What is action research, and why do it?

by Joy Parvin.

Action research in education is research carried out by teachers in their own schools and classrooms.Action research: Questions and Answers It is useful in several ways;

  • action research can provide one of the highest levels of structured personal reflection for a teacher in terms of their own practice.
  • For those teachers who want to try something out, but don’t know how well it will suit their children, school, wider environment or their teaching style, it provides evidence of impact.
  • You may come across a great idea, programme or other innovation, backed by evidence of success elsewhere, but wonder whether this would work in your school? Action research can provide this evidence. The evidence can then be used to persuade colleagues, as well as senior management, to roll out the innovation beyond your own classroom, and even beyond your own school.

As with any research, you need to spend time working out exactly what it is you want to know, and create a research question that provides a tight focus for your data collection. You may find it easy to start with quite a broad research question, then list a series of ‘sub questions’ from which to select.

How do you collect your evidence?

Use similar methods to more formalised research, but tailored to meet your school’s needs. For example, you can devise simple questionnaires; paper-based or online, using tools such as Survey Monkey, to collect information and perceptions. Questionnaires can be sent to pupils, teachers, parents and governors both before and after the implementation of a new strategy.

The questionnaire design is crucial. It is always a good idea to pilot the questionnaire with a small number of people, before unleashing it on all your intended audience. This way, you can find out whether the questions are measuring what you intended them to measure. Questions should be carefully crafted to ensure that they will successfully measure the successes and difficulties faced by the implementation of the innovation/strategy.

You may also wish to collect data/evidence via classroom observations. To avoid simply watching ‘everything’ that is happening in a classroom during the innovation, try to devise an observation schedule. Models exist which can be adapted and tailored to suit your needs, and to focus on the appropriate aspects of your innovation. Involving colleagues in observations is also beneficial. They can check whether the schedule is effective in achieving its aims, and to add to your data/evidence.

Interviews with pupils and/or colleagues are another effective way of collecting data. This is a much more time-consuming approach, as the data often needs transcribing, then analysing to categorize responses. However it does provide rich in-depth results.

Whatever methods are used, always ensure that you are completely open with everyone involved about the purposes of your research, your intended methodology, and the use of the data you collect. All data should be reported anonymously, unless permission has been given otherwise. People are generally much more likely to answer questions openly and honestly, if given and reported anonymously.

Eight top tips for carrying out your own action research:

  • stay small, stay focused
  • identify a clear research question (e.g. What is the impact of X on Y?)
  • be realistic about what you can do; also be aware that wider change begins with you
  • plan carefully
  • set a realistic timescale
  • involve others – as fellow researchers, as observers
  • ensure good ethical practice.
  • concentrate on learning, not on the outcomes of action

(From McNiff & Whitehead (2002) Action Research: Principles and Practice)

You can find out more about action research from the following sources and courses:

Leading Innovation in the primary classroom (NY005)

Teachers as Researchers (NY712)

Leading Action research in Science Education (RP209)

Action Research in Education – Carol Davenport describes how action research can be used as part of a continuous professional development programme.

The problem of girls and science

By Yvonne Baker

Assessment for Learning in practical scienceI looked at the front page of this week’s Sunday Times with some dismay to see the headline ‘UK girls flop in science league’, knowing that this will reignite an issue which for me, as a female engineer now working in STEM education, is personal as well as something of a mystery.

Of course, once you look behind the headlines – and the inevitable hysteria, jockeying for position and beating of breasts (excuse the pun) which will result – things are not quite so crystal cut. It is well documented that UK girls outperform boys in many aspects of our own education environment, including in science, while clearly – in PISA – this isn’t the case. PISA examines a different range of knowledge and skills, particularly around applying concepts and skills, rather than knowledge. So perhaps the real question is why we are so poor at inspiring girls to see why science is relevant, important and for them; not – as the Times article reports critics rather scathingly put it – ‘poor teaching in science’ which, as inspection and results show, for the vast majority of schools and colleges, simply isn’t true.

The key issue is not teaching or schools – it is society’s wider views about science and gender that are the fundamental issue, as demonstrated beautifully in King’s College’s work on science capital, now being developed through an initiative called Enterprising Science. In particular, it is parents and other influencers that we need to be ‘on the side of science’ if we are to encourage more young people, and particularly girls, that is for them. And yet millions of these very people are subjected to ‘everyday sexism’ about science on a regular basis through television, printed media, stage and screen channels – which, consciously or otherwise, drip feed us with messages suggesting ‘real girls don’t do science’.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  In last week’s Emmerdale  (OK – I admit it’s one of my occasional guilty pleasures), when a young girl asks Harriet for some assistance with homework, she says ‘I do hope it’s not chemistry’. Funnily enough, I suspect the scriptwriters wouldn’t have dreamt of making her say that about history or art.  A few months ago, the Duchess of Cornwall was widely reported as telling a group of schoolchildren including girls, that she never was any good at maths.  How shocked would we have been if she had said that about reading? The film ‘The Imitation Game’, whilst highlighting wonderfully the role of Alan Turing and male mathematicians in breaking the Enigma, completely underplayed the role of women, even effectively relegating the talented mathematician Joan Clark to an administrative role. And let’s not forget the endless reality shows when the host can hardly conceal their amazement when one of the female contestants says they are an apprentice bricklayer or work in a laboratory – ‘ooh’, they’ll say, ‘I never realised girls could do that’. The trouble is that such everyday sexism is rife in our society, with the media capable of transmitting this to millions of people through the simplest of routes 365 days a year, while somehow we expect teachers and schools, in term time and with many other things to do, to be able to magically right these wrongs!

Furthermore, the media continues to reinforce stereotypes and misconceptions that the only route for creativity is through the arts – you only have to look at BBC’s newly launched ‘Be Creative’ campaign to see that.  Why does it have to be one or the other? I don’t believe it does, nor does Athene Donald – one of our greatest women physicists.

As Athene says, to see the debate, either in education or in society as a whole, as divisive – arts against science – is to completely miss the point.  It also, I believe, is one of the key reasons why, in the UK, we struggle to convince girls that science, engineering or technology is where they can really make a mark. And yet how can you possibly be more creative, or make a positive difference to people’s lives on a grand scale, than developing life saving machinery to support brain or heart surgery, designing & building a bridge upon which individuals and communities depend for their emotional and social as well as economic wellbeing, or working on technology solutions to enable older people to access the internet easily and so stay in touch with family and friends.

What teachers and parents do need is a wider view of the jobs to which STEM study can lead, along with a clear indication from government and others that these are key subjects and skills with great opportunities for women as well as men. We also need a much clearer priority placed on science within primary education, where – in England at least – changes in accountability measures mean science risks becoming a secondary subject even though it remains officially ‘core’.  This is even more important when you consider that only around 5% of the primary teaching workforce have any STEM qualification beyond A level, and many have nothing above a science GCSE. Primary teachers are predominantly female, who may themselves lack confidence in science – and yet, if we don’t capture young people’s imaginations about science at an early age, we know the battle is almost lost.

What worries me about the PISA ‘revelations’ about UK girls’ performance more than anything is that it will feed the tendency of politicians and the media to look for quick solutions, rather than the long-term cultural change that we need (and the power for which only they really have within their hands). So expect a barrage of quick announcements, posturing by groups who wish to gain from these ‘new initiatives’ and others who think they hold the ‘golden bullet’, when what we really need is a national conversation about how we move the cultural and media dialogue about women and science on, in a long-term and sustainable way.

Good careers advice will help grow the UK economy

By David Thorpe

The  UK manufacturing sector must grow in order to contribute appropriately to the UK economy.Careers advice - robotics

A vital component driving this growth will be a pipeline of work-ready employees, particularly engineers. A major factor affecting this pipeline will be the numbers of young people studying STEM subjects. Unfortunately 55% of young people know little or nothing about STEM careers.[1]

Where do young people receive careers advice?

The 2013 Wellcome Trust Monitor found that 67% of young people obtain information about possible careers from family, second, at 49%, were teachers. Worryingly, only 17% of young people found information from their teachers to be useful.

In 2010 the National Audit office noted that improving careers information and guidance is one of the critical factors in improving the take-up and achievement in science and maths. In its report on choice and aspiration the DfE said “subject specialist teachers should be able to relate their subject to future learning pathways and the world of work, and give advice about progression in those subjects”.[2]

Education and Industry in partnership

This is why the National Science Learning Network with support from The Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology established the Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme (TIPS). TIPS enables teachers to update and enrich their knowledge of industry through a two-week placement with a local engineering or technology company. This exposure provides teachers with an understanding of the progression routes that link to an engineering and technology workplace. Participating teachers are able to speak with authority about careers that support the manufacturing sector and develop a better understanding of the employability skills required by young people to be successful in industry. By taking these messages back to school they can enhance the learning experiences of their students and share this knowledge widely with their colleagues and parents.

Feedback from participating teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. The TIPS experience has enabled them to enthuse and engage their students in STEM subjects. Importantly, they also gained an appreciation of the value of vocational career paths such as apprenticeships into the workplace; understanding for the first time that apprenticeships can lead to well-paid jobs and even degrees that they were comfortable to promote to students, colleagues and parents. Perhaps the most telling feedback to date is from Jo Cox[3], who said “before this placement I would have probably encouraged a student to consider another career if they had come to me and suggested manufacturing”.

Through the direct involvement of employers, TIPS is a cost effective way of ensuring that careers information is successfully linked to the curriculum and that the importance and relevance of STEM subjects is highlighted to young people. Clearly there is more to do. To be successful we need at least one teacher from every secondary school to have participated in a placement.

[1] Wellcome Trust Monitor: Wave 2, 2013, page 124

[2] Quality, Choice and Aspiration: A strategy for young people’s information, advice and guidance, Department for Children Schools and Families, 2009

[3] Jo Cox, Redmoor Academy Faculty Head of STEM, Science Specialism. TIPS Participant October 2014. Speaking at an event at the House of Commons 3rd February 2015 “A Decade of Excellence in Science Teaching”

Celebrating 10 years of quality Science CPD provided by the National STEM Centre: Why I think the TIPS scheme is a crucial addition to their portfolio…..

Science Learning Centres:

Jo Cox delivers a fascinating insight into the views of teachers on current industry practices and workplaces.

We are delighted that Jo’s experience has so transformed her thinking about careers in manufacturing, that she is developing, in partnership with local industry an after-school engineering course for her year 8 and 9 pupils. It is expected that they will eventually qualify as members of the institute of secondary engineers.

Teachers and employers can find out more about the Teachers and industrial Partners scheme (TIPS).

Originally posted on Redmoor STEM:

Having taken part in the pilot TIPS (Teachers Industrial Partners) scheme sponsored by the IET and the IMECHE I was invited to deliver my thoughts on the scheme at the 10th Anniversary of the Science Learning Network at the House of Commons, on 3 February 2015. The event was hosted by Graham Stuart, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee…


To give you some background to how important, I believe, schemes like the Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme are:

• I recently surveyed just over 100 stem teachers regarding their views on education and the skills required for industry.

• 96% of those teachers, felt that the New National Curriculum alone does not adequately covers the skills required for industry

• 73% of these teachers do not feel adequately equipped to teach their students about current developments in industry

If you add those two statements together, we, as teachers clearly recognise…

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This girl can …… and that includes STEM.

by Yvonne Baker

I returned from an extended holiday in New Zealand last week, and was pleasantly surprised to discover the “This Girl Can” campaign from Sports England making its mark. If you haven’t seen it, the video shows women engaging in a variety of physical activities ranging from football to aerobics. However, instead of the normal advert fodder of airbrushed, cool as a cucumber, not a hair out of place types, this shows a much more realistic version of how we look when we do stuff ; a bit scruffy, a bit sweaty and certainly not doing a great impression of an Olympic hopeful! While some observers are not so sure, I think I can see where Sport England are going with this – that sport is for the many, not for the few, so get involved – and I wish them well.

The sentiment of ‘this girl can’ also shone through an interesting book I read while away – the memoirs of Diana Barnato Walker, one of the numerous (as it turns out) female pilots working as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII. In fact, in 1944, the ATA had 659 pilots of which 108 were women. Many other women worked in support roles including mechanics and logistics. Although they did not fly in combat, they had a crucial role to play in ensuring that aircraft were where they needed to be, with over 309,000 aircraft ‘ferried’ during the course of the war. Not so much a case of ‘this girl can’ then, as these girls did – they excelled in areas where some people would perhaps not expect to see them, and made a real difference in the process.

Women don’t code?

So, whilst away but thanks to the wonders of technology, I was dismayed to see a Twitter conversation regarding women and computing, where one of the sentiments being articulated appeared to be along the lines of ‘women don’t code’. “Of course they do”, I wanted to bellow across the miles. In fact, having only just caught up with “The Imitation Game”, which reminds us of the key inputs that women made to the codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park, I was particularly incensed by the lazy, stereotypical thinking that all too often persists.

Many women are already in STEM-related careers, and they do them very well. I count many fabulous female engineers amongst my friends and contacts, and am constantly amazed at the range and excitement of the work they do. They work on iconic buildings, they ensure that transportation systems continue to run, they provide us with power to heat and light our homes, they develop and operate vital medical technologies, they provide the infrastructure and technology which allows us to stay in touch (even my techno-phobic partner got the hang of FaceTime whilst I was away!).

More opportunity to meet inspirational women

What we need in terms of encouraging more girls to consider STEM related careers, including engineering, is more examples of what ‘real women’ in such jobs do and how they got there, not messages which give the incorrect impression that “women don’t do STEM”.

Obviously one great way to do this is to give girls more opportunities to meet such inspirational women, through careers days, working with STEM Ambassadors and involvement in activities such as Headstart and Smallpeice Trust taster courses. Just as important, however, is to ensure teachers and headteachers understand the range of roles available, and the range of routes through which a great engineering career can be achieved.

Get teachers involved in understanding industry

The National Science Learning Centre and National STEM Centre are supporting exactly this. Inspired by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Teacher Industrial Placement Scheme (TIPS) offers teachers the opportunity to spend two weeks with an employer, getting an in-depth understanding of the range of people they employ, the different entry and career routes and their plans for the future. Teachers who have done this are telling us what a difference it makes to their understanding of the modern workplace, their appreciation of the range of roles within it, and importantly the various ways in which apprentices, technicians and graduates are able to progress through to exciting, rewarding careers.

In addition, there are plenty of careers resources on the National STEM Centre eLibrary and lots of other opportunities with the National Science Learning Centre for teachers to learn more about how we can work together to convince more girls, and their parents, that this is a great career choice.

Taking a leaf out of Sport England’s book, we should be doing more with our existing ‘real’ female engineers and those in other STEM careers to show girls, their teachers and their parents, the opportunities and possibilities that exist. That way, we can hopefully prove to more of them that ‘these girls do, and you can too!’.

Using space in the primary curriculum

by Tom Lyons

2015 is a big year for space.  I’m not saying this just because the universe is expanding (so each year it is always Tim Peakebigger than the last).  This year is big because not only do we have a solar eclipse on 20th March but also, in November, we have the first British ESA Astronaut going to the International Space Station.  Tim Peake will be spending six months on the ISS, with some of his time dedicated to education.

Enriching the Primary Curriculum using Space and Astronomy will give participants the opportunity to find out more about the educational activities for primary aged children linked to Tim Peake’s mission.  They will also take part in scientific enquiry in the theme of a Mars landing, and learn about new ways of teaching about the Earth and space. There will be an opportunity to view the night sky with telescopes and learn about how to safely observe the Sun, in preparation for the eclipse.

Space is a narrow part of the curriculum but it is an inspiring context to engage children in many areas of the curriculum.  The residential course will look at links to literacy and numeracy through the Astroliteracy and Astromaths sessions, in addition to practical ways of teaching materials and changes of state using a space context.  Participants will also have the opportunity to visit the revamped National STEM Centre library, with its new robotics display.

The National STEM Centre has a range of educational activities and space resources to use in conjunction with  Tim Peake’s mission. The ESERO UK website also has a range of space resources for all levels.


Science Learning Centres:

This is an inspiring result coming out of Jo’s hard work and enthusiasm, as well as the support of the Teacher and Industry Partnership Scheme (TIPS). Well done Jo!

Originally posted on Redmoor STEM:

Further to the post on Sept 13th (ENGAGE- ENJOY- ENGINEER: INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION) I thought I’d provide an update to let you all know how we had got on; I think, in short, this photo says it all:


Yes…at the end of December we found out that they had all been accepted as members of the Institution of Secondary Engineers and seeing them receiving their certificates has to be one of those proud “THIS is why I do it ” teacher moments. As Ian Harcombe (one of the other teachers supporting the course) put it “we did that” ….absolutely; It says it all!

You might be wondering how it all panned out in the end, and I genuinely hope other schools do get in touch and consider delivering a similar course – the response from pupils, parents, engineers, STEM leaders has been unanimously positive.

“I believe that anything that…

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