Science with a WOW factor thanks to Empiribox
Malcolm Drakes, Executive Headteacher at Broadford Primary School, Romford, talks about raising standards and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
Pupils at Broadford Primary School wake up excited at the prospect of the school day ahead. We work to give the 568 children in our care a rich educational experience with challenges, new experiences and the highest quality teaching.
We want our pupils to develop a lifelong love of learning. This informs every aspect of our work and has won us recognition from outside bodies. This year we were chosen as the Times Educational Supplement Primary School of the Year and we also won the coveted Overall School of the Year 2017.
It is hard to believe that back in March 2012, Broadford Primary School was in Special Measures. The Senior Leadership Team decided that a systematic and sustained focus on continuous professional development (CPD) was key to improvement.
An emphasis on planning, resourcing and training meant that teachers gained more confidence and competence when teaching core subjects and within two years the school was transformed.
Science Teaching – Creating Awe and Wonder
A great example of this change was the teaching of science. When it is taught with confidence, science provides some of the most exciting and dramatic moments in a classroom. However, very few primary teachers have a background or qualification in science and therefore lack the subject knowledge to translate this excitement to pupils.
We wanted to thrill pupils with inspiring experiments and activities, so that even the youngest could experience the ‘awe and wonder’ of science. It was a tall order and we knew it was essential to equip teachers with the necessary subject knowledge and training, as well as finding the money for resources, so that they could conduct high quality experiments.
There was no local training we could tap into and we were disappointed to find that many of the science schemes we could buy would require the teachers to interpret the ideas, resource the lessons themselves and develop their own subject knowledge.
This was going to place too heavy a workload on our teachers and would make it very difficult for us to differentiate teaching so that we could provide challenges for our More Able learners.
How We Did It – Saving Time and Money
We came across Empiribox and were immediately impressed. Here was a set of simple, but effective resources, that would let us deliver high end lessons with a WOW factor.
Each term, all year groups study the same topic, featuring hands-on investigative experiments guaranteed to engage pupils of all abilities. It creates a school-wide buzz of excitement, engages classes in collaborative working and promotes best practice amongst staff.
Empiribox was developed by Dan Sullivan, an experienced secondary head of science. It consists of twelve themed termly packages for KS2 and six for KS1, of inspiring lesson plans covering chemistry, biology and physics plus assessment tools designed to measure, track and record pupil development. Everything is mapped to the KS1 & 2 National Curriculum schemes of work. It is a great time saver for our staff and means we don’t have the stress and anxiety of planning the annual science curriculum.
When delivering inspiring science lessons, you must use equipment. Like many primary schools, we don’t have the necessary space to store science resources when they are not in use. We were delighted to discover that Empiribox would deliver specialist equipment each term, for every year group, and collect it when the classes had finished that topic.
This is such a brilliant idea: it keeps down our capital costs, makes best use of our limited storage space and provides all the kit needed for exciting hands-on activities designed to enthral pupils of all abilities. The training provided by Empiribox is a key benefit for us. We estimated that the cost of training 25 teachers for three days a year would typically total upwards of £10,000 alone. The Empiribox package represents an
affordable solution for our school and the CPD they provide is included as part of it.
CPD Training and Collaborating with Partner Schools
Empiribox delivers a termly CPD training programme, delivered by science graduates, which boosts the confidence of our teachers and makes sure lessons go with a bang – sometimes literally!
Empiribox was introduced in the whole of KS1 and KS2 from February 2015. Each term, all year groups study the same topic at the same time, and they enjoy practical investigations suitable for all abilities and age ranges. We even find staff talking about the topics and working together so there is a school-wide buzz of excitement.
Teachers have access to a wide range of online resources that support planning and enable them to answer questions from curious pupils. Georgina Barron, our AHT for Curriculum, regularly observes the lessons and helps teachers to develop the quality of their teaching when necessary.
We work alongside Mead Primary School, one of our partner schools in the federation and also an Empiribox subscriber. This brings opportunity for teachers to work together on training, planning and evaluation so pupils at both schools get access to the same high-quality teaching. It also means that science teaching in the federation is not just the responsibility of one member of staff so we can ensure consistency, even if staff leave or are absent long-term.
Teachers are continuously building their skills, subject knowledge and confidence. Tej Lander, a Year 4 teacher, told me: “Empiribox has really helped me to develop my scientific knowledge. My confidence with the vocabulary and how to address misconceptions has really improved with the training.”
His pupils are very appreciative too. A year 4 student said: “The teacher demonstrations have been amazing. When Mr Lander blew the top off the paint can it was incredible. It makes the lessons so much fun!”
When we asked the staff, 90% agreed strongly that their scientific knowledge had improved while 100% said they were more confident at planning and delivering experiments with their classes.
Working with Empiribox has significantly helped to raise the quality and consistency of our science teaching. Pupils now typically make greater than expected progress across units of work and in a recent survey, the majority of pupils said the Empiribox lessons were fun and exciting, making them keen to learn more in other areas of the curriculum.
It’s More Than Just Science Lessons
Empiribox’s positive influence extends beyond science. Their systematic approach to developing the plan, investigate, analyse cycle with our pupils means that they are much more methodical in their approach in other subject areas. When pupils took part in an event hosted by Bloomberg they drew directly on these skills to plan their presentation. The reciprocity shown in using the resources, and independence in organising their groups, is a direct result of the exposure to the Empiribox approach.
From entry in Early Years, we focus on strengthening the pupils’ ability to work effectively in pairs and small teams. We know we need to build independence and confidence so that the pupils can tackle a wide range of tasks. Empiribox directly supports this with the plentiful resourcing, clear modelling and emphasis on practical hands on experiences.
The skills children learn in an Empiribox lesson, such as how to plan for or evaluate an experiment, are easily transferable to other subjects in the curriculum. The impact this is having on children’s overall learning is very impressive and we have seen an improvement across many other subjects.
Dan Sullivan, the founder of Empiribox, says: “Science should be fun, not just for youngsters making their first foray into the world in which we live, but for teachers as well.”
At Broadford Primary School we agree. Lessons regularly wow the pupils, giving them hands on opportunities to test and explore their ideas and we have found that this enthusiasm for learning bubbles over into all subject areas. Now we have pupils describing science as their favourite subject and that has never happened before!