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Chain Reaction: a sustainable approach to inquiry-based science education

Chain Reaction is an EU-funded teacher education project to promote inquiry-based science education (IBSE) for 14–16 year-olds in 12 partner countries across Europe and beyond. Starting in 2013, it runs for three years. Its vision is to embed IBSE in schools across Europe: for some partner countries, this represents a new way of teaching science.

Drawing on history

In order to qualify for its €3.6m funding, the project had to use a tried-and-tested methodology. We drew on our experience of the Pupil Researcher Initiative, a national curriculum programme delivered by the Centre for Science Education in the 1990s and 2000s. This initiative raised awareness of science and engineering research by getting school pupils to try ‘real science' through research and experimentation.

Chain Reaction in figures

  • 3 years
  • 12 countries
  • 180 schools
  • 360 teachers
  • 10,800 students
  • 36 national conferences
  • 3 international conferences

Thirty resource packs were developed, with activities that followed the ‘rules' of the scientific method; 5000 PhD students went into schools to mentor and advise the learners. The best of the experiments went forward into ‘Express Yourself' conferences, where students presented their work to an audience of their peers.

Chain Reaction builds on the successful principles of PRI and supports teachers to develop the necessary skills to effectively use inquiry-based teaching and learning approaches in the science classroom.

Taking the lead

The Centre for Science Education, part of Sheffield Institute of Education, is Coordinating Partner, leading the project and managing the consortium of partners. Involvement with Chain Reaction runs across the Institute, with the Department of Teacher Education providing two members of the Technical Board which oversees the project, and the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research appointed to carry out an evaluation.

The project is focused on professional development: a key aim is to equip teacher-educators to train teachers in the use of IBSE materials and techniques. The partners are given 11 pupil research briefs, which they then adapt to the specific needs of teachers in their country.

Inspiring teachers and students

From working through the materials with teacher-educators, teachers will have the skills and confidence required to deliver exciting, student-focused lessons exploring the research projects outlined in the resources. The lessons will require students to use critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills to work together to research scientific scenarios.

Students' work will be summarised in presentations that will be shared at national conferences in each partner country. The students will describe the scientific processes they followed and share their findings. These events will also engage practising scientists (new professionals or PhD students) to act as role models for the students. As well as encouraging young people to consider a career in science, they will help participating teachers identify which students should go forward to the international conference.

Participating countries

  • Bulgaria
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Jordan
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom

Coming together

Year 1 will culminate in the first international conference, to be held in Sheffield in May 2014. Professor the Lord Winston (Robert Winston) will attend and deliver a keynote speech. These will be celebratory rather than competitive events, with recognition given to all those experiments which embody the philosophy of IBSE. International conferences in years 2 and 3 will be held in Heidelberg, Germany and Amman, Jordan.

To maximise teacher and student participation, the project will involve different schools in each year. As well as producing resources tailored to each country's cultural and curricular needs, it will provide a strong and sustainable IBSE framework for both teacher-educators and teachers. Teachers will build their knowledge and skills, and become part of a wider network which enables the sharing of experience and expertise between teachers and teacher-educators.

The network will also help in the dissemination of resources and outcomes. The teacher training, materials and instruction provided will be cascaded within schools, with experienced teachers mentoring those new to the project.

Lasting impact

The key impact of Chain Reaction lies in the engagement and motivation of both students and teachers during the life of the project. It's also designed to provide sustainable benefits, as skills and expertise are cascaded, and the principles of IBSE are built into schemes of work. Like the Pupil Researcher Initiative before it, Chain Reaction should therefore have a significant long-term impact on teaching practice.

For more details of Chain Reaction and the latest on progress in partner countries, please visit the project website at www.chreact.eu

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