Crossing the traditional boundaries of education and active research – the Langton Star Centre is not only a new way to inspire young people to take up STEM, but also a new way to do science explains Becky Parker
The aim of the Langton Star Centre has been to engage young people and their teachers by involving them as part of the science research community. So often the teaching of science is so different from the real work of science yet young people have so much to offer and their contributions can be so valuable. We have found that the approach of giving students and their teachers an authentic experience of science inspires students to continue with science and pursue science courses at University.
We have 240 students taking A-level physics in a state school of 1,100 students and at least a third of these are girls. The female students throw themselves into research with just as much enthusiasm as the boys. Katherine Evans our first leader of the MoEDAL team, Monopole and Exotics Detector at the LHC has taken our school to be the first school collaboration member of an LHC experiment.
Our sixth form students are now preparing to collect data from their very own radiation detector in space, LUCID, the Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector. This launched in July 2014 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan having been developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. This detector checks the space weather so that we know more about the environment we send satellites into in low earth orbit. We want other schools to join us analysing the LUCID data in this journey of discovery. The space weather community, including NASA, is interested in this data which will give us detailed insights into radiation in space.
Associated with this space mission we have a ground based set of detectors called CERN@school which is currently inspiring groups of students and teachers across the UK who not only use the detectors for inspirational physics teaching but they also allow students to pursue their own research projects. These students presented their findings at the first CERN@school symposium which was held jointly with the 10th International Position Sensitive Detectors conference at the University of Surrey. Not only are these students contributing to the research community but they are developing coding skills and computer analysis applications as well as communication skills and skills in producing posters. We have had fantastic support from STFC, SEPnet, the IOP and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 in rolling out the CERN@school programme.
This approach is effective in the biomedical sciences. Thanks to the wonderful support from the Wellcome Trust we run the Authentic Biology project where five sets of school University partnerships collaborate on real biomedical research projects where school students are at the cutting edge of biomedical research.
We see the potential of this research based approach in science education and we are establishing the National Centre for Science and Engineering Research in Schools to spearhead the roll out of the approach. We see the benefits to school students, teachers and Universities. School students gain an insight into research science and are exposed to the challenge and interest of science in practice. This will lead to widening participation in science programmes in schools.
School teachers take part in research science activities alongside their students, thus teachers continue their own development as practising scientists.
Sustained collaboration between schools and universities involved in authentic research blurs the distinction between school and university. The research model provides an opportunity for postgraduate training and the development of communication skills. As the model develops the effectiveness of the sustained collaboration will become apparent for the schools and the Universities and the impact more meaningful and measurable.
We hope the National Centre for Science and Engineering Research in Schools will be able to help inspire our young people to be the creative and innovative thinkers of the future.