We’ve now moved to a new website… come and join us!

We have now moved to our new and improved website: www.stem.org.uk

The National STEM Centre – along with the National Science Learning Network, ESERO-UK and HEaTED – have all now moved to one brand new website.

All our resourcesCPD activities and blogs are now collected into one, easy-to-access place. The new site is mobile and tablet friendly, allowing you to access everything we have to offer when you want, where you want.

It is customised around your needs and interests, bringing you the latest news and activities relevant to you. For the first time you can now track the CPD activities you have been on and manage your upcoming bookings.

We still encourage readers of our blogs to engage and leave comments on topics of interest, and with the new website we hope it makes it a more simple and easy way to do so.

This site will be closing down at the end of February. We encourage you to sign up to www.stem.org.uk to continue following all our latest blogs.

Thank you for following this blog site and we hope to see you at www.stem.org.uk

Christmas science: Santa Claus is coming to town

By Simon Quinnell,

Science demonstrations can be used in lots of different contexts; because you want to focus on a particular aspect of a practical; it’s unsafe for pupils to do or you’re modelling a practical for pupils to do themselves. Generally a demonstration will be linked to the curriculum and be used for a specific learning point. It can still be engaging and entertaining but that’s often more of a side effect of an effectively presented demonstration.

Occasionally though you can perform demonstrations as pure entertainment to enthuse and excite pupils through a science demonstration (with some learning on the side of course). These demonstration lectures or shows we have prepared can be for open evenings, school events or special occasions. Not only do they enthuse pupils, they can also be an effective advert for the science department and can engage individual and departmental skills.

In the videos we have produced, four very different chemistry reactions have been connected through a story, that story being ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’. These demonstrations show how you can create a theme for an event that ties the science demonstrations together to create an atmosphere that engages pupils. Common themes include Harry Potter (magic and science), Bonfire night or Halloween.

Watch the demonstrations below:

Christmas Science | It’s feeling cold | The endothermic reaction

Winter is coming and Christmas is nearly here to get us ready here’s a endothermic reaction to make us feel cold!

This is an example of an endothermic reaction. It will cool down sufficiently to freeze a small amount of water, which is between the beaker that chemicals are reacting in and a small wooden block.

Warning: Ammonia is given off from the reaction so warn pupils with breathing difficulties to stand back and perform the demonstration in a well ventilated laboratory. Barium hydroxide is corrosive so beware of any spills and deal with according to guidance.

Christmas Science | We Need Reindeer Fuel | Oxidation of Ammonia

The reindeer need the magic sparkles in their food which gives the fuel to fly!

The oxidation of ammonia is catalysed by finely powdered chromium (III) oxide, causing the catalyst to glow red hot.


Christmas Science | The Northern Lights | Displacement of Copper by Aluminium

To guide Santa on is way we light up the sky with the Northern lights

This demonstration shows the displacement of copper from copper chloride by aluminium (which is higher in the reactivity series) leaving solid copper and aluminium chloride. The copper can be seen to form around the aluminium.

The acid removes the aluminium oxide layer so the reaction can take place; this will also react with the aluminium to produce hydrogen gas. This can be ignited to produce green/blue flames.


Christmas Science | Lights Out it’s Christmas Eve | A Simple Iodine Clock

Santa won’t deliver his presents till the lights are out and were in bed

The time taken to liberate free iodine from a reaction between acidified potassium iodate and sodium metabisulfite, is indicated by an almost instantaneous change in colour of starch indicator, from colourless to black.

By varying the reagent quantities, a timed “clock” can be set up and predicted.


The presentation for these demonstration shows can be dramatic and include (safe) props and costumes, they could also allow you to demonstrate using music or silence, for instance the iodine clock with the 1812 overture. For the demonstrations themselves, you could add some learning to the story by having a short discussion on the science behind the demonstrations, or use a strategy like Predict, Explain, Observe, Explain (PEOE) for pupils to think about what the demo will do and why. Remember when performing the demonstration, regardless of the context, always do a risk assessment and make sure you follow your employers’ health and safety guidance. Always check with CLEAPSS or SSERC if you’re unsure. Lastly, if you want to perform a demonstration show remember to practice it fully beforehand with support from colleagues.

You can access these demonstrations at any time.

We’re moving!

new websiteIn December 2015 the National Science Learning Network – along with the National STEM Centre and ESERO-UK – will be moving to a brand new website: stem.org.uk.

All our resources, CPD activities and blogs will be collected into one, easy-to-access place. The new site will be mobile and tablet friendly, allowing you to access everything we have to offer on the move. This means that from the middle of December 2015,  we will no longer be posting blogs on this site. Instead you will be redirected to the ‘Magazine’ section on our brand new website.

The new site will be customised around your needs and interests, bringing you the latest news and activities relevant to you. For the first time you will be able track the courses you have been on and manage your upcoming bookings.

If you have an account on the National Science Learning Network site, you will automatically have an account on the new site, but you will be prompted to create a new password when you first log in. If you have an account on the National STEM Centre, you will have an account on the new site, and will be able to access it with your current log in details.

Look out for stem.org.uk – coming soon!

What are you planning for ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers Week’?

Mid adult co-workers working at manufacturing plant, standing in front of storage tanks

By Gemma Taylor,

Whilst some are counting down the days until the half term break, hundreds of teachers from across the country are busy preparing to start their first week back with a bang (and it’s got nothing to do with fireworks!).

From 2 – 6 November it’s ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers Week‘, a brilliant opportunity to show your students what being an engineer is all about.

Why do we need a week about engineering?

Engineering UK has projected that the UK needs to double the number of engineering apprentices and graduates entering the industry to meet the growing demand for engineers (Engineering UK, State of Engineering 2005).

What can schools do?

The list of activities that you can do to make engineering come alive for your students are endless. Here are a few to get you started:

  • celebrate the work of engineers in tutor time or assembly with this resource from Tomorrow’s Engineers explaining what engineering is or one of our community resources uploaded onto the resource library ‘what is engineering?’
  • request for a guest speaker to come into school and talk about their life as an engineer by contacting ‘STEM Ambassadors
  • arrange for an online guest speaker to talk to your class using skype classroom or Google Hangout
  • plan a visit to a local engineering site. This resource may be useful when considering the health and safety requirements for leaving the school site
  • run an engineering activity as part of your lessons with one of the humanitarian engineering resources from Practical Action
  • run an after-school / lunch time engineering challenge using ideas from the Tomorrow’s Engineers activity pack

To help coordinate activities across the country, the Tomorrow’s Engineers website has a Mission Inspiration map where you can search for local events or register your own event for others to see.

There are also some other fantastic opportunities to give students a real insight into the engineering world.

If you are a secondary teacher and would like to know more about engineering careers but have never worked in the industry, take a look at the Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme (TIPS).  The scheme partners a local STEM employer with your school through a one or two week work placement and bespoke CPD package. Placements are happening across the country for teachers from all STEM subjects.

If you are a primary teacher and would like more ideas about how to include engineering in your school, there is a bursary funded CPD activity happening at the National Science Learning Centre in July 2016.

Why I love Chicks with Bricks


By Yvonne Baker

Today the wonderfully named ‘Chicks with Bricks’ – a group celebrating women in construction roles and industries – are having a celebration event. Unfortunately I can’t make it this time but I went to one not so long ago, meeting a vast range of women, and men, working on major and not so major projects, and all with great stories to tell. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a wonderful location, overlooking the mall. Not a hard hat in sight – just loads of bright young, and not so young, people working in construction, networking with huge enthusiasm and loving what they do.

The main reason I love Chicks with Bricks, however, is their name. At last, an organisation celebrating women in engineering and associated roles that doesn’t feel the need to err from a bit of gentle humour, and is confident enough to poke just a little bit of fun at itself. Perhaps that’s the secret of its success – capturing the spirit of today’s young women where it isn’t a question of whether they believe they can do these things, but a question of whether they want to.

How much better is that than the constant digging over of the ‘barriers’ young women – or young men for that matter – might face in an engineering or other STEM job. How many more reports do we really have to have, detailing the issues that MIGHT be faced by a young woman on a building site when she is the only female engineer there?

The points is, it is easy to highlight the difficulties people might face in any walk of life, and I’m not disputing that some women (and again men) find issues in engineering or construction environments. However, let’s not lose sight of the other (often inconvenient, to the naysayers) realities, including:

  • Engineering and construction offers great opportunities for women at all levels – FACT.
  • An increasing number of women have been making great careers for themselves in all kinds of engineering and other science & technology related environments in recent years, so making it easier for others to follow suit – FACT. Two things arise from this – firstly, if they can do it, so can you; secondly, they have worked hard to be pioneers so don’t let their trail-blazing go to waste.
  • Many more people – men as well as women – in engineering, science and technology environments want you to succeed than you would ever believe listening to some of the doom-mongers – FACT. To believe otherwise is doing these supporters a huge disservice and robbing yourself of opportunities that can lead to so much more.

And, before you ask, I’m talking from some experience – as a female engineer on chemical plants in the mid-1980s onwards, I had a huge variety of experiences, mostly great and some quite difficult. What they taught me was a range of skills – including resilience, tenacity and a belief in my own abilities – which have served me well throughout a varied, exciting and at times hugely challenging career.

So, good luck to Chicks with Bricks! I really hope you go from strength to strength, inspiring women and men in construction but also being proud of being just a little bit different, making it into a selling point rather than almost an apology.

Let’s face it, we don’t see much else sold in this world using messages that concentrate on difficulties and challenges – so why do some people seem to insist on this when it comes to discussing women in science, engineering, construction and technology? Perhaps a little more ‘chutzpah’ rather than talk about barriers would be good for us all….?


For brilliant resources on careers in STEM and women in STEM industries, visit our easy to access eLibrary at the National STEM Centre.

For teachers and technicians, why not try our ‘Careers in STEM with STEM day‘ for some high quality CPD for more knowledge in STEM careers.

Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme | teacher experiences

By Gemma Taylor

Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme (TIPS) enables teachers of science, design and technology, computing and maths to attend a two week work placement with a local employer. This scheme connects companies and teachers together to help expand the knowledge of the potential careers available to pupils, with the main aim of educating and inspiring the next generation.

After this two week placement, individuals who have taken part in this scheme then have the opportunity to network and share their experiences with other TIPS participants over a two day event at the National Science Learning Centre in York.

There are many companies which offer placements as a part of TIPS, such as BP, Babcock, Thames Water and IBM.

A number of teachers have done, or are currently doing, placements with these employers and are continuing to share their experiences throughout their two week placement via daily blogs.


One such individual is Helen Scott, a science teacher at King Solomon Academy in London. For the past week or so, Helen has been doing a placement at BP. As part of this scheme, she has been working in various different departments within the organisation, such as IT, development and trading, all things which are very different to her normal day job. Helen has been overwhelmed by the passion and drive of every single employee who works at BP and is very much looking forward to sharing her ever-increasing knowledge with her pupils on her return.

Keep up to date with Helen and her day to day experiences at BP.


Susan Bayes is another teacher taking part in the TIPS placements, and is currently undertaking two weeks work at Babcock, the UK’s leading engineering support services. In her normal day job, Susan is a computing and business teacher at a University Technical College (UTC). Despite being very nervous about her placement initially, she is very impressed with the professionalism of all the staff at Babcock and is looking forward to the rest of her placement.

Keep up to date with Susan and her day to day experiences at Babcock.

Babcock have taken on another individual, Arran Webb, who normally works as a maths teacher at a University Technical College (UTC), like Susan. So far, Arran has been taken on a tour of a Royal Navy warship, the HMS Argyll, and was fascinated by the amount of knowledge the employees have about the boat. As he has just started this placement, Arran is intrigued about what the rest of his time at Babcock has to offer.

Keep up to date with Arran and his day to day experiences at Babcock.

IBM are another big organisation which take part in TIPS. Dee Thrussell is one teacher currently doing a placement with this company and is nearing the end of his/her time there. The past few days have seen Dee learn a lot about the technology which is readily available to be introduced into the classroom. From this placement, Dee has already collected a large amount of knowledge and resources which could positively benefit the future of pupils at his/her school.

Keep up to date with Dee and her day to day experiences at IBM.

A chemistry teacher at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, is doing a two week placement at Grontmij, a leading consulting and engineering industry. Within this placement, she is shadowing many different employees within the organisation, such as highway and water engineers and a variety of different apprentices. Dr Fei Wan Lee appears to have gained a large amount of information about the roles of employees within the organisation, and is excited to learn more about what the company does.

Keep up to date with Dr Fei Wan Lee and her day to day experiences at Grontmij.

For more information about TIPS, or how to apply for your own work placement, please visit the TIPS page on the National Science Learning Network website.

How my teaching evolved to the flipped practical approach

paul weeksBy Paul Weeks, Biology Teacher of the Year 2015

The penny dropped in the second half of my first term of teaching. I was preparing a lesson on white blood cells for the sixth form. I had some awesome images of phagocytes in action, a terrific diagram that I had photocopied for the students, with which I planned to project onto the board so that the class and I could label it together. A short video clip of a phagocyte chasing a bacterium to the Benny Hill theme. A longer animation of the mechanism of phagocytosis. It was classic talk and chalk, classic information delivery – tick the box, job done, notes complete, bingo. And it was, I blush to confess, unutterably dull.

And then, tidying up a filing cabinet, I found an exercise left behind by my predecessor. It looked ancient, tatty and blurred, and would win no prizes for slickness of presentation. But it flipped everything upside-down.

Instead of giving the students the information, it told them to use a prepared blood smear, a microscope and a Histology book to find, identify and draw a phagocyte and a lymphocyte. It asked them to label and annotate the key features of each cell. It then asked them to find out about phagocytosis and produce a cartoon outlining the process. The teacher didn’t have to do anything, apart from order the slides, microscopes and histology books. The students had control and, critically, ownership of their learning. By finding things out for themselves, they became invested in the outcome and excited by the process.

So simple. So obvious, yet it transformed my teaching. My CPD, if you can call it that, is based on seeing how far I can push this “flipped practical” approach.  I’ve found that Year 9 students can work out the principles of diffusion and osmosis for themselves. I’ve found that Year 12 students (and bright Year 10 students!) can work out the Mendelian laws of inheritance with regard to dihybrid crosses based on their own experimental data. I’ve found that Year 13 students can design a pregnancy testing kit using their own biological knowledge and understanding. I’ve found that the quality of microscope drawings improves beyond recognition if the students don’t know what it is they’re meant to look for – they’re discovering it for themselves. I could go on, and in my blog, I do! But it all comes down to enabling my students to experience the most exciting words in science – “that’s funny…”

If you are interested in learning more about practical approaches in teaching science, take a look out the National Science Learning Centre’s range of CPD activities.

Here are a list of the our upcoming CPD activities:

Practical work: planning, preparing and practising

Creating a buzz about science

Towards outstanding in Science

Related resources for practical science:

Embedding Pedagogy in Practical Science

Module 2: Models of Student-centred Inquiry

The art and theatre of delivering scientific demonstrations


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