Cutting-edge science in primary schools

Introducing cutting-edge science research projects to primary children is an exciting way to stimulate children and teachers and provides a rich context for learning


PSTT Fellow, Dr Julia Nash

Children remember more snippets of information and are really engaged when learning about cutting-edge science research.

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Fundamental science principles are explored at primary school and many cutting-edge science projects can be explained by using these principles. For example, a recent study showed that Greenland sharks can live for many hundreds of years and the principle behind this was making a good calibration chart, something that can be replicated in a primary school.

Fellows of the PSTT's Primary Science Teacher College, who have backgrounds in science research and experience teaching in primary classrooms, are using their expertise to write articles which explain cutting-edge research in language that primary children can understand. These 'I bet you didn't know...' articles explain what scientists have done and what they have discovered, suggesting questions for children and teachers to consider in the classroom and activities that children can do to mirror the research.

Teachers who have used these articles have found there has been a positive impact on children's learning through increased engagement with practical science activities, more independent questioning and a deeper understanding of science concepts, as well as an appreciation of the impact of science on real life. Linking with cutting-edge science at an early age is, we believe, an exciting way to stimulate children and their teachers and provides a rich context for learning.

Some 'I bet you didn't know...' articles have been published in the PSTT Why & How Newsletter which you can access here.

The latest 'I bet you didn't know...' article can be downloaded here.

More cutting-edge science articles are available on this web page under the tabs Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Coming soon!

A Teacher Guide will accompany each article to provide:

  • suggestions of how the learning might fit into your science curriculum
  • guidance on an appropriate age group
  • short activities which could be used as a starter to engage children in a related science lesson, or as an extension at the end of a lesson or even as an assembly
  • longer investigations which could occupy a whole science lesson
  • writing links which would could be made to develop writing in different genres
  • maths links which could be made to develop maths skills

PSTT Scientists

Meet our Fellows of the Primary Science Teaching College who are writing 'I bet you didn't know...' articles. Before starting a career in teaching, all of them obtained a PhD in a science subject and have experience of science research.

Professor Dudley Shallcross, Atmospheric chemist

Dudley Shallcross is CEO of the Primary Science Teaching Trust. He has won several awards for his research in science (atmospheric chemistry) and contributions to science education and science engagement at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. He became Director of the Primary Science Teaching Trust in 2010 and established the Trust's College of excellent primary science teachers that aims to draw together the best primary science practitioners in the UK.

Having seen how outstanding primary school teachers were able to bring real-life science contexts to the classroom, he started the series of ‘I bet you didn’t know…’ articles to introduce teachers and pupils to cutting-edge research. He brought together the PSTT Fellows in this group to continue this work.

Dr Alison Trew, Biochemist

Alison was a science researcher for nine years. After completing her first degree in Biochemistry at the University of Birmingham, she moved to the University of Leeds to study for a PhD. Here she spent 4 years researching ‘The source, transport and concentration of vitamin C in the healthy and diseased human stomach’, measuring levels of vitamin C in patients’ saliva, blood, gastric juice, stomach wall and even the colon. Alison’s work showed that high vitamin C intake could reduce the risk of gastric cancer.

Alison worked as a postdoctoral research assistant in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne where she investigated the loss of genetic material in different types of skin lesions including warts. She then joined a team at the University of Nottingham in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology where she developed a procedure to culture 'trophoblast cells', specialised cells of the placenta that play an important role in embryo implantation in the uterus. It was hoped that this would enable scientists to investigate causes of complications of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia. Alison returned to Leeds University and worked with a team trying to identify processes involved in producing protein plaques in the brain which are thought to cause Alzheimer’s Disease.

After leaving research and having a family, Alison trained to teach. She has taught in primary schools in Devon for nine years and now works with teachers and trainees in the South West and is developing resources for the PSTT website.

Dr Julia Nash, Biochemist

Julia worked in science research for over 13 years. After completing her first degree in Pathobiology with subsidiary Chemistry at the University of Reading, she moved to the University of Kent to study for a PhD in biochemistry. Here she spent 3 years undertakingStudies of the Assembly of Mammalian Neurofilaments’. Neurofilaments are proteins that link together to form filaments in neuronal cells which maintain structural integrity and function. Julia’s work suggests a model for the structure and make up of these neurofilaments.

In 2003 Julia joined the Chemorepulsion Lab, first based at University College London, as a research assistant. The lab then moved to The United Medical and Dental Schools Physiology Department at St Thomas’s London and finally to the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (Guy’s Campus, King’s College London). For over ten years, she worked on neuronal development in the brain as well as isolating and identifying proteins responsible for neurotoxicity in the brain.

After leaving research, Julia gained her PGCE from Canterbury Christ Church University and has since taught for 12 years in Surrey. She has recently becoming a PSQM Hub leader and Specialist Leader in Education for the Tandridge Teaching Alliance.

Dr Katharine Pemberton, Marine Biologist

Before teaching, Katharine worked as a researcher in aquatic science. She gained her first degree in Marine Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and then began her PhD research at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

During her PhD, Katharine investigated different ways of measuring and estimating primary production in the marine environment. An understanding of primary production is really important to help scientists make predictions about levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to help understand climate change. The research showed that different measurement methods gave different estimates of primary production, which, when extrapolated to global scales, could lead to huge variations in climate change predictions.

After her PhD, Katharine took a post-doctoral research post in Canada. The aim of the project was to link in situ estimates of photosynthesis to water quality in the Laurentian Great Lake. The research showed that rates of photosynthesis could indicate the presence of particular species of phytoplankton. The presence of certain species of phytoplankton have a negative impact on water quality.

Having visited schools as a researcher, Katharine discovered how rewarding teaching could be. After having children, she moved back to the UK with her husband and retrained as a primary teacher. She has been teaching at Modbury Primary School in Devon for the last five years.

Dr Rebecca Ellis, BioLOGIST

After achieving a 1st class BSc (Hons) studying Biology at Bristol University, Rebecca had her first taste of research working at the Natural History Museum, London for the Parasitic Worms Department. She then moved to Cranfield University and began her four year Engineering Doctorate (EngD) on the 'Development of a Novel Medium to Improve the Performance of Biological Aerated Filters (BAFs)'.

Generally used as a secondary sewage treatment process, BAFs provide a high rate, compact solution through maintaining a concentrated biomass in the form of a biofilm. The medium to support the biofilm also removes suspended solids by depth filtration and so regular backwashing is required. With industrial sponsorship from English China Clays International, Rebecca worked for 6 months 'in house' at St. Austell where she could engage with the clay foaming process directly and use Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy to observe biofilm growth.

After leaving research, she gained a PGCE from Bath University. She has taught for 18 years at a junior school in Warwickshire and has two children.



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Teacher Guide



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