It’s high time I wheeled out my annual academic New Year’s Resolutions (if you think most people’s nyrs are predictable, read some academics’ – this year I’ll try to go beyond the litany of “Read more. Write more. Apply for grants. Learn to say no to things”. But I digress), but before I do I wanted to mention one of the highlights of last year, my visit to Lab 13 at Irchester Community Primary School in Northamptonshire.
Fran, Chloe, Megan and Jess from the school had won silver medal in Science Songwriter of the Future (a competition run by Hayley Birch and me to find young songwriters). This was pretty impressive, as our gold winners were 18 and the girls 9 and 10. But their interest in science goes beyond the musical, as I found out when I visited last year to present them their medal. These young scientists are all on the committee for Lab 13.
Lab 13 is a project to bring real science to primary schools, ably assisted by scientist-in-residence Jennifer Hogan. With 8 members in total, the Lab 13 committee design their own experiments, raise money for their materials, manage lab materials and take questions about science from all over their school, devising experiments to answer them. Apparently the worst thing about lab 13 is “you can’t be in it forever”, at least according to young scientist and songwriter Jess.
These talented young people just seemed really, well, normal. No super geniuses, no super geeks, just kids getting a lot out of something they really enjoyed. When does the stereotype kick in that you have to be weird to like science*? Not to mention the gender issues that the non-life sciences have. And could more Lab 13s (or something like them) help bury that once and for all?
Seeing science linked to this level of co-operation, self-reliance and responsibility in a group of people so young was an eye-opener for me. Ms Hogan guided and supported their activities, but it was the pupils who did the work of doing science, creating “detective kits” to sell to raise money, and even sacking committee members who weren’t pulling their weight. This sense of agency and self-determination was something I remember being lacking in my education, especially at that age – the engagement with science aside. Actually, I think encouraging self-direction and creativity is something that was absent from my school science education, and that of many of my peers. I think it’s part if the reason that a lot of my arts grads friends view science as a dry list of things you have to learn, rather than a collaborative exploration where individuals’ uniqueness is valued. This view of science, viewed as passive and requiring people who absorb fact like a sponge, goes against my experience of how science operates, at least in academia.
Having spent some time at Lab 13, I can see so many ways in which it has positive effects – in motivating kids to make something happen that’s their own, sustain it through collaboration, in normalising scientific processes into “everyday life”. As the I’m A Scientist team often stress, not every one of these children has to go on to be a professional scientist for this work to be worthwhile – they will all grow up to be adults living in a world where the impacts of science are keenly felt, and having an experience of science and a perspective that it’s not just something that “other people do” is a very positive outcome, I think.
Anyway, I’ve talked a lot about Lab 13, and couldn’t end 2012 without a hat tip to the other Science Songwriter of the Future!!! 2012 winners – so here they all are in all their glory (plus me in a dodgy mac). We salute you!
*I assume there’s been lots of good work on this, but I’m not up on it – if anyone wants to point me in the right direction I’ll happily link it up