Catherine reflects on her extra-curricular science clubs and what she and the students gain from them

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I recently read a blog by John Dexter describing the value of ‘The Hidden Curriculum’. It made me reflect on the extra-curricular science clubs I have run and what I and the students have gained from them.

Like many scientists, my passion for science originates with a dedicated teacher. As a sixth form student I was fortunate enough to be taught by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable physics teacher who gave time and energy outside of lessons to help a small group of students complete a project investigating the effect of acid on the shapes of ice crystals in clouds. To us it was complex science, and, although I doubt we discovered anything ground breaking, it introduced us to the world of scientific research.

Now as a teacher, I return the time invested in me by running a science club for our post-16 students in which they complete a Gold CREST award. This is a big time commitment, not only for me, but also on the part of our excellent technicians who support the students in their work.

Why do I do it?

So why do I fight to keep one evening a week free of meetings to run the club year after year?

First of all, I do it because I enjoy it. No matter how fraught the day has been, I always go home from CREST enthused and pleased to be a teacher. At CREST the atmosphere is focused on the teachers and students learning together. I usually don’t know the answer to the students’ questions but there is time to sit down together and find a solution. The mutual respect and joint learning ethos that this develops translates directly into the classroom where its impact on the learning environment cannot be underestimated.

Over the years I have had students complete projects on a wide range of topics, from the eating habits of albatrosses in Antarctica to the possibility of the existence of alien life forms. In helping the students to complete their research and investigate new things, I myself become a better scientist and that passion for science that was sparked so many years ago is kept alive.

Lasting impact

Many of the projects also have a lasting impact on teaching and learning within the school. Several years ago one student gained funding for a weather station for her meteorology project. This still sits collecting data proudly above the Physics department. Other students have encouraged us to dig the bomb calorimeter out of a dusty cupboard, fix it up and as a result it now makes annual appearances in post-16 energetics lessons. This year one group is making a Ruben’s tube. We’re excited to see this working and I am certain it will be very popular in lessons.

The hardest part of running the club is motivating the students when their first experiment doesn’t work. The realisation that not all science works the first time is a revelation for students and can lead to disillusion. However, this is an important lesson for a future scientist. In a recent article in Education in Chemistry, David Smith discusses the skills needed by good researchers. Surely perseverance is among those skills.

Are you a teacher who runs a successful science club? What has been the highlight? How have you encouraged your school management to be supportive of the club? What has been successful or unsuccessful? It would be great to hear from you.