Lift-off for St Felix Science sleuths

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A program that provides access to high school Science labs and material is developing the scientific literacy, imagination and skills of students at St Felix Catholic Primary Bankstown.

The 14 gifted Science students in Years 5 and 6 involved in the year-long program will develop and test their own scientific questions based on a real-world problem of their choice.

They attend two-hour lessons each fortnight at LaSalle Catholic College Bankstown next door, where they conduct experiments in the school’s new, spacious and well-equipped Science labs.  Already the students have tested the tensile strength of different materials and learnt the symbols and coding of elements on the periodic table.

The program is facilitated by CrookED Science education consultant Simon Crook. The former Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) Senior eLearning Advisor also works closely with other SCS primary and high schools, and recently completed a PhD in Physics education research at The University of Sydney.

Dr Crook said students’ research could become genuine inventions by the end of the year.

“We’ve set up a program within the STEM sphere, done some research and refined the students’ problems to be something they can now work towards,” he said. “We do experiments that are outside even the high school curriculum to develop their scientific inquiry, laboratory, and scientific literacy skills.”

We do experiments that are outside even the high school curriculum.

– Dr Simon Crook

Science tests given by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to 1200 students in March suggested only half of all Australian primary students meet a national minimum standard in Science. However ACARA representatives have visited St Felix to observe their Mathematics and Science classes in action – an example of best practice teaching.

“I work with a lot of schools and this is the standout for primary Science,” Dr Crook said. “That comes from very strong leadership and a sense of can-do among the school community. It’s an absolute pleasure to work with the teachers, leadership, and kids.”

Year 6 student Koko Chen, 10, hopes to design a device that will help people with a physical disability. “I’m trying to solve one of those daily problems that they face,” she said. “I found it interesting in researching what they actually face when they wake up and go to move around in their wheelchairs. I want to invent something new to help them in the future.”

Year 4 student at Christ the King Catholic Primary Bass Hill, George Lahoud, also joins St Felix’s gifted Science class. The nine-year-old has a keen interest in pharmacology and chemistry that he is supported to explore further in class.

I like the thought of medicine-making and being able to identify what medicines are for.

– George Lahoud, 10

“George has some very large and very noble problems he has identified and he’s very keen to do more chemistry,” Dr Crook said.  “We wouldn’t be allowed by law to follow through in terms of the pharmacology to develop a solution [in a school setting] but it is something he could revisit in future, like the Sydney Grammar boys who synthesised an anti-malarial drug for $2. That’s the sort of thing I can see George doing in the future.”

George said given the opportunity he would first aim to make medicines for multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system.

“I like the thought of medicine-making and being able to identify what medicines are for and what chemicals are in each medicine,” he said.

“With Dr Crook we have been doing coding of elements. He gave us a type of element or chemical and we had to write it how it would look in a formula – with symbols and sub headings. I’ve never actually been taught any of this before, so with my home projects it helps me a lot.”

St Felix Science Coordinator Kristen Doust said the students were developing strong Science literacy through their experiments with Dr Crook.

“In an environment like this they become very independent and take control of their own learning,” she said. “It provides them with an opportunity to develop and continue their curiosity.”

About 92 per cent of St Felix students come from a language background other than English. Ms Doust said the conversations and questioning that happened during the Science lessons helped their vocabulary and problem-solving abilities to expand, while access to Dr Crook also aided teachers’ professional development in Science teaching.

Ms Doust also runs a lunchtime Science Club each Thursday that is attended by 40 students from Years 2 to Year 6. And the group, which is larger than an average class, is growing.

“Knowing the skills children need with regards to Science is really important as the top occupations predicted for the next 10 years all require science-based learning,” she said.

“We use Design Thinking across the grades, and through that process the children use scientific literacy because they need to experiment, test and hypothesise in order to produce those solutions to real-world problems.”

View Dr Crook’s five ways to win at primary Science here.

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