New software brings science to life for young people

Sep 30, 2011

The use of new technology is helping students to become real 'science investigators'. Researchers funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have developed a software toolkit that shows how such an approach sparks and sustains students' interest in science.

"Science can be hard to sell to young people as a subject for further education or as a career," says Professor Mike Sharples from Nottingham University who co-led the project. "But science shapes the world we live in. Today, people need the analytical tools to understand it and to see through the bad science propagated in the media."

The project shows that the nQuire software engages children's interest more effectively than traditional science lessons where teachers often dispense science facts from a classroom desk. By using mobile computing devices, the software allows students to go out and set up their own projects. They can both find and analyse the data and reach their own conclusions based on hypotheses which they have chosen themselves.

"The software is a high-tech twist on the traditional lesson plan - guiding pupils through planning scientific experiments, collecting and analysing data and discussing the results," says Professor Eileen Scanlon, co-leader of the project from the Open University. "After using the programme, we found that students were better able to grasp the principles underpinning sound scientific practice."

School children in Nottingham and Milton Keynes used portable netbooks with built-in cameras, location sensors and voice recorders, as well as data probes for measuring atmospheric conditions. They went out into the playground, a local nature reserve and around their homes to gather data. Their netbooks were wirelessly linked together and their data readings of light, wind and temperature were updated to a central database, enabling the sharing and analysing of their findings back in class.

The software covers three key topics of the new science curriculum - Myself, My Environment and My Community and requires the students to reason about the natural sciences as a complex system and to explore how others relate to the world around them. The programme also allows teachers to select and modify the scripts and to monitor and guide the students' activities. Projects using nQuire can also be taken home, helping integrate home and school learning and engage parents in the work.

The project showed how the programme not only had a positive effect on learning outcomes, but also led to sustained enjoyment of science lessons and a small but genuine improvement in pupils' understanding of the scientific process. Professor Sharples suggests that by supporting a process of enquiry, the software helps develop an analytic attitude towards their lives. It encourages them to ask questions and to look for deeper reasons.

"Our study shows that this method of personal enquiry helps children develop the skills needed to understand the impact of on everyday life and make better personal decisions about their own health, diet and their impact on the environment."

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Seeing the science in our surroundings

Jun 24, 2010

UK school pupils from Nottingham have become pioneer scientists as part of a research project aimed at designing an innovative approach to learning.

Council wants youths to think spatially

Feb 07, 2006

The National Research Council in Washington is urging educators to teach K-12 students to think spatially, using geographic information systems.

Engaging teachers means engaged students

Jun 23, 2008

To encourage and help teachers become more involved and enthusiastic about "inclusive teaching", the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recently funded an action research based project. Action research can be explained ...

Interactivity means more activity for students

Sep 04, 2008

The British government has invested more money in Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) in its schools than any other government in the world. But is this huge investment worth it? Have the new data projection technologies allowed ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.