‘Competency through Challenge’ - schools’ partnerships to stimulate creativity and develop skills
At the Association for Science Education (ASE) Conference later this month, I will be sharing my experiences of developing and delivering challenge projects in the UK and the Netherlands. Teachers from Sophianum School and the Cambridge Academy for Science & Technology (CAST) will be joining me to describe their perspective before we invite the audience to share their own ideas.
Challenge-based learning projects push students to use scientific thinking and experimentation to find the solutions to ‘real-world’ problems. Our extensive schools’ outreach programme has always aimed to bring the relevance of everyday life to scientific research areas and demonstrate that science is for anyone with a curious mind, not just for scientists.
Our ‘Protein Challenge’ project for CAST is one of around 20 projects developed with local organisations, which supplement students’ regular coursework. Our project relates to the Institute’s Signalling research programme and involves interaction with researchers, practical lab skills and a scientific poster workshop as well as requiring the students to work together in teams.
Our collaboration with Sophianum School is part of the national ‘Technasium’ scheme. Initially, the challenge projects we set for them focussed on the use of animals in research e.g. looking at opinion and legislation or finding novel communication systems within the animal unit, and were undertaken by 14-15 year old students. In subsequent years we have developed projects which relate to the Institute’s Epigenetics and Signalling research programmes as well as new projects related to our animal unit, undertaken by 16-17 year old students. The Technasium scheme requires the students to work in teams and take the role of product designers to develop solutions for ‘clients’.
We’re also running a project for 12-year-old students as part of Cambridge Launchpad, which aims to educate and enthuse young people about career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. We challenge students at local schools to work in teams to optimise the protocol for extracting DNA from strawberries and create a scientific poster to illustrate their method and results. The team with the best poster from each school are hosted at the Institute by our 1st year PhD students for a day to learn about life in our labs and to get hands-on with standard laboratory techniques such as pipetting, PCR and gel electrophoresis.
We believe that challenging students with projects with relevance to real life, whether based on laboratory skills or research & design, stimulates creativity, exposes students to the variability of the research process and encourages acquisition of a range of competencies which will prove invaluable in university applications and employability. Our researchers benefit from increased communications skills, and have the opportunity to share their skills, passion and knowledge for science and research.
I’m looking forward to discussing my experiences at the ASE Conference in Birmingham later this month and I’m especially pleased that I’ll be joined by two of our long-standing collaborators. If you’re coming please make a note of our workshop in your schedule - we’re at 4.00 on Thursday 10th January.