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We must encourage young people’s curiosity in science and history

Beth Stone, Head of Learning and Audiences at the Natural History Museum, discusses with QA Education editor Victoria Galligan how the iconic venue inspires the next generation of STEM experts…

Q&A with the Natural History Museum

Can you give an example of a lesson/visit where a school surprised you?

We’re constantly surprised by the students that attend our workshops. Recently we had KS1 students attend our Super Stegosaurus workshop, who had only recently transitioned from nursery. We were delighted to see how engaged they were on the concept of fossils and palaeontology and their use of the complex vocabulary at such a young age.

This means the workshop experience often doubles as a summary of the unit they’ve just been taught, or it is used as a springboard to introduce a new unit. Similarly, the creation of pre and post-visit resources are hugely beneficial to students as it means our workshops can be used to support student’s project or as a knowledge testing exercise.

What should schools be doing to ensure the scientists of the future are being challenged? Natural History Museum - the Dino Snore

Scientists of the future face numerous challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, food and water security and how to supply our global energy needs – all of which have been exacerbated by climate change and our growing populations. It’s therefore paramount that we encourage young people’s curiosity and interest in science and natural history as they’ll be the ones continuing to tackle these challenges in the future.

Schools therefore have a huge role to play here and this is why we’re passionate about working with educators to instil what we call ‘scientific habits of mind’. This idea is about encouraging curiosity, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, visualising and modelling – skills that are essential in science but also crucial skills for the world of work. We see it as our job as a museum to empower educators and students to develop these behaviours and skills and broaden their understanding of science and the natural world. 

One of the ways in which schools can maintain this curiosity for science in their students, is through technology. For example, our partnership with Dell allows us to support and inspire younger generations with technology-supported learning. Our Dippy’s Naturenauts app helps spark curiosity about the past, present and future by setting them various explorative tasks that encourage them to explore the natural world.

We hope that through our workshops, museum experience and through our technology partnership, we can attract a wider diversity of students to STEM subjects and highlight just how many careers the world of science supports. After all, we don’t have a lot of time in which to make a difference, so there’s a real sense of urgency in tackling this now.

Do you feel primary science should be tested at Years 2 and 6 like maths and English?

The most important thing for us is that science, remains as important as key subjects such as English and maths. We want to help support all teachers, especially those that perhaps don’t have a specialism in science and are therefore less confident, so they can encourage their students to develop scientific habitats of mind and go on to be scientifically literate adults.

By encouraging students to develop a healthy scepticism, and by giving them the ability to understand evidence and analyse its value, we can help them develop useful life skills. In order to do this, we’ve found that enquiry-based learning is great at building students’ confidence. 

However, students are still being put off science due to out of date stereotypes. Recent research from King’s College found that students can be put off by the brainy image of scientists as they don’t think they are clever enough to excel. We therefore need to challenge this typecast at a much earlier stage of development – as if we wait until secondary school, we’ll have already lost a great many potential scientists, researchers and experts.

For more information on booking a trip to the Natural History Museum, see nhm.ac.uk


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