Image credit: ©Kkolosov

Image credit: ©Kkolosov

Receiving a Royal Society Partnership Grant gave our team of primary school science leaders a huge boost in more ways than one. The financial element was, of course, extremely welcome at a time when money’s in short supply, but that’s not the whole story.

For me, the spirit of the partnership is best encapsulated by the equally-concentrated faces of an engineer and a group of six year-olds, interested in finding another way to approach a practical problem. The experience shared by the engineer, who’s on his knees in this scenario, is priceless. For our cluster of four schools, based in East Devon, the Partnership Grant enabled us to plan a Mars Rover Challenge at our local observatory, and a term of work leading up to it, in a more effective way.

Some years ago, we shared one remarkable but over-stretched STEM Ambassador between us. The kids relished working with him, improving their STEM skills as they did, while he learned to pitch things at primary rather than postdoc level! It was a successful partnership for him and for us alike, but, as with most good things, it had to come to an end.

Our search for a replacement started with an email to the National STEM Centre. An advertisement on their site generated interest in our Mars Rover event but ‘word of mouth’ in the local community also brought results. Two young female engineers were recommended, helping balance the age and gender profile of our STEM Ambassadors.

But how best to coordinate the time they had available with the particular needs of our schools? Schools being schools, we were each running the design/build/test phase at different times and with different numbers of participating children. Allocating one ambassador to each school appeared to be the most sensible answer; they could rotate around the other schools at a later time.

The idea wasn’t workable, however. Ambassadors have commitments of their own, and fluctuating windows of availability too. The solution we came up with and would recommend to you is a WhatsApp group connecting science leaders and ambassadors. Every member gets to hear what’s being said, who’s doing what and where. Responses tend to arrive faster than by email. When a teacher needs the help of a STEM Ambassador, he or she speaks to the science lead, a WhatsApp ‘shout’ goes out and the STEM cavalry are soon on their way.

We’re aiming for a longer-term partnership; we’re seeking new projects; and we will always welcome new ambassadors to our team. The Royal Society Partnership Grant gave us the spark we needed to get started and we heartily recommend it to you.