Getting out of the lab and into the classroom

A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to my old secondary school (Robert Smyth Academy in Market Harborough, Leicestershire) to talk to three classes of Key Stage 4 (GCSE) students about meteorites and what they can tell us about the early Solar System. I was quite nervous beforehand (having to keep the attention of a room full of 15 years olds for an hour!) but I had a great day and the scariest part by far was sitting in the staff room and talking to teachers I hadn’t seen for close to 10 years!

Since I left Robert Smyth (in 2003) it has changed a lot (for the better I think!) and one of the changes has seen it becoming one of 30 Leading Space Education Schools across the country. The project has been running since 2008 and has been funded by the SAAT (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) who in turn are funded by STFC (who fund my PhD project). As the school is in Leicestershire it has close links with the National Space Centre which has also contributed to the project.

Year 11 class hard at work in the Space Education Lab

The project is run by two very enthusiastic teachers, Judith Green and Steve Althorpe who are also lead-educators at the Space Academy at the National Space Centre. They have put together a great Space lab at Robert Smyth complete with meteorite samples and Hubble Space Telescope images covering the walls. Judith was looking after me for my day at Robert Smyth (she did a very good job) and tries to include examples of space science in teaching of all science subjects, as students often find learning science in a “space” context more exciting. After my visit she incorporated relevant examples from my talk into the syllabus which was quite a compliment.

I would definitely recommend giving a talk on your research project to a different group of people. Having to gear my research towards 14/15 year old students made me think differently about my work and question things from a different point of view (trying to find the holes in the arguments that a clever teenager could spot). It was also a really nice feeling to see a room full of people so excited and interested in what I was saying, rather than a room full of people who knew it all/seen it all/heard it all before! I took some samples of meteorites with me and the students had a great time taking photos of each other holding the meteorites and bragging about it to their other friends afterwards who weren’t in the class. I also got a nice thank-you card from them a few days after. The whole experience made me more excited about my research again! I will definitely take up more outreach opportunities in the future.

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About Jennifer Claydon

I'm a PhD student studing xenon in meteorites. I am interested in what the chemical and physical environment of the early solar system was like. I also study the timing of events in the early solar system.
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