2019-04-23

How to Run a Successful Science Club: Experiments, Investigations and Fun

Chemistree (made from borax and copper wire, coloured with traces of transition metals) winner of RSC Chemistree Competition 2018

Sharing Science Club Ideas

Jessica clutched her 2 litre bottle of diet cola carefully. She’d just created a series of holes around the top of the bottle and in the lid and the next step was to thread a string of Mentos through the hole in the lid, then go outside, screw it on and release the string. The other students were gathering their kit and we were all about to head outdoors when a squeal and a whooshing noise alerted us to the awesome sight of a fountain of cola reaching the ceiling while Jess tried frantically to cover the holes with her fingers and carry the eruption towards the door. Intervention was hopeless. After 30 seconds it was all over. Wiping away the tears of laughter, we all joined in the clean-up.

After ten years the mark is still there on the ceiling to remind me of the funniest thing that has happened at Science Club. Jess is now a laboratory analyst and I have learned not to issue any Mentos until all bottles of cola have their tops firmly screwed on.

Which snowflake will fall the slowest?

Science Club runs weekly for year 7-8. I want to encourage practical skills, problem-solving and to cultivate an atmosphere where it is OK to fail. The important thing is for a girl to figure out what went wrong and why, then have another go and improve. A typical activity will have the minimum of written instructions, not require any writing and involve every student getting hands on.  For younger girls, chemistry activities often involve fire, Bunsen burners, colour changes, fizzing, bangs and pops. Competitions are always popular as are detective scenarios. Last week the Head of Science popped in, cup of tea in hand, to see what we were doing. Little did he know that 40 girls were analysing the rate of cooling of cups of tea to determine which of four suspects was responsible for leaving a cup of tea at exactly 65°C next to the “body of a murdered teacher”. His name promptly shot up to the top of the list!

Senior Science Club is for year 9+. It tends to attract a smaller but no less enthusiastic clientele. This is where I often work with the girls to test ideas – we might try out an experiment we’ve read about or seen on YouTube.  Once we decided to make our own paint – not by mixing existing colours but by creating the coloured pigments by chemical reactions. How much of each reactant did we need to mix together to make lead iodide, a beautiful yellow solid? I’ll never forget the light bulb moment when Tessa exclaimed “I know how to do this!”  Her lessons on balancing equations and mole calculations suddenly came to life and she started scribbling down figures and then triumphantly and correctly announced how much of each we needed.

3D Printing Using Chocolate (Senior Science Club)

As a scientist I enjoy sharing investigations and experiments with students. Over the years they have earned CREST Awards, won local and national competitions and been on countless visits to local universities and STEM companies, all of which I have probably enjoyed as much as the girls. Numerous students have gone on to study STEM subjects in further or higher education with many now in STEM careers. All these successes are worthwhile but it is the satisfaction of working with the girls to have fun in the science lab without any success criteria or learning outcomes that makes running Science Club the highlight of my week.

Writing on water – a science club activity

Top Tips for Running a STEM Club

Start simple

Base your initial sessions on tried and tested activities. Once the students are hooked you can get more adventurous. When you are ready, try some activities where you don’t know the outcome. Now you are doing real science and you and the kids can experience the thrill of making your own discoveries

Teamwork

Don’t try to do everything yourself or running the club can become a burden. Involve technicians, colleagues, parents, older students or STEM Ambassadors. Never do anything a student can do – they can take a register, carry equipment, write on the board and clear up. It should become their club – not just yours

Enthusiasm

Your enthusiasm will rub off on the students so join in with the activities, get to know the kids and enjoy STEM together

Mishaps

If something goes wrong or doesn’t work, help the students to work out why and then have another go – that’s what scientists and engineers do. Always have some spare supplies handy. They will make more mess than you think, spill things and use up all of whatever you put out. Always do a risk assessment. Then get hands on and have fun!

 

This article was written by Lynn Nickerson, STEM Coordinator and Science Inclusion Mentor at Didcot Girls’ School. Lynn will be speaking at the ‘Delivering Outstanding Science Teaching’ Forum on 30th April 2019