Profile of St. Teresa’s Primary School, Balbriggan, Co. Dublin
St Teresa’s Primary School in Balbriggan took an inclusive approach to achieving a certificate of STEM in their first year of participation in the Science Foundation Ireland Awards of Science and Maths. Building on their success, the whole school is now working towards the Plaque of Excellence in STEM.
I feel the SFI Award of Science & Maths is inherently inclusive, it has been a huge success in our school and we are very pleased with the positive influence this project has had with regards to the celebration of science teaching and learning in our school.
We decided to pilot the DPSM programme and to apply for an SFI Award of Science & Maths during the 2014/15 academic year to see what was involved and if it would be manageable to run. We do a lot of hands-on science activities within our school and the awards gave us an opportunity to showcase and celebrate these. It gave us the chance to share our science work and ideas with others in our school and with people at home.
Pupils from 3rd, 4th and our MGLD class, who have a range of special learning needs including ASD, were involved in working toward a Certificate of STEM for the school. Such was the success in our first year of involvement we are now are working towards the Plaque of Excellence in STEM and our whole school (18 classes) is now involved.
A key inclusive approach taken by our school is integration; our pupils with MGLD and ASD are integrated with their peers during science investigations, discussions and activities. Early in January our MGLD class and a mainstream class came together each Monday and Tuesday afternoon and the pupils conducted a number of investigations and experiments; all very much "hands-on" in the spirit of DPSM. Working together over the course of the weeks the group discussed what they would need, made predictions, carried out experiments and logged results. Experiments were chosen for the Science Day from those done in class and the children split into five groups to present their findings.
Our Science showcase
We held a Showcase day in our school hall for the whole school. Classes from 1st-6th had an exhibit table/s which they used to display, demonstrate and present hands-on science activities of their choice. Children from our MGLD class were "buddied up" with a partner child from one of our 5th or 6th mainstream classes. The children manned their exhibits in partnership, taking turns to explain their display and engage with visitors who had questions. We also have several pupils with high functioning ASD in our mainstream classes who took an active part in our showcase day with their own classes.
There were taste tests, chromatography, rockets, floating/sinking, mixing materials, hovercrafts, scratch programming and water filtration investigations among others. A very broad range of curriculum content strands were represented and children's oral language skills were developed as they (not their teachers!) explained to their classmates what their project was about and the science behind it. As the children were not supervised by their class teachers, we had a "Science SWAT Team" of senior students who acted as helpers on the day, particularly with younger classes. Our learning support teachers had a supervision rota and we also had a number of parents present to help the day run smoothly.
Our computer room was transformed into a mini-cinema where the children could pop in to watch a slideshow of all the science activities that had been going on in their classrooms since September. The junior & senior infants "orchestra" of musical instruments designed & made with help of parents using recycled materials were on display. Our schools First Lego league team displayed their robot and ran a Lego 30-second challenge where visitors got a chance to show off their building skills.
We had class prizes, trophies & certificates for most interactive display, best presenters and a "weird science" award. The winners were selected by a judging panel of students and teachers. We also had an individual "Young Einstein" Award which was presented to the child who in the judging panel's opinion showed enthusiasm for science and learning on the day.
Benefits of taking part
Applying for an Award gave us a great framework for our STEM teaching throughout the year and had a very positive effect on attitudes and enthusiasm for STEM learning. Our staff could see that we already do a lot of the required activities so it was simply a case of getting into the habit of taking photos and gathering evidence as we went along. Our attitude to science has been rejuvenated and the staff has increased confidence and enthusiasm in science teaching.
Our favourite activities
My favourite activity is Lava lamps - who knew you could have such fun with household substances! The children particularly enjoyed the rocket making (foam and balloon rockets-among others). The excitement of launching a rocket is tremendous; children can make adjustments to affect the trajectory and distance travelled by the rocket.
Speakers and science trips
We took a trip to Armagh Planetarium and visited Balbriggan beach. We had a visit from a software engineer from IBM as part of the STEPS engineering programme. We also had a very special past-pupil return to give a special talk on her award winning project. Maria-Louise Fufezan who was awarded the BT Young Scientist Award 2016 (along with her partner Diana Bura) explained how her interest in her Granny's chickens led to being awarded the top prize. Maria -Louise answered lots of questions about her project which was about the effects of animal feed on worms in the soil. Her advice to budding primary scientists was to keep asking questions, ask for help, and if something doesn't work out, keep trying and be tenacious. Maria-Louise and Diana will now represent Ireland in the European Young Scientist Competition.
Top tips for success
- Keep it simple, use what you're already doing and use the local environment.
- Take inspiration from children's questions and ideas. The children in St. Teresa's are at the core of our success. Their enthusiasm, energy and sense of wonder are what have made the SFI Science and Maths Award programme so successful in our school.