a better measure but more difficult to assess. We would also like to look in more detail at the level of outreach different schools are receiving.
  4. A new database — We’re in the process of building a database of all UK schools which will be integrated into the teacher application process. This will allow us to more easily identify and allocate places to priority schools. It will also open new reporting features to teachers, giving schools more data on how their students are using the projects.
Posted on July 15, 2016 Moderator - Josh in News, Project News, School, Science Education, Widening Participation | Leave a comment

Increasing demand and charges for independent schools

Demand for our activities has been slowly increasing. We regularly have more classes requested than we are able to accommodate and we have to limit the number of classes we offer teachers. In November 2015, for the first time we had to start turning down teachers, unable to limit classes to a point where every teacher who applied could be given a place.

This increasing demand for classes has lead us to prioritise schools where we believe our activities can add the most value, where online STEM engagement can make the most difference.

Most of our funders are prioritising underserved audiences. For us that means schools that traditionally don’t send many students on to Higher Education or are located disadvantageously for STEM engagement activities. Sadly this means that some schools who have been able to take up places in the past will not be able to take part without additional funding.

Beginning with the June 2016 events, fee paying schools can choose to pay £100, for every class of students, in order to guarantee participation in the event. This money will go towards providing additional zones.

We’re aware that some of the teachers who have participated the most in the past will be affected by this change. We truly hope that you will be able to take part. In order to guarantee your spaces please email


Posted on April 11, 2016 Moderator - Josh in Capacity, General, News, Project News, School, Science Education, Teachers | Leave a comment

Which browsers and devices are schools using?

Every year (see 2014) we take all our data, and look at how schools use the site; looking at how visitors access the site and how much that has changed in the past couple of years.

We’ve made a lot of changes in recent events, especially when it comes to registering accounts and using the site on mobile devices. We now pre-register all teachers and students, giving them usernames and passwords, so they can start asking questions immediately.

We can assume that the student visitors give a fair reflection of the general school IT facilities and system capabilities.

The graphs show the student data represented by dashed lines.


We saw last year, that visits from mobile and tablet devices were increasing. and no surprise they continue to grow, while desktop usage drops slightly. For student tablet users there is little difference in content visited when compared to student desktop users.

We’re currently right in the middle of an overhaul to make the site more responsive and mobile friendly- which should make the user experience a lot smoother for all users. Allowing students who use tablets and mobiles the same experience as desktop users.


If desktop usage is going down somewhat, it’s unsurprising that Internet Explorer is also sinking,  with Chrome taking a the lead and Safari jumping up (a lot of tablets and mobile devices being Apple products, where the default browser is Safari). The rise in other browsers will be down to mobile and tablet browsers using Android, Blackberry and Opera.

IE versions

And finally the bane of web designers and developers lives.. The old versions of Internet Explorer. A collective sigh of relief, IE6 has finally drifted out of favour (available since 2003!!!!), IE7 is on the out, IE8 is dropping, as is IE9, even IE10 is dropping.. But IE11 has taken a big leap. Understandably when a new version is released, it will lead to older versions not being used, but the jump in the graph is still quite dramatic, compared to last years.

Posted on October 30, 2015 modemily in Evaluation, School | Leave a comment

Widening Participation

One of our long term goals is to increase the number of Widening Participation schools taking part in our projects, but to do this, there’s a fairly fundamental question to ask first: What is a widening participation school?

Without establishing what would count as a widening participation school, it’s difficult to target these schools, and even more difficult to evaluate how well we’re doing in increasing the number taking part. Time then, to set out some criteria.

A Widening Participation School is…

  • A school where the % of students achieving grades A*–C at GCSE is below 45%, or…
  • A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
  • A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
  • An SEN School

Independent schools will not be counted.

In 2013, a school with more than 41.6% of students eligible for free school meals would put that school in the highest quintile for primary schools. For secondary schools, the boundary was 44.3%.

What about the most recent events?

In June 2015, 16% of the classes taking part in I’m a Scientist were from a school meeting the Widening Participation criteria above. In I’m an Engineer, 17% of the classes.

What’s next?

We want to reach more widening participation schools, and we’re looking for new ways to do this. We’re going to pay extra attention to these schools, making sure they get the most out of taking part, that they get a live chat booked, and that the teachers are aware of other things they can do to get all the potential out of taking part. A lot of this is about sharing other teachers’ experiences which will be useful for any teachers taking part.

  1. Now we have a set of criteria we will be able to measure more accurately the numbers of Widening Participation schools we have taking part.
  2. Priority places will be given to schools meeting the criteria above.
  3. We need to improve our definition. What we have now is a placeholder definition. We believe that the schools we should be targeting are schools in rural areas where it will be difficult for the students to have contact with scientists and engineers. We want to look at schools and create a list of schools far away from research institutions. These are the schools we should focus on getting to take part.
Posted on September 4, 2015 Moderator - Josh in School, Widening Participation | Leave a comment

Class filmed taking part in I’m a Scientist

Laura Heintz, teacher at Weston School in Wisconsin, US, recently posted this great video of her students taking part in I’m a Scientist. Her class were in the Technetium Zone in March this year. Take a look…

In the video, the students gather around laptops to discuss the scientists and their research, planning questions in advance. There’s a real buzz after the live chat, with the students excited that they’ve just talked to “real scientists”. One student comments: “It was really fun – they said that we were really good students too.” The class seemed to most enjoy the interaction with the scientists and chance to find out more about their work, with another student saying: “We were talking to Jon a lot, we were kind of bombarding him with questions… We watched some of his videos, the one where he threw a rock down on some lava was really cool.”

Laura explained to us what she thought were the main benefits of taking part: “Our school’s in the middle of a cornfield, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We have students who’ve not left the state or gone further than Madison, which is a little over an hour away. It allows students to look beyond school and understand the world is a larger place. I thought it was amazing overall.”

She added: “Every day they do things over and over again, this was completely outside of their comfort zone – they see the world as it is and connect with it.”

Posted on July 17, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School | Leave a comment

Organising schools visits from IAS scientists – a teacher’s view

Something we’d like to encourage is more scientists visiting schools after taking part in I’m a Scientist. After every event we add the participating scientists and schools to this map – – sharing the scientists’ contact details with teachers. 

One teacher who’s made the most of the scientists nearby is Tom Holloway, from Westfield Primary School in Surrey. 4 scientists have visited the school, and he tells us more about what they got up to…

Westfield Primary School has taken part in I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here for two years running now. It has been an amazing learning experience for our pupils who have been motivated and engaged by the event.

One of the best outcomes for our school has been the number of visits to us that it has generated. Impressed by our pupils enthusiasm for and love of science, lots of scientists who have taken part in IMAS have come to see us.


Fiona McMurray from MRC Harwell has visited us twice and ran a fantastic activity with Year 4 and 6 children in which they extracted DNA from strawberries. On her I’m a Scientist profile Fiona said she “Had a great time at Westfield Primary school!”


Gary Brickley, from The University of Brighton, visited and gave us an inspirational talk about his work on sport science and with paralympic cyclists.


Finally Simon Park from The University of Surrey, came and ran a brilliant workshop on bacteria in which the children learnt about slime mould, looked a bioluminiscent bacteria in the dark, examined a sample of their teacher’s spit through a powerful microscope and grew the bacteria living on their fingertips in petri dishes – a wonderful morning of learning.


We’re also looking forward to a visit by Jimmy Holloway who won the Palladium Zone last year. IMAS is a fantastic event and I strongly recommend taking part to all schools.”


If any teachers would like help contacting scientists for school visits, just get in touch with or on 01225 326892. 


Posted on June 26, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School, Science Education, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

Running I’m a Scientist with BTEC students – a teacher’s view

Teacher Emma Wagg, from Trentham High School (@ejw232 on twitter) has taken part in I’m a Scientist since 2011. I asked her if it feels different each time she takes part, and if some groups of students take to it more than others. Here’s what she said about taking part with her BTEC class..

Last year I did it with triple science students but this year with students completing the BTEC Principles of Science course. Their questions were amazing. Their interest was fab. They were genuinely interested in the answers. And were really impressed that the scientists gave up their time for them. It was the first time I’ve really felt like they truly appreciated that. They also recognised that the scientists could discover/create something truly amazing. The look on their faces when this dawned on them was something special.

At the end of the live chat, Jack said ‘Miss, that was awesome’. It made my day. Actually – probably made my term 🙂


Posted on April 8, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

Using I’m a Scientist to enrich our curriculum – A teacher’s view

Debate kits and information sheets

After taking part in I’m a Scientist in June 2012, Ellie Russell, a science teacher from Trinity CE High School in Hulme, told us about other ways she uses I’m a Scientist resources. Here’s what she said…

I can’t remember who first told me about I’m a Scientist last year, but straight away I knew it was a concept that would appeal to our students. Since then we have signed up for several zones with different classes and the students have truly enjoyed engaging with real scientists and finding out a bit more about what they do.

To be honest, even though I’ve been really keen, it’s taken me a few more months to realise just how useful some of the other resources are for us too. We teachers are never very keen to read through all that useful support information!

The Debate Kits for Drugs in Sport and IVF are great. We know that debating skills are important for our students and our BTEC students can even pass some of their assessment criteria by engaging in debates. We’ll integrate these in our Yr 9 and 10 SoW.

The Information Sheets about Nuclear Power pro’s and cons are already differentiated and lend themselves nicely to KS4 ‘ideas about science’ in one of the Core Science units… and just this week we’ve been told that the fabulous online GM Food debate will be archived for future reference. This seems a perfect source for our students should they have a GCSE Case Study of a similar title.

In fact, we should really introduce all our classes to the website to keep in mind for future reference, regardless of which science route they take.

I’m going to make sure I take a closer look at all future material I’m sent!

Posted on November 28, 2012 in Downloadable Teacher Resources, GM Food, IAS Event, News, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

Congratulations to the March event student winners!

We would like to congratulate the following winning students from the March 2011 event. The moderators thought they all asked good questions and really engaged with the event.

The students winners of I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! are:

Name School Zone
Andrew Wood Tiffin School Argon
Benjamin Case Mangotsfield Secondary School Chlorine
Erin Ibbetson Broadoak Mathematics & Computing College Forensic Science
Samuel Porter The Kings School, Devon Potassium
Ahmad Dehghani West Thames College Space
Calvin Mallion Chafford Hundred Campus Stem Cell Research

Well done to all the students above! They have now received their student winners certificates and WHSmith vouchers.

We would also like to thank all the other students who participated. Everyone contributed to the brilliant chats and thought provoking questions, which made this year’s I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! one of the most exciting and fun events yet.

Posted on April 7, 2011 modemily in Event News, News, School | Leave a comment

I'm a Scientist: A student speaks

Here is an article written for a school newsletter by a teenager, about the experience of taking part in I’m a Scientist.

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!

Sound familiar? One small change – we’ve swapped a group of celebrities trying to eat the entire jungle for a group of buzzing scientists – each in a jungle of questions and comments.

Another textbook science lesson? Maybe not! I’m a scientist is a website aimed at all teenagers – interested in science or not (but believe me, by the time you finish the project, science will have taken over your brain and made you love it for the rest of your life). Each pupil is given a login, leading to their individual area which can be personalised with pictures of famous scientists, exploding chemicals and swine flu particles. The login works for a specific zone. In each zone, there are five scientists.

The aim of the game is simple – you ask questions (on practically anything – from “do aliens exist?” to “have you ever exploded any of your experiments?”) and the scientists reply. Then, at the end of the week, you vote for the one you think has answered your questions the best.

And it doesn’t stop there. To make the website more appealing I’m a scientist have come up with the clever idea of a live chat; you book a session where the scientists speak to you face-to-face! (Virtually anyway).

The scientists talk about general science – what topic you’re studying at the moment, and maybe even give advice on what you should study to be able to go into certain scientific fields.

In the end, everything is drawn to a climax – the votes are counted and the winner is presented with the grand title of “I’m a Scientist winner” and £500 to spend on teaching young people about what they are currently researching.

Your vote shouldn’t just be a split-second decision, a quick click and then nothing… a single vote has the power to change the world. The scientist who gets your vote may invent a cure for cancer, discover what all that ‘junk DNA’ codes for, or make a GM crop which could feed starving populations. So whilst I’m a scientist is fun, challenging and educational, it is a door into the future of science, which, with any luck, we will all be able to walk through one day.

The reason I’m a Scientist is supporting the Science is Vital campaign is because we too want today’s teenagers to be able to walk through that door one day, if they want to.

Posted on October 12, 2010 in IAS Event, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

Doors open!

I’m a Scientist is a FREE online science enrichment activity where your students talk to real scientists, learn about How Science Works (HSW) and get inspired.

We are now taking applications for classes to take part in I’m a Scientist June 2009. It should be even better than last year and we are looking forward to hearing from you!

Event dates: 15th-26th June 2009
Deadline for applying:
15th May 2009

Spaces are limited, so get in early. Although it won’t be strictly first-come-first served as we want to make sure we have a good spread of schools.

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Teacher Application Form for IAS June 2009
* indicates required field


Year 9 (S2 in Scotland)
Year 10 (S3 in Scotland)
Year 11 (S4 in Scotland)
Year 12 (S5 in Scotland)
Year 13 (S6 in Scotland)

To find out more before applying:-

The event site is here, and you can look back at the March 2009 event, or the pilot last June, and see the kind of questions young people asked and the answers scientists gave. Please note, this doesn’t give you an idea of the energy and usefulness of live chats, which many teachers, students and scientists say are their favourite bit.

Our evaluations of the pilot and the March event are here, where you can find out what students, teachers and scientists said about taking part and what they got out of it.

Teaching materials specially designed for the event are here and you are free to download them and use them as much as you want, whether you take part in the event or not. Most of them work fine as stand-alone activities.

Or feel free to call or email me for a chat about it. I’m really very friendly (once I’ve had my morning cup of tea:-)). (Sophia Collins, the event organiser) or call 01225 869413.

Posted on May 5, 2009 in IAS Event, School | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Are schools a really bad idea?

I’ve been intrigued today by this piece of research. To summarize (for those of you who don’t feel like clicking), researchers looking at behaviour in Przewalski horses found that in groups with low adult/young ratios “young horses were more aggressive and more segregated from adults and they established tighter bonds with other young.”

The scientists go on to speculate. “Tighter bonds between young in groups with low proportions of adults could be a factor which decreases the attention paid to adults and probably reduces their influence as regulators of the behaviour of young, in particular their aggressive behaviour.”

Of course this mimics the environment we artificially create for our young people, in schools. I have often thought that it’s odd the way we lock children away from the rest of society and designate a small number of adults to interact with them, while the rest of the adult world effectively washes their hands. Does this research suggest that this model increases aggression and makes young people less likely to respect and pay attention to adults – and, by extension adult society? Are we deliberately making it much harder to socialise our children? How does this chime with your experiences as a teacher?

And if the basic concept of schools is largely to blame for juvenile delinquency*, can the Daily Mail stop pillorying teachers, sex and relationships education and whatever else they think is responsible?

*Yes, I know, I’m wildly over-extending the evidence.

Posted on March 18, 2009 in School, Science Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Another video format question

Thanks to all the teachers who checked what video format their school systems would allow. We found that none of the formats worked consistently in all schools. Cue lots of headscratching here and thinking we weren’t going to be able to have video clips on the site at all. But then Sai Pathmanathan suggested trying Google Video, which she says worked for her on a previous project with schools.

If you’re not all too fed up of the music, please could you try watching this 15 second clip on Google Video, on your school system and telling us if it works. Cheers!

Posted on April 15, 2008 in General, School | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What video will work in schools?

We want to be able to put video clips up on the site, but we need to work out what format works for school systems (embedded links to YouTube are easiest, but many school systems block YouTube, for obvious reasons). We’ve put very short test clips up on this page, if you get a minute it would be fantastic if you could test these on your school system to see which ones work (if any).

Posted on March 25, 2008 in General, School | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Do you think scientific speed-dating would work?

Well we’ve been beavering away here in I’m a Scientist Towers. We’ve taken on a freelancer to develop the teacher packs. Becky Davies usually works at Techniquest Continue reading

Posted on March 12, 2008 in Evaluation, How Science Works, School, Science Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We never had YouTube when I were at school…

Yesterday we did our second school visit, to watch a modern science lesson in action. Shane and I realised it was a long time since we were in a secondary school science lab, so thought we’d better see how it’s changed. Continue reading

Posted on January 30, 2008 in General, School | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

We have lift off

Welcome to the blog for I’m a Scientist development. This is here mainly for stakeholders (apols, I will try to keep management-speak down to a minimum) and interested parties to get a little window into how the project is progressing behind the scenes. But it’ll be interesting snippets, rather than a blow-by-blow account, as I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to hear.

So far we’ve been developing the design, putting up this site, recruiting advisor teachers, researching the curricula and lots of other bits and pieces. Please feel free to use the comments section to add your two-penn’orth, or contact me with suggestions or for more info.

Posted on January 29, 2008 in General, School | Tagged , | Leave a comment