Investing in the future of science: UK environmental science engagement

Investigating engagement of UK school-aged children with environmental science, before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, there is no national overview of where institutions are conducting environmental science outreach and engagement with school-age children, a key stakeholder in science engagement. This project, a collaboration with Lancaster University, has identified projects and institutions nationally which were conducting outreach and engagement for environmental science with school children immediately before restrictions due to COVID-19 impacted the UK, is currently assessing changes in environmental science engagement due to those restrictions, and will aim to explore the situation longer-term post-pandemic.

Pre-pandemic engagement

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, initial research was undertaken immediately prior to the first UK lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. The objectives of this project were to address this knowledge gap by identifying who is carrying out public engagement with environmental science research which is aimed at school children, identify areas of environmental science that are represented and where further engagement is needed, assess which projects are most successful and highlight examples of good practice for the wider community to learn from:

The results of this research have been written up in Plants, People, Planet (open access).

Engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic

Further research, funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry, is exploring the impact on the pandemic of environmental science engagement in the UK. 

During this research, practitioners have provided insights into adaptations to the rapid move to online delivery caused by lockdowns in the UK. These insights have been collated and summarised anonymously, with thanks to those who gave their time and thoughts, and are available in:

Remote engagement with science: Insights from practitioners engaging UK school age children with environmental science during the COVID-19 pandemic (PDF)

Alongside these insights and forthcoming analysis of the impacts of the pandemic, resources have been produced for the project. These are intended for parents/carers and teachers to use in engaging children with environmental sciences, as appropriate for their ages and abilities.

Minecraft activities from Science Hunters

These resources are designed to be used by parents/carers or teachers, to help children learn about chemistry in the environment, at school or at home. They can be used with any version of Minecraft. Each activity comes with: 

  • a brief introduction to the topic
  • a non-Minecraft activity to try
  • three Minecraft challenges: starter, medium and advanced. 

These challenges can be worked through sequentially, or undertaken independently of one another as desired.

They are broadly aimed at ages 7-11 years, but are not restricted to these age groups. Adults should decide what is suitable. The resources cover:

  • farming, food security and fertilisers
  • coral reef conservation
  • lava chemistry, viscosity and hazard management

And are available in:

Suggestions for alternatives are provided for those without access to Minecraft.

Environmental chemistry activities from Dr Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Independent science communicator and writer, Dr Rowena Fletcher-Wood, wrote some alternative environmental chemistry activities for the project, spanning Early Years (under 5 years) to Key Stage 5 (16-18 years). The titles of the activities indicate the Key Stages they are aimed at:

Beyond the pandemic

The Investing in the Future of Science project will seek further funding to explore longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on environmental science engagement and outreach. For example, have any changes made during the pandemic persisted beyond its duration? What is the extent of such changes? Why were changes kept, or discarded? It is anticipated that this phase of the research will be initiated from 2023 or beyond, in order to ensure that the effects reported are longer-term impacts maintained beyond the adaptations made in direct response to the evolving COVID-19 situation.

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