In June 2013 Outwood Grange Academy took 5 science fair projects to the Big Bang Yorkshire and Humber at the Yorkshire Air Museum. The projects had been completed by KS3 students as part of extracurricular enrichment and had only been entered as a chance for the students to show off their work and enjoy the STEM activities on offer at the exhibition. In this extract from the July 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine, Becky Simmonds and Colin Riddell share how the project ended up funding a trip to China.
Everyone was delighted when one of the students was awarded the prize for best KS3 science project and put through to the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition in March 2014, and then astounded when she also won the best practical science prize across all age groups for her project on where to store bananas – the prize which funded our trip to China.
In July 2013 four students from Holly Lodge Girls College were awarded the best practical science prize at the regional North West Big Bang for the STEM Club project they carried out in transforming E. Coli bacteria with the pGlo plasmid.
Both schools were very excited to discover this award was courtesy of the University Of Bradford and a trip to Guangdong Province in China to take part in the International Teenagers Science and Technology Practice Festival. We are very grateful to Dr John Baruch from the University of Bradford and our Chinese hosts for making this amazing opportunity available to us.
Having met each other for the first time on the plane from Istanbul to Guagnzhou we embarked on a once in a lifetime opportunity which allowed us to experience so much of the Chinese culture and education system in that region of China, especially as the only English competitors in the practical science competition.
Our first full day in China entailed a tour of part of Guangzhou followed by a flight to Guilin in Guangxi province. If we needed a reality check that we were in China this was it. The scenery around Guilin was breathtaking. The whole region is characterized by Limestone Karst Mountains that are the remains of a 200 million year old seabed. The ancient coral has been uplifted to about 600m above seal level. It’s strange – if this this scenery was in the UK, It would be green belt or national park with no possibility of anyone building anywhere near it. In China the City of ………
Guilin is built around these mysterious outcrops to provide the most surreal back drop.
Having returned to Guangzhou we arrived at the International Teenager Science and Technology Practice Festival – where many students began to arrive from all over China. This was an opportunity for us visit a local school in Guangzhou.
A bus duly delivered us to the School of Guangdong – Experimental Middle School. Following lunch we had a talk from the Vice Principal and a group of students. The students and some of the teachers then took us on a tour of the school. Nearly all of the students board. With over 3000 students, a sizeable part of the school is given over to their dorms.
The students showed us around many of their classrooms and we got to sit in a watch what would be the equivalent of a year 9 music lesson with students playing home sweet home on the recorder!
It was very interesting to see the approach of the schools we visited to practical science. Science seems to go hand in hand with technology in China – the Science labs weren’t labs like we expect in the UK – more like work shops were the students learn about electronics and manufacturing – true STEM at work. They were very proud of the electric cars and robot that the students had been building recently in their equivalent of STEM club. We were made extremely welcome at school and came away feeling inspired and intrigued by the prospect of future a partnerships.
Speaking to the students, we were struck that although many of them were boarders, they actually lived less than half an hour away from their parent’s homes. It seemed incredulous to the same students that they would waste at least an hour of study time a day commuting from home to school. In, I suppose what we might call a growth mind set or ‘grit’, the students were determined to put in the hours needed to make sure that they achieved at the highest academic levels for themselves. The school, parents and the Chinese state have succeeded in getting the message across that the best way to improve your life chances is to be educated. That was a message wholeheartedly embraced by the students of the schools that we visited.
Taking part in the competition it was again very apparent how students had combined science and electronics in their projects. It was very clear that the schools are doing their best to equip the students with the skills that they need to contribute to the growing Chinese economy.
During our last afternoon at the competition we were teamed up with Chinese students and tasked with producing a meal from a set of supplies, a cast iron wok and wood fired stove – A Chinese barbecue meets ready steady cook! It turns out that young people the work over rely on their parents to do the cooking – this was a learning curve for both British and Chinese students!
Coming back from the trip we have put into ….
Becky Simmonds @beckylsimmonds, teacher of science at Outwood Grange Academy.
A biology specialist, “I have been teaching science and A level biology since 2003. I have a love of extracurricular enrichment, both in science in terms of projects and competitions, and in other areas of wider school life.”
Colin Riddell @kimcheecolin, is the Lead Learning Innovator and Teacher of Science with a specialism in A Level Biology at Holly Lodge Girls College. Colin has been teaching since 2007 with a fervor for promoting STEM to the girls at Holly Lodge through STEM club, organised events with STEM ambassadors, colleges and universities.