Open Your Mind

Education   Science   Secondary School  

Spring, 2007
St. Peter’s High School and International Language College, Stoke-on-Trent

Project aims: To improve pupils’ ability to construct and present balanced argumentsin relation to Science with confidence and, from these arguments,to develop considred opinions of their own.

Open Your Mind was an ambitious project run with St. Peter’s High School and International Language College that aimed to prepare all year 10 single Science students for the Science in the News coursework by modelling a creative approach which would support the lead teacher, Jo Wright, in developing alternative teaching strategies to encourage more classroom discussion. The project was closely supported by the Science Technician, Barbara Mayer, who provided support to pupils and teaching staff.

The decision was made to work towards staging a debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power, with pupils taking on a range of fictional roles to represent a spread of opinion. The lead teacher developed a project plan with James Yarker, director of theatre company Stan’s Cafe, that involved four classes being taught the same material over three separate Science lessons. James led the firstlesson in the series which focussed on the creative content, and the teacher took over for the second and theird classes. throughout the project, three other members of teh Science departmentalso delivered lessons on related topics to encourage cross-departmental working.

The project involved a range of creative approaches including writing tasks which encouraged pupils to recognise the relevance of the issue of nuclear power to their own lives. Pupils wereasked to either work on a piece of creative writing in which they imagined a world without electricity, or to keep a diary of all the times they used electricity in a day from waking up in the morning to going to be at night.

Pupils carried out their own investigative research, examining the range of power sources available and the pros and cons of each, and exploring how power can be converted into various forms. This work also led to an examination of the power of newspaper headlines and an exploration of media amplicifcation and bias in journalistic reporting. This process of enquiry culminated in pupils creating their own headlines around the nuclear debate, in which they attempted to demonstrate bias both for and against the issue of nuclear power.

Throughout Open Your Mind, a deliberate strategy was to not discuss the pros and cons of the topic directly with the pupils but to consistently encourage balanced debate by always putting the pupils into specific roles. This successfully enabled pupils to argue a particular perspective based on the views of their character, and avoided concerns that their peers may judge them personally. This approach effetively generated a range of voices on both sides of the debate and enabled pupils to take time to develop their personal views which they could articulate in their own individual coursework.

In preparation for the final debate, based on their specific roles, pupils conducted their own additional web based research to assist with preparing and reehearsing their contributions. The final debate was attended by Rashpal Chana from the Science Learning Centre West Midlands, who took on the role of Prime Minsiter and gave the final verdict as to which argument was the more convincing. The Prime Minister also awarded a number of prizeds, including one for the best overall debater.

Pupils are more able to construct and present balanced arguments on a given subject within Science.
Pupils have increased self confidence to speak in public.
Pupils are more able to structure balanced, logialarguments and communicate these with clarity.
The lead teacher has developed new teaching skills to manage classroom debates,including non-didactic approaches.

It made me more confident to let them run with their own ideas, and to trust the students to want to learn

Jo Wright, lead teacher, St. Peter’s High School adn International Language College.

Extracted from Tried, tested, inspirational: Creative approaches to How Science Works.
Published by Creative Partnerships Stoke on Trent.

After this report was written we learned that these students had performed significantly better in their GCSE course work than the previous year’s students. Well done them.


Artist James Yarker
Teacher: Jo Wright
Supported by: Barbara Mayer
The Prime Minister:Rashpal Chana
Thanks to: The Science Department, St. Peter’s High School
Commissioned by: Creative Partnerships – Stoke on Trent
and: Science Learning Centre: West Midlands

Creative Agent Viv Hampson