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Families rocket into science


Seven to eleven year olds from schools in Gateshead are breaking new ground in science – building rockets, balloon propelled cars, carrying out forensic investigations and even making slime. Most importantly their mothers, fathers, grandparents and carers are learning with them and trying to ‘keep up’!

Fun with Science is a unique learning project, families are learning about science together in the laboratory in a Gateshead based training company TDR based on the Team Valley Trading Estate. It is a special partnership with Gateshead Councils’ Family Learning Team. The Family Learning Team, Learning and Skills engages over 1,000 parents, grandparents and carers a year in a wide range of learning programmes including ‘Keeping up with the children’ in maths and in English. They received several requests from families that they wanted to learn about science and engineering so the team set about making links and finding partners they could work with to make this possible.

The project was initially funded through Family Learning Impact Fund and proved to be so successful that the programme was offered as a wider family learning programme once impact funding ceased.

Since 2008 over 250 families have participated in a “Big Science workshop” or have completed a 6 week programme. 80% of the families have progressed onto further provision within Family Learning. Families have consisted of Aunties and Uncles coming along with their niece and nephews, older brothers supporting their younger sisters. Grandparents learning with their grandchildren. There has been something for everyone. 

Four years after the programme started there is still a waiting list for families who want to participate. The programme has now evolved and as it was once delivered from a purpose built laboratory in Gateshead has been developed to become a model that can be used in schools. Many of the families have asked that there be a continuation of this programme and this summer 2012 Family learning and TDR have developed an engineering and maths programme that will be rolled out to extend and develop the families knowledge and skills.

The families learn together about kitchen chemistry, how to build rockets, solve crimes using forensic science, learn how to be healthy exploring the digestive system and learning the basics of how the body works. All the activities are designed to be easily replicated at home. Literacy, language and numeracy are embedded into the programme and many families have commented that they did not realise how science contained literacy and numeracy.

Amy McKee aged 10 especially enjoyed building an air propelled car with her brother Mitchel, Mam Sharon and Dad Paul. 

Another parent commented that “Fun with Science has been great as my son is still learning, but having fun at the same time. It is a good alternative to learning, with family involvement.”

Joe McLoughlin who attended ‘Fun with Science’ with his two daughters Nina, 10 and Anna, 8 is really enjoying the sessions and said “We all have great fun, it is so engaging for the girls and we have all learned something new.” The girls agreed, “I wish I could do this everyday, I love Science. My best part was when my car came 2nd place in the race.”

TDR Managing Director Ian Young is delighted that the Family Learning project is going so well. “Our region urgently needs young people who are inspired by science and innovation. Research shows that learning is greatly improved when families get involved.”

Gateshead Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People Councillor Catherine Donovan welcomes the partnership between Gateshead Council and TDR. “The excellent facilities at TDR provide a real working environment for families to experience together, the thrill of scientific discovery, this demonstrates to families how literacy, language and numeracy can be developed in a different context”.

When the project started in 2008 is was timely. The government had just published the proportion of pupils who got a C or above in science or a double science qualification (worth two GCSEs). Half of the pupils left without two Cs in science. The figures showed that 50% of people are entering the workforce without even a basic knowledge of science.

Information, advice and guidance were an essential part of the programme. Both TDR staff and Family Learning tutors discussed progression opportunities from the offset with the families explaining what they could do next and qualifications they could achieve.   Four of the children who originally participated in the programme in 2008 have gone onto join TDR’s apprenticeship programme and are now employed by local engineering companies.

This project has developed the skills of families and has broadened their understanding of the important role grandparents and parents play in their children’s education.