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Hawking joins British astronauts in hailing record figures for educational visits to Science Museum S

tephen Hawking and astronauts Tim Peake and Helen Sharman have praised the inspirational impact of educational trips to the Science Museum after new figures showed that more young people than ever visited the museum over the past year.

380,000 young people came to the museum in the past 12 months with their school, or other groups such as brownies or youth clubs, a new record for a UK museum. A further 68,800 pupils attended shows or workshops delivered by the museum’s outreach team at schools and science fairs across the country.

Professor Stephen Hawking, who last visited the museum in November for the launch of its Collider exhibition, said: “The Science Museum helped fuel my fascination with physics. So it is wonderful to see that more young people than ever are getting the opportunity to feel that same inspiration. The museum is one of my favourite places. I have been coming here for decades. And that simple fact, in itself, tells quite a story.” Major Tim Peake, who is preparing to travel to the International Space Station in 2015, said: “I

don’t get much of a break from training for my mission, but I always try to make time for this incredible Museum. If we’re serious about tackling the national shortage of scientists and engineers, we need to expose as many young people as possible to the kind of stimulating and motivating experiences they get at the Science Museum. These figures are tremendous.” Fellow astronaut Dr Helen Sharman, who visited the Mir space station in 1991, has her space suit on display at the museum. Speaking on a visit, she said: “It’s great to reflect that millions of young people have been able to get up close to my space suit at the Science Museum. I hope I’ve played a part in inspiring some of them to consider a future in science.” Science Museum Group Director, Ian Blatchford, said: “Our learning team serve up a wondrous mix of fun and inspiration. But nobody should be in doubt about the serious contribution we’re making to the nation’s future prosperity by enthralling record numbers of young people with the possibilities of a career in science and technology.”

Getting a bigger slice of Pisa How technology can help pupils raise UK attainment

By Karim Derrick, CEO of Sherston Software A

ccording to the OECD’s Programme for

International Assessment (Pisa) rankings, the performance of UK pupils

aged 15 in reading, maths and science has remained stagnant for over a decade. We are now ranked 26th in the world, having been overtaken by countries such as China, Singapore and Switzerland. This stagnation is not due to a decline in children’s potential but instead how they are being taught. The current UK education system has failed to keep pace with the world and has become increasingly outdated - today’s pupils simply can’t engage with it. This is also impacting modern business where employers continue to express frustration in the lack of soft- skills available amongst new recruits.

Close but yet so far

Today’s generation of children has been brought up with digital devices and gaming as second nature; they are more adept at performing tasks and solving problems on-screen than through textbooks and notepads.

In the modern workplace, creativity, thinking skills and problem-solving skills are lauded, as are team working and strong communication capabilities. Yet the UK education system makes little attempt to reliably measure such skills, much to the disappointment of employers. With these issues in mind, the education sector now faces a big hurdle: if they continue using traditional teaching and assessment methods, UK children will grow further detached from learning and be

May 2014

left without key abilities needed to progress in the modern workplace. So rather than running away from technology, educators should be embracing it and capitalise on the innovation being delivered by the UK’s world-leading education sector. Many countries have adopted the UK’s education technology and practices into their own curriculum; our approaches towards teaching and even our educational content are still coveted as the benchmark across the world. Yet despite the enthusiasm for modernisation overseas, the UK remains hesitant to adopt new practices for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the austerity cuts imposed on the sector has forced a clampdown on investment (£56bn cut from the Department of Education budget in 2011-2012). Secondly, previously large investments in classroom technology, such as electronic whiteboards have been unsuccessful. However, UK educators should take advantage of our closeness to education technology specialists and collaborate with them to deliver effective ways of teaching.

Out with the old, in with the new For decades, teachers have adapted the way that they teach based on the profile of individual pupils. Now, technology can deliver the next generation of personalised learning, in a way that is engaging for pupils and efficient for teachers to manage. Furthermore, because new teaching technology is based online, teachers can get clearer oversight of individual pupil development, thus helping them become much faster at establishing subject areas in which students are excelling and where they require additional assistance.

To improve pupil engagement, educators must find ways to replicate the quality gameplay and

rewards-based approaches in the classroom that they are now used to at home. Games-based learning forms an environment that motivates children to learn more keenly than if taught using traditional methods. Motivated pupils will subsequently lead to improved attainment levels, as they are naturally able to assimilate more information. In addition to this, education technology makes it possible for children to perform these learning tasks on a range of devices, such as tablets, empowering them to continue learning at home or even whilst on the move. In addition to knowledge-based learning, technology is also helping educators deliver creative learning. It can enable teachers to set structured ‘real world’ projects where children are encouraged to use their creative abilities such as team working, critical thinking, presentation and drawing, to complete tasks. It can even make it possible to capture and store project work done both at the computer and away from it. Importantly, this gives educators a reliable yet practical method to assess soft-skills. Allowing pupils to perform problem- solving tasks resembling those of the real world will better prepare them for the world of work and the problems our economy and our environment present.

Crunch time

As children change their learning habits to suit the computer age, educators must look to adopt a teaching approach and new technology that meets their expectations. The sooner educators come to realise this change, the sooner they can work to raise attainment once and for all. With a method that helps to teach and assess both knowledge- based and creative learning in an efficient and fun manner, we can not only ensure a rise in attainment levels but also a higher skilled generation of employable youngsters. Furthermore, putting this approach in place now will do more to ensure that the UK maintains its title as a leading educator on the world stage. 15

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