Everyone can do maths – and frequently does

By Claire Arbery

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Royal Society fringe event where Dame Julia Higgins of the Royal Society, presented their vision for Maths and Science for next 20 years.Maths equation for engineering

Currently, we will not meet UK skill needs for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related jobs for the next 20 years. The UK has huge strengths in Maths and Science, but there is a significant problem for STEM as we face rising competition from overseas and long term changes are needed.

One of the most interesting discussions from my point of view was whether society “can do maths”.

During my early career I trained and qualified as an accountant. When I meet people, we generally end up talking about what you have done. As soon as they hear I studied and qualified as an accountant, I usually have the response “I can’t do maths”.

Can everyone do maths?

Well yes I believe we do. We work out our change when paying for items with cash at a till, we manage our bank account and decide the portion sizes when cooking meals. All relevant maths skills.

One example that I shared at the fringe event was when I used to manage apprentices in a local college. I would frequently be visiting hairdressing apprentices in their functional skills session, and listen to them quite clearly stating that they “can’t do maths” and yet, in a salon setting, they were able to assess the nature of their client’s hair, and decide the quite complex mixture of colours and peroxides to meet the client’s expectations for their new hairdo.

They were more than competent at working out the ratios of colour tints to developer and the percentage of peroxide needed to lift the colour for the client, but most surprising of all, was that they were blissfully unaware that these were maths skills that they were using.

Everyone can do basic maths, addition, subtraction, ratios, but when faced with the question of maths, people often remember the quadratic equations, and Pythagoras theory, which is not so readily used by everyone in everyday life but is still vitally important to the engineers of our future.

I believe that the Royal Society’s vision for the development of Science and Maths over the next 20 years is key. This should be embraced by whichever government is successful next May, and a course should be set to achieve those goals.

There is a significant skills gap that needs to be addressed and the Royal Society puts teaching at the heart of this development.

In order to develop this we need a strong teaching profession, with a good supply of maths and science teachers, recognised by the STEM community. We heard from an A level student, on the day, who clearly had a passion for maths and science, and had developed these from inspiring teachers.

I believe that good high quality Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is vital for people to join the teaching profession, and more importantly to continue their teaching careers. This CPD should not just be about Progress 8 measures, or Ofsted expectations, but teachers should have access to subject specific CPD, to refresh and update their knowledge and to keep young people inspired to continue to higher levels see the relevance of maths and science to future careers and enable UK plc to grow and retain a future workforce in STEM.

We have a range of mathematics specific professional development occurring, whether it is a one day course near you or one of the multi-day residential courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York.

Numeracy and Mathematics in the Science Classroom

Linking the Core Subjects: Mathematics, English and Science

New and Aspiring Leaders of Mathematics

Using Scratch to enhance the understanding of KS3 Maths

If you are interested in inspiring your young people to look at future STEM careers, but don’t know enough about what they could do, then register for our Teacher Industrial Partners Scheme (TIPS) to spend a fortnight working with local industry to understand what they need from today’s young people tomorrow.

Teachers, STEM and good news!

by Yvonne Baker

Last week, a Good University guide supplement to The Times newspaper declared there has been a “surge in the uptake of STEM subjects” in Good University Guide screenshotEnglish Universities as young people, and their parents, become more aware of the potential of such degrees. This is good news and should be celebrated. However, curiously, one thing the feature omitted to mention, among the various STEM activities in which young people can now participate, is the fundamental role and influence of their teachers. To misquote Lady Bracknell, this is both careless and unfortunate.

The much quoted McKinsey survey of 2007, along with reports such as PISA, TIMMS and TALIS, demonstrate time and time again that the quality of an education system depends on the quality of the teaching and teachers within it. Thus, activities to encourage and promote STEM need to include teachers and teaching, not just young people; what some might term a ‘whole system approach’.

This is supported by evidence from programmes such as the National Science Learning Centre which does just that, developing the skills and knowledge of ‘where STEM can take you’ for young people through supporting their teachers, so maximising the ‘return on investment’ made in STEM support. Indeed, the large scale EU funded Ingenious project, which has worked with teachers and students across 20 European countries over three years, shows clearly that, whilst events and activities can stimulate young people’s interest and engagement in STEM, the effect is increased and maximised when their teachers receive appropriate development too. Where teachers benefited from high quality, subject-specific professional development activities, they developed both the confidence and the skills to ‘embed’ STEM contexts, examples, and career across the curriculum and beyond. This, the study found, amplifies the impacts on achievement, aspiration and engagement that young people’s involvement in activities can have.

Another finding of the Ingenious project – and our experience in the UK – is that getting this support to enough teachers and young people to make a difference is hugely assisted when appropriate national infrastructures are in place. By this, we mean organisations skilled in helping schools, teachers, employers, scientific societies etc to locate each other and identify the most appropriate ways to work together. Surprisingly, relatively few countries have anything in place in this regard.

In The Netherlands, Platform Beta Techniek – financially supported by the Dutch Government – works to proactively engage STEM employers and schools, with significant positive results. Denmark is now developing a ‘national platform’ following the Dutch model.

The challenge is scaling a support infrastructure up to a country with many thousands of schools such as the UK, Germany or France. What may be surprising is that the UK – with around 30,000 schools in total – is leading the way. A significant infrastructure has been in place for around 10 years now, funded by a coalition of government, charitable trusts and STEM employers. The core consists of four major ‘enabling programmes’ – the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) providing professional development for teachers of mathematics; the National Science Learning Centre and Science Learning Network providing professional development for all other teachers of STEM; National STEM Centre providing access to quality assured teaching resources, and the STEM Ambassadors facilitating contact between schools and many thousands of excellent STEM role models. Alongside this run a wide range of excellent STEM schemes for young people, including the BSA CREST Awards, Tomorrow’s Engineer and the Royal Institution Young Scientists’ Centre.

Together – and with the assistance of too many people to mention – this has, as the Times supplement shows, reversed the downward trend in students pursuing STEM subjects post-16, with mathematics now the most popular subject at A level in England. I bet many would be surprised by that.

However, despite this welcome news, challenges remain. Interesting young people in pursuing STEM – either in terms of studies or careers – is a truly international issue, as shown by the recent EU/Intel “Skills Mismatch” report, or the Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) study from the University of Oslo. In the UK, we have a particularly stubborn issue in terms of female students studying engineering, and entering the engineering profession – I was always the first female engineer on any site I worked at in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and the situation has not moved that much since!

Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, is for those who support these infrastructures; encouraging them to sustain funding and other support for the real long-term, not moving on to another ‘great idea’ in the never-ending quest for a better mousetrap or the elusive golden bullet. Obviously, we need to continually develop and move on – but the structures we have in place are working, as the HE figures demonstrate, and we need to build on these, not risk going backwards or starting again. And this is not a problem confined to the UK – as Marc Durando, Executive Director of European Schoolsnet said repeatedly last week at the Ingenious conference, ‘let’s start backing what works’, and then even more young people will get, through STEM, the opportunities they deserve.

Politics Today – A Q and A with Yvonne Baker

This is the full extract of the abridged question and answer session Yvonne Baker had with Politics First.

  1. There is a shortage of scientists and engineers in the UK, but are there really the jobs out there for young people?Politics First cover Sept 14

All surveys and statistics suggest that there is an increasing need for STEM skills across the economy and society; STEM employers and business organisations across many sectors including aerospace, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and technology highlight difficulties in accessing the right kind of skills and trained staff. All forecasts and predictions indicate the need for good numerical, scientific and technology skills will only increase.

This is a truly international issue. Countries like Germany, France and even Switzerland are facing similar difficulties. Shortages are often as acute – if not more so – in technical and non-graduate roles, so we need to highlight the fantastic career opportunities young people can find via these routes if they are encouraged appropriately. STEM skills such as problem solving, creativity and team working are invaluable whatever a person goes on to do with their life. The pace of technological change is unlikely to slow down so the ability to understand and contribute to debates over ‘the big questions’ as well as everyday life is a duty and a right, not a privilege to be enjoyed by only a few.

  1. The UK’s ranking in science TIMSS and PISA has been falling – is this a reflection on the quality of teachers in the UK?

TIMSS and PISA are two important and helpful indicators of a country’s performance compared to others in certain aspects of science and maths education, but certainly do not tell the whole story. We cannot ignore them and must think hard about what we need to learn and act on from the trends in our TIMSS and PISA performance.

Lord Winston recently said, “we have many great science teachers; we just need more of them.” I would add that we need to be better at supporting, developing and recognising those we already have.

Ensuring that science teachers have access to the right kind of high impact, subject specific professional development throughout their careers is a crucial part of this, just like it would be for law, engineering or medicine. Not only do they need to keep up to date with developments in science, but just as importantly, this is crucial to helping retain their enthusiasm about their subject; all part of inspiring the young people they work with.

This is exactly what we do through the National Science Learning Centre and the aptly named Project ENTHUSE; working with around 3000 science teachers and technicians each year from early years to post-16 levels. This is continued and built upon through the wider network of Science Learning Partnerships across England, and working with SSERC in Scotland, Techniquest in Wales and NILB in Northern Ireland. We have a significant and growing body of independent evidence that shows teachers who work with us impact positively on young people’s achievement in STEM subjects, inspire those young people to understand better the relevance of STEM subjects and the breadth of careers to which they can lead, and crucially are themselves more likely to remain in the teaching profession and more willing to take on new responsibilities.

  1. What are the biggest challenges for science teaching over next few years?

I think the biggest challenges are breaking down some of the stereotypes that persist and ensuring that all young people see science as something full of possibilities. Science is a creative discipline full of potential for making a real difference to people’s lives and society in general, as well as offering rewarding careers of many types.

A particular challenge for the UK is to encourage more girls to consider physics or engineering, either as studies post-16, into higher education or as part of a career. Only around 6% of Chartered Engineers are female, with the percentages of Incorporated Engineers or Engineering Technicians lower still. There are signs for optimism; the University Technical College movement could be a significant catalyst for change, social media such as Twitter is enabling young female engineers such as Roma Agrawal to become better known, and ‘Your Life’ campaign is helping spread the word to young people that STEM careers are for everyone.

The quality of careers advice needs to improve particularly round alternatives to university. We’ve relied on what family and friends knew about and it was as much about what you didn’t want to do as anything else. We need to recognise the influence subject teachers can have.

This is why – as part of Project ENTHUSE – we have introduced a Teacher Industrial Partnership Scheme whereby science or other STEM teachers get to spend two weeks with a STEM employer, getting to grips with the breadth of career opportunities so they can use this in their own teaching but also pass this on to colleagues in their own and other schools.

The National STEM Centre provides examples and ideas of where STEM can take young people in terms of careers. The information can be downloaded free of charge by registering at www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/elibrary

  1. How can we ensure teachers, schools and colleges can continue to access the help they need?

As I mentioned previously, the UK is very fortunate in that it benefits from a STEM support infrastructure put in place in the early 21st Century in response to concerns around STEM skills, and sustained by governments along with other funders since. This includes the National Science Learning Centre and the wider National Science Learning Network providing subject-specific professional development for teachers and school technicians (originally nine regional Centres but now working through 48 school-led Science Learning Partnerships), the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics providing support for mathematics, the National STEM Centre through which teachers and others can access quality assured resources and materials, and the STEM Ambassadors programme, whereby over 25,000 people with STEM backgrounds volunteer their time and expertise to inspire young people free of charge.

Statistics show an on-going increase in the number of young people in England choosing STEM A levels or separate sciences at GCSE since these programmes were introduced.

The UK’s infrastructure is almost unique in that it provides a genuinely national framework, supporting those teaching and learning STEM from early years to post-16.

More than 99% of secondary schools and 38% of primary schools have at least one teacher registered with the National STEM Centre eLibrary, and the National Science Learning Network has worked with 99% of secondary schools since it was first formed in 2004.

Without sustained support, the gains that have been made may prove fragile. For example, while recent changes in English secondary school accountability – such as the Progress 8 measure – have much to be commended, there are real risks that some schools may misinterpret this to reduce the offer of separate sciences rather than increase it. Similarly, the newly established Science Learning Partnerships need to be confident of long-term support from government and others, in both funding and policy terms, to achieve its full potential.

The Royal Society highlighted this in their recent ‘Vision for Science and Mathematics Education recommending that subject-specific professional development should be made a core requirement for teachers and technicians, linked to career progression, and that, as a nation, we should invest over the long term in the infrastructures which provide high impact support.

As Denis Oliver Headteacher of Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School and Sixth Form College leading a SLP in Cheshire and Warrington says,

“Our mission and that of our extensive Teaching School Alliance is to prepare learners for a changing world. As part of the National Science Learning Network, we make a significant difference to young people’s experiences of science, not only in our own school but also much more widely across primary, secondary and post-16 levels. This is of national importance, and requires a continued long-term commitment if we are to give all young people the opportunities they deserve in an increasingly technological world.”

We continue to need your support and commitment to convince and reassure policy makers that their continued support is making a difference to our young people’s understanding and epxerience of STEM subjects.  Please visit our  Support your School page for ideas and ways to help ensure STEM cpd provision in your local area. If you are using social media please use #STEMcpd4schools to highlight your comments.

Make Primary Science Exciting!

By Helen Spring

Science at primary school should be exciting and memorable; it should not only provide children with basic science knowledge, but the skills and the inclination to go out and find things out for themselves.

Primary Science experiment

Primary science experiment

As the recent report from the Wellcome Trust says,

‘pupils should be inspired by their first formal educational encounters with science at primary school’.

I thoroughly agree with this and believe that pupils’ early encounters with science can lead to a lifelong passion for the subject, or equally, turn them off the subject for life!

The Wellcome Trust is concerned that primary science is missing out; that science is no longer a priority for primary schools and that there is a lack of science expertise in primary schools. I believe that science should be a higher priority for primary schools; not only can science motivate and enthuse young people, it teaches them to be investigative and analytical, and develops their transferable speaking and listening skills. I taught one young boy who found English and maths incredibly difficult, but had an incredibly analytical mind and was more capable than many of the higher ability pupils at articulating his ideas and persuading others of his viewpoint.

As an experienced primary school teacher, I am aware that science is often not given the status or time it deserves. There are classes where science is taught from a textbook by a teaching assistant covering PPA; I know of teachers who have been told by senior leadership that there is no minimum allocated teaching time for science and that an afternoon once a fortnight is sufficient. Science in Year 6 often takes a back seat whilst children are prepped for the Maths and Literacy SATs tests. The demise of the Year 6 Science SATs test has advantages and disadvantages as outlined in the report; it means that children no longer have to spend science lessons sitting past SATs papers in order to prepare for their forthcoming assessment, but it means that science lessons are often an afterthought as teachers have spent all their available time planning lessons to ensure that everyone reaches the appropriate level in literacy and numeracy.

Whilst a strong scientific background is helpful in order to achieve these aims, it is more important for primary teachers, who are usually teaching across the curriculum, to have the confidence and experience of carrying out practical investigations. Primary schools, more often than not, do not have specialist teachers available to teach science, and need to make sure that all their teachers, and teaching assistants if necessary, are confident and capable in teaching primary science.

I know many teachers who have spent the morning before lessons on KS2 and KS3 revision webpages making sure that their knowledge is one step ahead of the children’s, so that they can answer those tricky questions from more able children. Primary teachers do not need to have a degree, or even an A level, in a science in order to teach in a primary school. What they do need, is a robust and broad understanding of the concepts up to KS3. ‘Subject Knowledge Enhancement for Primary Teachers’ run by the National Science Learning Centre offers teachers the opportunity to boost their knowledge. The National STEM Centre also houses numerous physical and online primary resources which can support teachers in their subject knowledge and in the classroom.

The National Science Learning Centre wants to support all primary teachers to be able to deliver exciting and inspiring practical science lessons; and to develop confidence, competence and recognition in Primary Science Leaders . ‘New and Aspiring Primary Science Specialists’ is a course designed to enhance delegates’ subject knowledge and leadership skills. Participants who go on this course will have the opportunity to develop their expertise, career and professional status. More experienced Subject Leaders may wish to attend ‘Extending the Role of Science Subject Leader’, which provides them with the opportunity to explore best practice and interact with research at local, national and international levels. Both these courses help to address the issues identified in the Wellcome Trust’s report.

Behaviour Management: From Consistency to Certainty in Ten Steps

by Paul Dix

Guest blog from Paul Dix, a behavioural management specialist at Pivotal Education. Paul is running a free 5 week online course for the National Science Learning Centre in November 2014 to help teachers harness their own behaviour and body language to improve their students behaviour. 

Inconsistent classrooms and labs are difficult places to learn in. Inconsistent teachers are unpredictable, fuelled by emotion and swing from passive to aggressive in a heart beat.paul_dix581x272_jpg__227x100_q85_crop_upscale

My teachers were consistent. Consistently violent, aggressive and harsh! Board rubbers aimed at the head, rulers to the back of the knees and the occasional fist (yes, I have been thinking about behaviour management for quite some time now!)

We desire consistency but there is this nagging doubt that absolute consistency does not reflect our true nature. None of us are 100% consistent and to pretend that we are can mean setting yourself up for a fail. We need a realistic aim. You can create a consistent environment by getting it right 80% of the time; you can create a consistent school with 80% of the adults holding the line. The muttering 20% in the staff room can continue to mutter. If the rest of the staff are united, a sea change in behaviour can still be effected. When we fall off the wagon and act irrationally there must be a consistent willingness to apologise, to recognise our own fallibility and climb back on.

When you hear students talking about their teachers they discuss those who are consistent, (‘Don’t mess her about, she always gets you,’) and those who are not, (‘I hate him, he shouted at me and I only asked a question). They know when you are late to the lesson, unprepared, impatient or react with more emotion than thought. They are forming opinions about your consistency that are quickly set and hard to change. Students bring these attitudes and expectations to the STEM classroom and begin the class with them. Lessons can feel like an uphill struggle when a group expect to be treated unfairly or lack a consistent model. The more they sense inconsistency the more they will be tempted to exploit it or defend against it and the workshop becomes an unstable place for learning.

There is an idea in the popular press that teaching through aggression, fear and hostility was what made British classrooms disciplined and productive. In truth the best teachers have always used something far more effective and far less damaging to relationships than fear. The best teachers working with the most challenging learners have, with hard work over an extended period, moved beyond consistency to certainty.

‘How is it that when I give Kyle a hard stare he laughs at me and when you shoot a glance at him he immediately corrects his behaviour?’ It is certainty. The certainly that you will take action and follow up relentlessly. The certainty that there are rules, routines and learning habits that will always be applied. The certainty that inappropriate behaviour will be met with a rational rather than emotional response. The certainty that even if the child decides to escalate the incident with secondary behaviours the initial behaviour will always be addressed and not forgotten. The certainty that you will keep your promise. The certainty that when it all gets crazy, there is a kindness, humanity and humility from the teacher that shines through. It is these teachers who make the greatest, positive long term impact. It is true that no one forgets a violent, aggressive or hostile teacher. But I am not sure that we remember them for the right reasons.

The roots of a consistent classroom lie in the habits and routines that are relentlessly taught. The learning habits that are embedded in each activity must be clear to everyone, enforced and reinforced until the students tell you they know, ‘Alright, enough already, we know the routine…Sir!. From mundane organisational routines (lining up, deciding on groupings, distributing equipment) to more complex learning rituals (deconstructing a practical demonstration, peer assessment, devising success criteria) your insistence on following the agreements creates consistency and safety for all students.

Set your routines, teach them, model them but most importantly of all, display them. If you are teaching the group how to work productively in groups tell them precisely the behaviours that you want to see from them. Write them out, use words, pictures, symbols, digital animation even. Set the routine, agree it and then catch those who are following it. Sounds simple. In practice it is relentless and tiring.

When you sense that your emotion is getting in the way of your rational consistency it is your routines that provide your best fall back position. Lengthen your emotional fuse with your favourite mantra; ‘Just for today don’t get angry’, ‘I am a 38 year old woman talking to a 12 year old girl’, or ‘I am relaxed, I am calm….I am not about to throttle Wayne/surrender to the men in white coats/have a screaming fit…really I am not!’. Fall back on the language patterns that work and remove yourself from the situation with grace, ‘I am going to leave you to think about what you said, I will come back in a minute and I am sure you will show me how polite you can be’.

Perhaps the greatest challenges to your personal consistency are those children who are most inconsistent in their own behaviour. They may be comfortable surrounded by chaos; for some it replicates their life outside of the classroom. How can we reconcile being consistent when different children demand different levels of intervention, positive reinforcement? We differentiate lesson content, support, resources, groupings for learning. This same differentiation can be applied to behaviour. You are differentiating your responses according to the needs of your students just as you differentiate for learning. Some children need to hear your verbal praise more often that others

Their short concentration span or limiting self belief needs the gentle nudge of your encouragement to keep them working. Try not to get caught up worrying about how you can be consistent across the whole school. Instead focus on individual classes and whenever possible how you are being consistent with individual children. As your consistency and certainty increase you will find children adjusting their behaviour as you arrive. In time you will be able to shoot that look to Kyle across the hall and adjust his behaviour in an instant. Newly qualified teachers may gasp in awe and demand to know where you buy the magic from. Unfortunately you cannot buy it, but you can make it with time, patience and a large helping of humility.

10 Steps to Certainty

  1. When students escalate take them back to the original behaviour before you deal with the secondary behaviours.
  2. Display your consistency clearly on the walls of your teaching space
  3. Manage escalating inappropriate behaviour with an emotionless almost scripted response.
  4. Use phone calls home and positive notes home to reinforce your positive certainty. Even in the most inconsistent homes.
  5. Map rules, routines, learning habits and rituals for individuals and specific activities that are becoming difficult to manage.
  6. Have a clear tariff for appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Send it home to parents and be prepared to concede when you have a bad day and don’t apply it correctly.
  7. Use ‘choice’ when you are speaking to children about their behaviour ‘If you choose to stay on task throughout this activity you can be certain that I will catch you and give you praise and reward. If you choose to ignore the routine/make a sanctuary under the bench/eat Charlene’s rubber you can be certain that you will receive a sanction that I will enforce’.
  8. Don’t judge yourself too harshly when you fall off the wagon and behave inconsistently apologise and get back to your consistent habits and routines.
  9. Resist the temptation to deal with minor indiscretions with high level sanctions. In effect you are ‘crying wolf’, when you really need support for behaviour that warrants a high level sanction colleagues may not be so keen to support.
  10. Aim to deliver and execute sanctions on the same day so that every student can start each day with a clean sheet.

Watch the video to find out more about our free online course commencing in November.  Please register  to attend our Behaviour Management Course here


The science of ice cream

By Yvonne Baker

iStock_000006293364XSmallWhile you are tucking into your ice cream on the beach this summer, you are actually closer to science than might at first meet the eye. So here – with the help of my Dad, who spent many years developing ice cream – is a quick lowdown on the science of ice cream, with which you can impress your family, amaze your friends and also enjoy yourself checking samples!

Firstly, what is ice cream? Well, scientifically speaking it is a frozen matrix of water, fat (dairy or vegetable), milk proteins, sugars, salt and air, with – interestingly from a physical chemistry side of things – a physical structure including liquid, solid and gas phases. This is because, simultaneously, air cells, ice crystals, fat particles and other components all exist within the continuous liquid phase which binds it all together. Water in the form of ice crystals, fat and air sizes, and relative proportions of these are key to the quality of the ice cream and also determine its storage life.

We have all now seen ice cream being made on a small scale, either in your own kitchen or on various television cooking programmes. The Catalyst article in the National STEM Centre eLibrary even shows you how you can make ice cream without a freezer. However, how is the making of ice cream translated to an industrial scale?  – after all, it would take a lot of domestic ice cream makers to feed Brighton Beach on a sunny day!

Well, this is where what chemical engineers call ‘unit operations’ come in – these are bits of a process which, when linked together in the right combination, transform raw materials into a finished product. For ice cream production, key unit operations include:

  • Formulation and preparation – a typical ice cream formulation includes 10% fat, 12% non-fat milk solids,15% sucrose , 0.5% stabiliser/emulsifier (such as locust bean gum/glycerol monostearate) with water making up the remainder. Importantly, not all of the water in ice cream production is ever completely frozen, so stabilisers are used to achieve texture, meltdown and the storage characteristics required by the end customer.
  • Pasteurisation – as with milk, this involves exposing the mix to a high temperature for a short time (eg 80’C for 25secs) to ensure it is ok to freeze and safe to eat.
  • Homogenisation – emulsifiers are included in the ice cream mix to help destabilise the fat globules during homogenisation where the ice cream mix is forced through a small orifice at high pressure (2000-2500 psi). This reduces the fat globule size (to a few microns) to give a dry stiff texture to ice cream when extruded from a freezer. This then allows the manufacture of the different product formats e.g. cones, tubs, stick products and logs.
  • Ageing/addition of flavours – the mix is cooled below 4C for ageing, standing for a few hours before further processing. This is an essential step to allow the physical interactions to occur to produce the desired end product, such as crystallisation of fat particles. Flavours are added at this stage to avoid heat damage.
  • Freezing and product formation – the aged mix is pumped through a refrigerated cylinder which has a rotating part with sharp blade. The frozen mix is scraped from the cylinder surface at the same time as air is incorporated, and through mixing occurs. The ice cream is extruded at around -5C into the required product form.
  • Hardening and storage – once formed into the desired shape, the ice creams are frozen further (hardened) to around -20’C for storage and distribution. Ideally ice cream products should be kept at the lower (hardened) temperature throughout storage and distribution; this prevents partial melting of the ice crystals, which will form larger crystals when they recrystallize so impacting ‘mouthfeel’. However, in reality, mix formulations and processing techniques have been developed to minimise the adverse effects of recrystallization. Interestingly, soft ice cream outlets (like vans) avoid this problem by buying in sterilised ice cream mix and freezing it on demand; the disadvantage is that storage times are much shorter, and these products must therefore be consumed within a short time.

After all these processes, the ice creams are at last ready to be enjoyed. So, next time you decide to indulge in a Magnum, Cornetto or even a Twister (one of the many ice creams my Dad had a hand in developing as part of his working life), give a quick thought to the many engineers, scientists and others who have helped bring you this little bit of summer heaven, and reflect on the many uses that science has!

Reforms to Science at GCSE and A-level: content delivery and practical skills

By Katy Bloom

The Westminster Education Forum held a series of seminars for a predominantly teacher audience on Thursday 22nd July 2014 about the ‘Reforms to Science at GCSE and A-level: content delivery and practical skills.’ Wave Machine at the National Science Learning Centre

Among the questions raised at the seminar around the new Science GCSE seminar were:

  1. What are the teaching and learning implications posed by the move to new linear GCSEs, with coursework and modules removed?
  2. Does the content of the new Science GCSEs link with the content of the Maths GCSE in a way that will adequately facilitate cross-curricular teaching?
  3. How can Government address concerns that making the content of the GCSEs more challenging has the potential to put pupils off taking up science at GCSE and A-level?
  4. How well will the new GCSEs prepare students for the transition to A-level? Given that ‘triple science’ [TS] – the three individual science GCSEs – consist of more advanced content than the science double award qualification [DS], what steps can schools take to ensure that those studying the double award are not at an unfair disadvantage in preparation for A-levels?

My points on the questions above to the audience were as follows:

  1. There are teaching and learning implications of linear assessment.

It’s not really so helpful to just concentrate on chunks of teaching time, and argue for a two-year versus a three-year GCSE. What we need is bigger curriculum thinking: a five-or even seven year progression that effectively plans over successive stages, where teachers have time to revisit both skills and content.

‘Young’ teachers may have never experienced anything other than modular exams themselves. Similarly, current teachers have been teaching modular curricula for more than 12 years, and have acquired ‘habits’ that go along with that approach. That’s not meant pejoratively, it’s simply a consequence of the past curriculum changes. There is however, a lot of supportive professional development that would benefit teachers making the transition to more synoptic teaching and learning.

  1. Increased demand of both literacy and mathematics

To answer the question of ‘whether the content of the Science GCSE links with that of the Maths GCSE’, with another question: has the Maths GCSE been designed to complement the Science GCSE (or vice versa)? How much co-planning was there? If it has been designed so, it will be much easier, more sensible, and incentivising for maths and science departments to be able to work together to deliver a more seamless education. Equally, what can the science department gain from working with the English department? And do they have the time to do so?

It is the ability of the teachers to absorb these changes and transfer them into suitable learning experiences for their students that is really the challenge. For example, there has not been a wide-scale whole-school approach to numeracy across the curriculum since 2002 (National Strategies). Again, there are professional development implications.

  1. Erm, it’s not about the content.

When you look at the curricula of other countries, they are remarkably similar in cognitive demand at comparable ages. The proposed science GCSE has overall similar science content to the existing one.

We shouldn’t confuse ‘challenge of content’ with what ultimate grade boundaries will be to reduce grade inflation; they are not comparable things.

It is teachers who provide the challenge

It is teachers who provide the transitions between stages

The issue is the quality of the teaching rather than the content of the curriculum.

A key solution is to professionally develop the teaching workforce so that they are able to cope with the constant change

  1. The issue is how teachers in post-16 offer the right transition from different pathways

Does Triple Science  have ‘more advanced content’? I don’t think this is wholly precise. It is true that some concepts are more demanding, but on the whole, triple science has more breadth than double science rather than more complex content.

As such, it is not necessarily an advantage to those who have done it over double science; some post-16 teachers assume their students have come from the double science route, and plan and teach accordingly. However, many colleges are now only enabling triple science pupils with A* /A to take post-16 qualifications, as it is more straightforward for them than the work they would need to put into the transition for those from grade B or below or from double science.

The most disadvantaged are really those double science students who attempt an A level with a C grade from the lower tier, as they have not had the breadth of content of double science higher tier. It might not always be the case – it might be that they can and do succeed with the right transition – but it requires a commitment and willingness from  post-16 teachers to provide this

It is however fair to say that triple science students who are required to take it in double science time are disadvantaged also, and this too has the potential to put students off taking it post-16. This is the key point from Ofsted’s ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ report – it is the lack of sufficient curriculum time and quality of teaching which are the limiting factors to pupils’ success.

A wider perspective is that for some students triple science is right and the depth it allows them motivates them, as they like the challenge, it suits their interests and helps them move to post-16 sciences.  However double science level and content is the right choice for other students , particularly for those who want to spend their curriculum time in other areas i.e. sports, music, arts, humanities before possibly specialising in post-16 science. The needs of the individual student must be considered rather than shoe-horning them into a one-size-fits-all qualification.

Here is the full presentation I made to the Westminster Education Forum;


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