What is British Science Week?
British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology engineering and maths (STEM), run by the British Science Association in the UK.
British Science Week 2020 takes place from Friday 6th to Sunday 15th March. All over the country, schools, families, STEM professionals and science communicators will be getting involved by participating in STEM events and activities.
Anybody can also host their own event if they wish – the British Science Association helps organisers by providing free activity and support resources.
This year, the theme of British Science Week is ‘Our diverse planet’. This includes biological diversity, social diversity, the diversity of knowledge and also STEM careers.
British Science Week Ideas
As well as attending one of the many British Science Week events (or hosting your own), this week is a really good time to engage children and young people in the wonders of science.
From informational lessons to fun activities to fascinating experiments, we’ve put together our favourite British Science Week ideas that are great for expanding minds in the classroom.
Create a Polar Habitat
Making a model of a polar habitat is a great way for students to learn about how animals adapt to their surroundings.
Start with an old shoebox (or other box/container of some sort). Line with cotton balls, white card and/or or cotton wool padding to create a snowy landscape, then add toy animals such as polar bears, arctic foxes, penguins, sea otters, snowy owls, walruses and bald eagles.
You can teach children about which animals live in the Arctic and Antarctic, and choose their animals based on which habitat they’d like to model. You can also talk to them about global warming and the effect it has on polar animals with this easy experiment from Science Sparks.
Make a Wormery
A homemade wormery is another great way to observe natural progressions over time, and is relatively easy to make.
All you need is an old jar or clear box (plastic is best), sand, soil, gravel, and old leaves and grass clippings that the worms will like. Start by covering the bottom of the container with a layer of gravel or small stones, which will help with drainage. Add the soil and sand in layers, alternating each one.
Drop a small amount of water onto the surface – but not too much – to moisten the soil. Add your worms gently to the top of the soil and then add the leaves and grass clippings on top to create a dark atmosphere.
Make some holes in the lid before fastening it onto the jar. You should keep the wormery in a dark place such as a cupboard.
Each week, check to see how the worms are doing. You should see the sand and soil get mixed up as the worms burrow down and filter the soil. The grass and leaves should also be pulled down so everything gets mixed together.
In the meantime, teach children about the importance of worms and why they are incredibly useful for our ecosystem. Explain the process of how worms help carry decaying material into the soil, where it is broken down by microorganisms into nutrients that can be used by plants to grow.
Another angle to this experiment could be to create a class compost bin outside, where the children can add their food waste and watch as worms and other insects help it to break down into usable compost.
Conduct an oil spill experiment
Oil spills are sadly very common in today’s world and occur when sea water is contaminated with oil.
By teaching children about the causes of oil spills and the damaging effect they have on wildlife, they will become more aware of the issue and how they can contribute to solutions.
You can simulate an oil spill with the help of an oil spill experiment. Not only is this a useful way to teach about oil spills, children will also learn how water and oil don’t mix and why oil floats on water.
To do the experiment , you’ll just need a clear plastic container (such as a Tupperware) a tray, some vegetable oil, a spoon or pipette, water, and some cotton wool and cotton buds.
Fill the container halfway with water and drop a small amount of oil on top using the spoon or pipette. Show the students how the water and oil will not mix – even if you shake the container, they will separate again.
Add more oil if needed and then experiment with the absorbable materials to see which cleans up the oil spill the best. You could also dip a feather into the oily water and watch as it starts to feel heavier, to show students the effect that oil spills have on marine life. They can then experiment with different methods of cleaning to remove the oil from the feathers.
Make edible igneous rocks
You can buy a set of igneous rocks to teach about the process of molten lava cooling quickly near volcanoes.
However, children will love making these edible igneous rocks, which will help them see the process for themselves and enjoy a tasty treat too!
To make the rocks, simply add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup golden syrup and 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar to a deep saucepan on a medium heat. Watch as the mixture bubbles up and stir continuously until all of the sugar has dissolved.
Use a candy thermometer to read the temperature. When the mixture has reached around 150 degrees Celsius, remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda. The mixture will foam, which is a great representation of molten lava!
Pour the mixture into a pre-lined and greased baking pan and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, pull the block out of the pan and break up into pieces. Observe the sponge-like appearance of the candy and the air bubbles have formed inside it. Discuss how it resembles pumice rock. Then eat!
Make a model of the solar system
This activity can be done outside if the weather allows it, or if not, in the school sports hall.
Use this calculator to enter the dimensions you wish your sun to be, and it will calculate all of the orbit sizes and diameters of the other planets so you can build your model. The more space you have, the bigger you can build your model! You can either keep this small and confined to the classroom, and make it something bigger that the whole school can get involved with. Doing it this way allows students to see how vast our solar system really is and how far away we are in reality from other planets.
Another fun way to do this is by creating a solar system mobile using polystyrene balls, which will allow the planets to move on their axes and can be used as a fun classroom or bedroom decoration.
Create a Timeline of Elemental Discovery
A great research activity is getting students to create a timeline of elemental discovery. Teachers could provide them with a single number line and a list of the elements to research, or give them more free rein to see what they discover by themselves.
Encourage students to get creative with presenting their findings, using either craft materials or digital means. You could even give a prize for the most informative or well-presented timeline.
Make Balloon-Powered Cars
This fun activity is great for creativity, teamwork and crammed full of science. As well as encouraging students to work together with classmates, they’ll also learn about aerodynamics, speed, acceleration and various natural forces.
To make a balloon-powered car, all you’ll need is a recycled plastic bottle, four plastic bottle caps, a wooden skewer, two straws, a balloon, some tape and some scissors.
Cut one of the straws in half and tape both pieces to one side of the water bottle. Cut the wooden skewer in half and push each piece through one of the straws. These will be the ‘axles’ of the car.
Using scissors, poke a ‘+’ shaped hole directly in the centre of each bottle cap, and press the on the ends of the wooden skewers to form the wheels.
To put your balloon-powered car into action:
- Put the car down on a flat surface and give it a good push to check that it rolls smoothly. If it doesn’t roll smoothly, make sure your axles are parallel to each other, the holes in the caps are centred, and the straws are securely taped to the water bottle and do not wobble.
- Tape the neck of the balloon around one end of the other straw. Make sure the connection is airtight.
- Cut a small hole in the top of the water bottle – just big enough to push the straw through. Push the free end of the straw through the hole and out of the mouth of the bottle, and use tape to secure it.
- Blow through the straw to inflate the balloon, then put your finger over the tip of the straw to trap the air.
- Place the car down on a flat surface and release your finger to watch the car travel!
- Ask students about what adjustments could be made to make their cars go even further. What happens if they inflate the balloon more? What if they change the direction in which the straw is aimed?
There are many ways to build a balloon car. A great engineering design project would be to experiment with different materials such as a cardboard box instead of a plastic bottle; a different diameter straw; different materials for the wheels and axles; even Lego!
Students could do this activity in groups, or make it a cross-class experiment by getting classes to compete with one another and see who can make the most aerodynamic balloon car!
Make British Science Week Posters
Encourage children to make their own poster for British Science Week? The posters could focus on the event itself or a particular aspect of the ‘Our diverse planet’ theme, or even on different STEM practices.
Schools can give a prize for the best poster, or even enter students’ creations into the British Science Week poster competition! The competition is sponsored by Guinness World Records and encourages students to design a poster around a world record that celebrates ‘Our diverse planet’. For the full competition rules, check out the British Science Week website.