Science Reading challenge
Organise a science reading challenge in your school to promote reading science for interest and enjoyment
The original Science Reading Challenges were part of a PSTT-funded project which was led by Ruth Jarman and Joy Alexander at Queen's University Belfast. A full report of the project, including examples from project schools is available: Running A Science Reading Challenge: A Guide for Teachers. Children who had taken part in this project said:
"Now I love science and I just want to read more about it."
"I thought science books were a bit boring at the start, but once I got reading them they were amazing."
Running a Science Reading Challenge: A Guide for Teachers [714.68kB]
It is relatively rare to find reference to ‘reading science for pleasure’ in school science policies, action plans or schemes of work. Yet there is a wealth of wonderful science books published for children, many of which have the potential not only to extend our pupils’ knowledge and understanding, but also to excite their interest and imagination.
In a PSTT-funded study, just over 300 children, aged between 8 and 14, completed a questionnaire exploring their reading habits, preferences and opinions, generally and in relation to science. Only about 16% regularly read science books on a free-choice basis. Children say, ‘I like science, but I wouldn’t be tempted to read a book about it.’ Some children describe science books as 'boring' or 'difficult' and many believe that 'only smart people' or 'clever people' read science books. Unless we can break the cycle shown, many of our children will miss out on books which could really catch their interest and imagination.
A Science Reading Challenge within the school setting, where the focus is reading science books for pleasure and is not too teacher-directed, can show children that science reading can be interesting and fun. The Challenge is most successful when children not only read their books but can choose to participate in activities designed to foster further engagement with the books.
The benefits for children from reading science information books and science-rich story books are:
- the learning of science information and ideas, with real-life examples which raise pupils' awareness of the wider reach of science
- the learning of science skills and of what it means to ‘work scientifically’ as many books include practical examples and suggestions for investigations
- the learning of skills through science, particularly those related to literacy and 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity
- promoting an interest in science and fuelling curiosity and a sense of wonder
- increasing the possibility that children will continue to engage with science beyond school
A Science Reading Challenge consists of 3 stages - a Launch Event, a Reading Challenge, a Final Event. The key elements that need to be considered in planning your programme are:
Who will take part?
This could be a whole year group, one class or groups within a class, a science or book club.
Where will the books come from?
This could be the school library, local library (the Dewey Decimal Library classification number for science books is 500), children's books from home, the Royal Society's Young People's Book Prize.
What materials are needed?
Bookmarks, passports and certificates could be used and can be downloaded from RESOURCES.
Will your reading challenge have a theme?
You could choose a theme such as astronomy, the environment, electricity, etc., but this is not necessary. Indeed, children may respond enthusiastically if they are free to pursue science topics of interest to them personally.
What will you do at the Launch Event?
The purpose of The Launch is to catch the children's interest and get them excited about the reading challenge to follow. The focus should be to make a connection to reading science books. For example, if you start with a science show, ask the demonstrator to refer to science books in the presentation. Possible launch events could be: Wacky Science Day, Science Show, visiting scientist, science-related story-time, science-themed dressing-up day, science treasure hunt, an educational visit to a science-related site. More details of these and others can be downloaded from RESOURCES. Many schools take advantage of British Science Week or World Book Day to launch their science reading challenge. It is good at this stage to introduce children and parents to the breadth of what is available on your challenge. You could invite the press to your launch event.
How long will the Reading Challenge last?
It is good to have a time-limit and a planned final event to celebrate science reading.
What will passports and stickers be awarded for?
Passports for the challenges can be given out to the pupils to record their science reading and you may want to offer stickers for specified activities as well as reading a book. Stickers could be awarded for the successful participation in the activity and also for reading the book. An example of this is, having decided to award 8 stickers: children are encouraged to read 4 science books (1 sticker awarded for each book read), children select their favourite book and working with classmates who also enjoyed that book, they produce a video to ‘advertise’ that book to other classes (4 stickers awarded).
Will you chart the science reading progress of the class?
You could use a science-themed class display, for example the number of stars in the sky, the temperature on a thermometer.
What activities will you offer to enhance engagement with the books?
Examples could be: fascinating fact-finders, science quizzes and games, practical science activities and investigations, drama and role-play, art and craft (including paper engineering), pupil book presentations, reading buddies. More examples and details can be downloaded from RESOURCES. Remember, some of the activities you may plan will require risk assessments to be undertaken in advance. School policy and practice will apply to ICT-related activities including video production.
What will your final event be?
Children who are reading science books and engage in related activities should be praised for their achievements. Encourage those who have done so to continue to learn about science through books. Consider inviting a special guest to award certificates to the children who have completed the challenge and share the event with parents.
The original Science Reading Challenges were part of 'Project 500' which was led by Ruth Jarman and Joy Alexander at Queen's University Belfast. A full report of the project including examples from project schools is available.
To help you plan your own Science Reading Challenge for your school, you can download ideas for possible Launch Events and Activities. You can also download bookmarks, passports and certificates, or design your own if you have chosen to follow a particular theme for your Science Reading Challenge.
RUNNING A SCIENCE READING CHALLENGE: A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS [714.68kB]
Science Reading challenge launch events [184.98kB]
Science Reading challenge activities [286.77kB]
Science Reading challenge bookmarks [261.22kB]
Science Reading challenge passports [288.84kB]
Science Reading challenge passports [blank] [289.73kB]
These passports are blank so that pupils can pursue their own interests in science.
Science Reading challenge certificate [172.40kB]
Other websites provide lists of excellent science books:
how much will it cost?
You can ‘cut your coat according to your cloth.’ There are some unavoidable costs in producing the bookmarks, passports, stickers and certificates, though you can cut costs by producing your own. However it’s probably true that the better the quality, the better the product, so it could be a false economy to do this on the cheap. There may be costs associated with the launch event, especially if you opt to buy in something like a science show presentation. If there is money that can be invested in the purchase of some up-to-date children’s science books, the benefits will outlast the reading challenge. A financial contribution could be sought from the PTA or from local sponsorship or from organisations or companies which are favourable to supporting science-related enrichment programmes.
How can we increase our stock of science books
Teachers have told us that book-stock was an issue that they needed to consider. We do advise that you don’t try to do the Reading Challenge with more children than is wise in the light of the supply of books available to choose from. The Reading Challenge provides a good opportunity to take a very rough inventory of the science information books in the school, whether in class libraries or in the school library. It takes time to build up book-stock so this is something to keep under review. In our experience, the Schools Library Service is very helpful and knowledgeable and should certainly be consulted for advice and to ascertain if they can assist with increasing the book-stock. We are often asked by teachers where they can find out about children’s science books and the best place we know is the list of the winners and shortlists of the Royal Society's Young People's Book Prize
How will boys react to a reading challenge?
Teachers have told us that the Reading Challenge works well for boys: ‘It was pleasing to see some of the boys extremely interested,’ and the librarian in one school noted the boys’ enthusiasm compared with the customary male attitude. Another teacher and science coordinator felt the Challenge worked for both boys and girls: ‘It has really inspired our girls – who sadly often don’t see themselves as scientists, and our less able readers, particularly our boys, who have produced some of the finest pieces of associated written work.’ Boys find they get enjoyment and learning from books, possibly related to the fact that they do not have to read a book from cover to cover and that assessment is not part of the Challenge. Boys especially seem to like to pick up interesting snippets about science that they can pass on to their friends. Making a link from science information books to practical science has also been shown to appeal to boys.
Will the competitive element in collecting sticker for the passport not upstage the science and learning aspects of the challenge?
It could indeed be objected tat children may engage with the Challenge, not because they want to find out about science, but because they have a competitive spirit, or from a sense of obligation to the teacher, or because they like collecting stickers and getting a certificate. It's true that teachers have found that their children's enthusiasm for these motivational elements is greater than expected but of course it's also the case that aspects of the Challenge will only be effective if they exert a strong appeal which becomes a positive impetus to increased reading. We are strongly of the opinion that using the Reading Challenge to promote science non-fiction to young people is a necessary strategy if their beliefs that these books are boring, difficult or not for them are to be overturned. It is a means to and end, namely, that many of the children will discover the intrinsic value in reading science information books - and fortunately we gathered quite a lot of evidence that this was so! We would want to stress the importance of the activities during the Challenge and of teachers proactively boosting enthusiasm and interest. The launch / passports / stickers are hooks to lure the children to science books in the first place, but the goal of the Challenge is for engagement to pass to the books themselves and their content, so that children form an approving image of themselves as science readers.
Can parents get involved?
It's great to find ways for parents to share in the excitement about science! One school in the original Project 500 allowed parents to help their child to earn stickers in two ways. Either they could carry out an experiment at home from a list of simple experiments using household products, or they could read a science book that had been chosen for them by their child. Another possibility would be to invite a parent to class or to an assembly to talk about science and about a science book that they had read.
I’M CONCERNED THAT OUR WEAKER READERS WILL STRUGGLE WITH A READING CHALLENGE AND THAT BOYS MAY BE RELUCTANT TO GET INVOLVED WITH READING.
Keep in mind that the overall aim is for a child to find out something about science from a book and for it not to be ‘unpleasurable’ to do so. The whole book does not have to be read. Although it’s important to respect the child’s right to freely choose a book and to choose what he or she would like to read in it, some guidance and encouragement may help with this. Any accompanying activities that they do should make them feel:I can do this and I want to do this. You may want to modify the challenge or how stickers are earned as appropriate for individual pupils. Have another look at the section on reading buddies and reading mentors as this is relevant to your question. Also look at the earlier section on ‘pupil book presentations’ as it explains how this may be an appropriate strategy for weaker readers.