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Shy students miss out on science, research finds

Teachers claim a lack of science facilities and equipment means introverted students stay at the back of the queue when it comes to hands-on learning

Posted by Hannah Vickers | April 14, 2017 | Teaching

New research finds that introverted students suffer disproportionately when it comes to practical science lessons in schools. Almost half of teachers consulted confirmed that introverted students were more likely to hold themselves back from taking part, rather than engage with hands-on experimentation, due to lack of equipment. Teachers said such students would continue to be disadvantaged and miss out on important learning opportunities unless more science-learning facilities and equipment are made available; 77% agreed that industry could have a large role to play in filling this gap, and encouraging more students to study STEM subjects in further education.

The study from life sciences company Bayer Plc surveyed 500 teachers about their experience of science in schools, including their opinion on the importance of practical application and facilities, to coincide with the launch of its new school’s science laboratory – Baylab.

The teachers questioned also raised specific concerns with regard to future career choices, with twice as many primary school teachers reporting that children talk most about becoming a vlogger compared to those who say children aspire to be a scientist.

In affluent areas, 14% of teachers said that a scientist was something the children aspired to be whereas this was only 7% in poorer areas

Stark differences in attitudes and experiences between affluent and poorer areas were also highlighted by the findings. In affluent areas, 14% of teachers said that a scientist was something the children aspired to be whereas this was only 7% in poorer areas. 

These findings are further reflected in recent research from the Wellcome Trust which revealed that around one third of GCSE students enjoy access to ‘hands-on’ practical science lessons less than once a month, with poorest pupils being the most likely to miss out. The Bayer results show that nine out of ten teachers firmly believe that regular access to practical and self-discovery lessons improve the learning process for students of all abilities and backgrounds.

Part of an £11m investment, Baylab aims to inspire young people to pursue opportunities in life science and strengthen the UK STEM talent pool from the bottom-up; its experiments have been developed to support teachers with delivering the national curriculum and fill the ‘hands-on’ science gap that many teachers experience due to time and cost constraints. Ranging from giving children the chance to extract their own DNA to characterising the proteins of an enzyme, trying their hand as a formulation scientist and even working through crime scene forensics, the experiments have been designed to help give students insight into how science is used in everyday life.

Gail Cardew, Professor of Science, Culture and Society and Director of Science and Education at the Royal Institution, which has been working with Bayer to develop a programme of hands-on workshops for the Baylab, said: “We welcome the launch of the Baylab facility and look forward to working alongside this exciting project, which will see thousands of students benefit from increased access to state-of-the-art science equipment and hands-on learning.’’

Alongside the Baylab, Bayer has launched the Inspiration Space, a high-tech interactive exhibition; through the latest motion sensor, touch technology, and body scanners, students will understand what constitutes sustainable food and provide informative insight into the complexity of the human body in relation to maintaining a healthy heart, skin and wound care. Both Baylab and the Inspiration Space will provide access to approximately 4,000 key stage 1 to 4 students every year. 

Baylab’s manager, Emma Schierbaum, a science teacher and bio-chemist said: “Practical experiments can often suffer due to lack of lesson time, facilities, and class size. Shy students tend to get forgotten in normal classes of 30+ and so Baylab is intent on ensuring all students, even those less confident than others, gain hands-on experience by allowing children to work individually or in pairs, in a team environment. I guide them through each of their experiments, giving all students the chance to build their confidence and see how science lessons relate to real-life settings. 

“We look forward to welcoming students of all abilities from across the country to visit Baylab as a center of excellence for science, but also as an important free educational resource to enhance and complement the National Curriculum.” 

The Bayer survey revealed teachers believe companies working in the STEM industry should play a role in providing facilities for engaging school trips, enabling students to understand the real-life application of STEM subjects and making the career options available easier to understand.

Alexander Moscho, CEO of Bayer UK and Ireland said: “At Bayer we are well aware that sound scientific expertise is essential for meeting the challenges of the future. That’s why the company is increasingly gearing its strategy towards the promotion and strengthening of science education as well as our own research activities. Baylab will help students discover the magic of science and how they can apply their knowledge to real world scenarios. It will work alongside our other initiatives including our award-winning apprenticeship programme and graduate scheme to encourage more young people to pursue a career in life science.”

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