There is good evidence that a lack of adequate experimental work in schools is a serious deficiency in science education. It results in a lack of interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
When it opened in 2010, our Reach Out Lab was a first for the sector. Since then, thousands of students from schools across London and more widely, have visited the lab to take part in a wide range of hands-on STEM activities.
Very few exercises in public engagement of this sort have been subjected to rigorous research to assess impact.
While the Reach Out Lab is, in part, run purely as an educational exercise, it also provides a great research base for us to investigate what activities work best in inspiring school children.
Key research questions
Some of the key questions that our research will address can be found below.
Accordion widget - Key research questions
Does practical science inspire the next generation?
Children attending the Wohl Reach Out Lab are being assessed at various stages during their school career. Their progess and aspirations will be compared with matched cohorts who did not attend the Wohl Reach Out Lab.
Follow up work will also assess whether such exposure has had a significant impact on the children's progress.
What effect do we have on science teaching in schools?
Attending school teachers are invited to contribute to assessments to evaluate whether contact with Imperial through the Wohl Reach Out Lab has been helpful in changing their teaching methods and furthering their own professional career development.
A further arm of the study will encourage some of the teachers to become 'researchers in residence' with the College.
Will more top science graduates consider a career in teaching?
Undergraduate and postgraduate students participating in the Wohl Reach Out Lab activities are being followed over three to five years to assess their career intentions.
They will be invited to contribute to questionnaire-based inquiries before, during and after working within the Wohl Reach Out Lab. A cohort of non-participating students will be compared as a control.
What types of teaching are most effective and inspiring?
We offer complete science courses in STEM subjects to some participating school children, whilst others have just one or two days' exposure to the Lab’s activities.
We expect that our research will allow better assessment about the ideal amount of contact time, the most appropriate teaching materials for different STEM subjects, and what works best with different age groups.