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Terrific Scientific: The importance of dynamic primary science in a squeezed curriculum

12 July 2017

Terrific Scientific: The importance of dynamic primary science in a squeezed curriculum

By Claire Seeley, Jane Turner and Naomi Hiscock

In November last year the BBC launched an innovative campaign to promote primary science. It was inspired by Professor Louise Archer’s Aspires report, which strongly highlighted the importance of dynamic primary science on children’s future aspirations. Terrific Scientific was designed to celebrate good primary science and created a great opportunity to raise its profile, at a time where the squeezed curriculum has meant that many schools are struggling.

The campaign has brought together a diverse range of scientific disciplines in to schools - from sports science to food science; from psychology to astronomy.

Teacher and ASE member Sarah Eames commented that, “taking in part in Terrific Scientific has enthused me and the children to try new and adventurous investigations; eating kale and studying our blue tongues to see if we were super tasters.... this would not have happened if it were not for this project.”

There are three distinct ways to get involved with the campaign:

1. Mass Investigations

These investigative enquiries are built around questions that universities are asking about a diverse range of topics; such as the affect of exercise on our concentration, to the Mpemba effect. Children from across the UK join in, conducting the investigation and submitting their data onto an interactive map where they can compare their results with other schools. It is so important for children to feel that they are valued scientists, that their contributions are important and matter to the scientific community.

2. Support for cross curriculum child-led enquiries

The Terrific Scientific website houses many more resources to support cross curricular learning and deeper, more ‘child led’ enquiries. Children are encouraged to make decisions about how they can work scientifically – which data they wish to collect, how they want to collect and record it, or how they would like to communicate what they have learnt. There are opportunities for children to share their own investigations via Terrific Scientific social media.  

3. DIY Activities for families

Lastly there are the Terrific Scientific DIY resources. These are short practical activities that children can do with their families at home; boosting science capital by creating moments in the home where everyone is involved in science together.

ASE's Involvement

Working with children from across the UK, Terrific Scientific is an ambitious project. Alongside PSQM and many of the learned societies; ASE has been a champion of Terrific Scientific, working with them throughout the campaign. Our members have been involved in every level – writing, editing, being critical friends, getting involved in testing the investigations, uploading and sharing data.

Claire Seeley CSciTeach lets us know what's going on in the background of such an ambitious campaign,

“taking in part in Terrific Scientific has enthused me and the children to try new and adventurous investigations; eating kale and studying our blue tongues to see if we were super tasters.... this would not have happened if it were not for this project.” - Sarah Earle, ASE Primary Member

"As one of the consultants on the project, my role has been to write and test some of the lesson plans and to work with film producers on some of the short films. It has been the job of a lifetime, being able to combine two passions – primary science education, writing and making, in one role. It’s been a fascinating learning curve, involving everything from university research, primary classrooms, the science curricula of our four home nations and the operational needs of a multimedia educational campaign. But what a privilege! What I have found deeply inspirational is the whole team’s passion and commitment to great science learning. An essential part of my role has been to work with researchers, producers and directors as they learn about best practice in primary science pedagogy. Together we have been developing ways to communicate how children work scientifically; weaving these ideas into the films which accompany each investigation. 

It’s been great working with teachers and children to develop some of the child led enquiries. Children make the best critics, with no agenda, they shoot from the hip - their comments have been invaluable and we have had a lot of fun. I would like to thank my friends and colleagues from PSTT and ASE who answer my daft questions, challenge and guide me. Terrific Scientific is a team effort."

Jane Turner CSciTeach, Director of the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) writes about her experience of the campaign;

"PSQM has been delighted to be closely involved in the BBC Terrific Scientific campaign. The concept of mass participation investigations where primary school children would gather data to answer real scientific questions about the world around them is great. It clearly supports the PSQM aim of raise the profile and quality of science teaching and learning.  We endorsed the programme in the launch film, recommended writers (ASE members of course!) to the BBC to write the investigations, worked with the writers and learned bodies to develop the investigations and has been proud to provide the final quality assurance edit to each one. There have been some standout highlight moments - the live lessons at the Wellcome Trust and the amazing Mclaren Technology Centre was great to see, learning about the results (some unexpected) from my mum, (who watches BBC  Breakfast TV) was pretty cool too. But the most exciting part for us is seeing the impact of taking part in Terrific Scientific for schools. Teachers and children have clearly enjoyed taking part in the investigations. It been Terrifically Scientific!"

What’s the impact of Terrific Scientific?

To date, over 11,000 classes from over 5,000 schools have participated in the investigations and uploaded their data. We also know that many more schools have joined in the campaign, without uploading their results. Teachers, who for various reasons weren’t engaging with science, have tried out some of the investigations with their classes. The children’s groundbreaking work has resulted in some fascinating scientific discoveries. For example, the time investigation explored the affect that the clock change has on children’s concentration levels. An unexpected discovery was that children reaction times tended to be faster in the afternoon. This might challenge the preconceptions of schools that always put English and Maths in the morning sessions!

Next Live Lesson! with Dr Chris and Dr Xand on How Does Activity Affect Me? 
14th September 2017 at 2pm at
Kicking off the autumn term with a Terrific Scientific Live Lesson for primary schools about exercise, and the impact it has on our brain. 

Our key question

It highlights a challenge for the future, how will we continue to give children this voice once the Terrific Scientific campaign is over?

How to get involved?

It’s not too late to get involved, everyone is welcome.  Terrific Scientific carries on well into 2018. To find out more see . The team will be attending our annual ASE Annual Conference in Liverpool in January, so come and say hello.

Other links

Check our ASPIRES: Teaching about science careers resources. All free to use and showcase some of the approaches teachers have taken to engage their students with careers.


To find out more about Claire visit her website here here, Jane is Director of PSQM and Naomi is the current chair of the ASE Primary Science Committee.

(Image Right: © BBC Terrific Scientific 2017)