Home > Outreach, schools, science > Nuffield Scheme for Teachers?

Nuffield Scheme for Teachers?

The Nuffield Foundation runs a bursary scheme for (mainly) school pupils about to enter their final year of study. In Scotland this is for pupils who have just completed their Highers and going on into S6. The projects are typically 5-6 weeks long and take place in the school summer holidays. They are aimed at giving pupils experience of a STEM project in a real world setting and are either industrially based or within an academic research group. My group has hosted pupils for a number of years (although not this year) and I hope that we’ve helped to encourage most of them to continue on with science and engineering studies at University – our ‘alumni’ have gone on to study physics, medicine and engineering.

When I say that these are ‘real’ projects, I mean that they are supposed to provide the pupils with experience of doing something properly useful, and one of our pupils even got his name on a paper on the basis of some of the work he did on the optical manipulation of aerosols. Doing something significant is difficult in 5-6 weeks, especially in my lab, but the projects tend to be designed to allow some useful and productive output within the time allotted. I tend to get the pupils to build me something from scratch, so they have some idea of what they are doing, as opposed to sitting them down in front of a bit of kit and telling them to press a button and record the answer in their lab book – so even if the data sometimes is a little sparse, they do manage to ‘make’ something.

A thought occurred to me though – it’s great having keen young people in the lab, showing them how we do stuff, showing them the process, and the effort that goes into to getting something to work – but wouldn’t it also be useful to allow teachers to do the same thing? Now teachers obviously have a degree in their primary subject and will have done a major project as part of that, so they should all have some ‘skills’, but wouldn’t it be interesting for them to update their knowledge with modern stuff, not in the form of a CPD show and tell day, but with practical experience back in the lab? Wouldn’t it be great if rather than simply telling kids, ‘yeah, study biology and there are loads of great jobs waiting for you’, you could say, ‘well during my holiday I was using this idea to help design a new drug’?

There are, of course, issues. Teachers can’t give up such a big chunk of their time in the holidays as easily as school pupils can – they have other commitments in terms of family holidays,  recharging batteries and starting to do prep for the new term. But maybe there could be a way to offer teachers short placements, say a couple of weeks, to gain some new practical experience, and to maybe get involved in short term research projects. In doing so they can also start to build up different networks that can help out with school projects, outreach activities and possibly work experience placements for pupils.

I am not a teacher however, and it may simply that there is no interest in something like this, although I would hope this is not the case. So do any teachers out there have any thoughts on this issue – does it have merit, or is it a non-starter? What would be the practical constraints?

Update 11/7/12 I asked the Nuffield Foundation about such a scheme and it seems they are considering it at present, so it may come to pass. Watch this space.

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  1. Ian
    July 6, 2012 at 8:26 am

    From my point of view, it would be fantastic to get the chance to ‘remind myself’ about what goes on in a lab/industrial environment. There’s a limit to what following blogs and reading professional journals can do! However, with most things like this it turnss into a question of how much time the teacher is prepared to give up, as it’s difficult – not to mention unpopular with SMT – to take time out of lessons.

    I’ve blogged and tweeted before about thedream situation, where practitioners get sabbatical time. I’d see the pedagogy as being a more significant part of this – perhaps in a year out of their own classroom, teachers could spend a few months on writing or improving exam questions, a few months mentoring and doing outreach with other schools, perhaps including some educational research, and a few months producing resources. There’s no reason why they couldn’t also spend some time doing something specialist, whether that’s lab work, working in a museum or archive for historians, journalism ‘work experience’ for english/media and so on.

    When I rule the world…

    • July 8, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      I think the idea of a sabbatical (even if a short one) for teachers is an interesting idea. I see little practical reason why it shouldn’t be possible, other than, of course, the financial one. My Nuffield idea for teachers would likely have to be during the holidays, unless of course it really were a bursary scheme like the one for school pupils, and the school could be paid a replacement salary. I would guess taking teachers out of class during school time also has knock on effects for pupils though.

      And you are absolutely right that the idea could extend beyond STEM into all subject areas – one could argue that it’s a way to help reinvigorate teachers – I know that when I get the opportunity to go off and work elsewhere the break from the ‘normal’ is a great way to learn and to generate new ideas to take back to the day job.

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