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Impact case study

Innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Education: The Potential of Visual, Kinaesthetic and Empathetic Learning for Children and the Wider Community

Unit(s) of assessment: Education

School: School of Education


This research has developed initiatives to promote and explain science and technology in schools and the wider community. The impact lies in how the work has increased engagement and helped to raise attainment levels. It uses innovative approaches such as visual, kinaesthetic and empathetic learning models to promote the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – alongside cultural enrichment and improved literacy.

The research has impacted on:

  • creativity, culture and society through theatre productions and astronomy activities which enhance understanding, inform values and engage communities with their local landscape and cultural heritage.
  • teachers’ development and practice through changing teacher training practice and raising pupil attainment.
  • the development of new models for public engagement leading to increased engagement with effective STEM education by young people and their teachers – regionally, nationally and internationally.

The COSMOS project (2008-2009) was a research-led theatre production for four to six-year-old children. The performances, attended by 500 children, introduced concepts about space and planets through the multi-sensory and multi-textual story of a young girl travelling though the solar system.

NTU was part of the EU-funded project MOSEM (Minds On Superconductivity, Electricity and Magnetism) which developed teaching materials to increase students’ engagement with physics in schools. MOSEM ran from 2007 to 2010 and involved 30 partners in 11 countries. In the UK alone, over 400 pupils and students were reached through over 20 presentations delivered at NTU and in school outreach activities. The project included the creation of the Möbius Maglev Train Track, designed by Professor Gren Ireson as a way of helping school students to understand superconductivity. Evaluation by students and teachers showed that both groups are equally positive about the learning materials.

Collaboration with the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education (RSCCSE), which was based at NTU from 2001 to 2009, led to the development of a Statistical Data Analysis Tool. Pupils can use the tool to format and test their own hypotheses.

The Centre for Effective Learning in Science (CELS) was established with £5.5 million funding from HEFCE to create a more relevant, accessible and achievable image for science. CELS has developed a range of public engagement resources which have been disseminated at regional, national and international conferences. These resources include the teaching package Kit-in-a-Kase, which has been delivered to over 11,500 local pupils. Research with local children into the use of personal response systems was disseminated at the Interactive Technology and Games international conference and at workshops with Swedish teachers and Norwegian Research Council in 2009. Outputs are disseminated internationally through the CELS website, with 45,000 visits from 73 countries to the outreach resources and over 19,000 users of the molecular geometry learning resource from Europe, the Americas, Oceania and Asia.

Astronomical global citizenship research is delivered each year to around 350 school pupils and community groups members. Now embedded in NTU teacher training, it reaches around 120 trainee teachers annually and thus impacts on pupil learning in schools across the UK.

Research into archaeo-astronomy, looking at the prehistoric construction methods of sites such as Stonehenge, has been disseminated in masterclasses for 60 students, CPD activities for 30 teachers annually and work placements which were highly commended in the 2012 National Green Gown Award for Social Responsibility. Three accessible sites with public-interpretation panels to explore sky-scape and landscape were installed and one site achieved dark-sky discovery site status, leading to an invitation to appear on BBC television's Stargazing Live.

In 2011, 400 people from the region attended two Peak District events. In a survey of attendees at the events, 85% gave a high rating to what they had learned about the impact of light pollution; 87% wanted to find out more about ancient history and 93% wanted to find out more about astronomy.

Research background

NTU has a long history of innovative research into ways of teaching science. Since 2005, cross-disciplinary work in science and art has produced innovations which have been critically acclaimed.

In a collaboration with Dragon Breath Theatre, CELS developed two theatre productions, ICARUS and COSMOS, as innovative STEM outreach vehicles. Both attracted funding from Arts Council England. Led by Peter Rumney and Nettie Scriven, the projects examined the impact that theatre can have on scientific understanding through its power to engage all the senses and learning styles as well as the intellect. The ICARUS project used stem cell research to engage GCSE students with the critical, moral and ethical issues of biomedical science. COSMOS, aimed at four to six-year-olds, was a participatory performance that introduced young children to astronomy, and parallel research looked at how literacy attainment can be improved by using visual and kinaesthetic learning styles.

Understanding superconductivity is challenging at university level – even more so for schools. Professor Gren Ireson’s work took up this challenge as part of the MOSEM project. Ireson’s work produced two superconductivity kits and associated activities for use in schools and universities across Europe.

Many people perceive astronomy as a complex, night-time-only activity needing expensive equipment. Dr Daniel Brown has shown that both regular astronomy and archaeo-astronomy can be carried out in the local countryside, at all times of day and with minimal equipment. Brown developed astronomy activities in partnership with local schools, teachers, communities and the Peak District National Park, with funding from the Science & Technology Facilities Council and the Institute of Physics. Activities included:

  • exploring global citizenship through astronomy
  • how aspects of our history and beliefs have been shaped through astronomy and encapsulated in ancient monuments
  • light pollution education.

The public engagement activities that were part of the projects reached a non-traditional astronomy audience and led to the installation of permanent sky interpretation panels at sites in the Peak District, to national dark sky status being awarded to one site and to involvement in the BBC television series Stargazing Live. The models used by Dr Brown, and the parallel teacher training activities, have also been introduced in Portugal with funding from the EU Comenius/Gruntvig programme.

NTU's work in statistical education for schools, in collaboration with the RSSCSE, has also had an educational impact. Crowley has worked on packages for teaching statistics, and developed web resources that were used in the international projects ExperimentsAtSchool and CensusAtSchool.

Research by Dr Karen Moss has focused on innovation in STEM outreach, including the internationally-disseminated Kit in a Kase model. Kit in a Kase is an science teaching tool for use in primary schools. Over 11,500 pupils in the UK have benefited from this approach. Led by Dr Karen Moss, CELS played an active part in three European Commission projects: Wonders; Two Ways and PLACES, researching new models of science communication, informal education and public engagement.


Web sites and reports

  • MOSEM superconductivity kits & teacher guides, including information about the maglev train project.
  • Examples of statistics resources used internationally. For example, there is evidence that thousands of people have accessed the colour maker experiment and the random data generator.
  • Teacher feedback on Kit-in-a-Kase activities.
  • What is effective learning in science? – overview of CELS outputs with quotes from teachers and partners.
  • Dragon Breath Theatre – information about ICARUS and COSMOS, with videos showing interviews with pupils and teachers.
  • Dr Daniel Brown's The Orion Constellation as an installation: An innovative three-dimensional teaching and learning environment (The Physics Teacher 2013 Volume 51, 160) was used by other international outreach groups to deliver an event. This showed an impact on other outreach teams and on the children the team worked with in America and Canada. "In the paper, Dr Brown lays out the different 3-dimensional locations of each of the seven major stars in the Orion constellation. The model stretched ten meters by two meters on the floor, and two meters vertical. The fun part was presenting. Ryan was able to introduce the idea that stars are different sizes and at different distances in the Universe."
  • NUCLIO & GTTP Comenius and Gruntvig training course: BRIDGES – Bridging the skies, the earth and the human beings. From ancient landscape exploration to digital era on science education.