Explorify: What can it do for me?

(In a rush? Too busy to read a lengthy blog post? Skip to the green bits)

One thing that makes me feel incredibly lucky to be a primary science leader is the vast amount of support and resources out there to help teachers, often for free. Wading through all this can be a daunting task though, especially for newer subject leader; where to start!? So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to write a series of ‘What can it do for me?’ blogs, to share some of the great stuff that’s out there and hopefully help subject leaders and teachers locate what they need to help with teaching great science. Having just spent the day with Louise Stubberfield and the wonderful education team at the Wellcome Trust, Explorify seems like a good place to start!

First and foremost, it’s free! This is (sadly, but realistically) the first question teachers have about new resources. Luckily, everything available from Explorify is completely free. You do have to register and log in to use the resources, but once you’re in nothing is behind a paywall.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to what it actually is! The resource comes from the Wellcome Trust, a politically and financially independent foundation that exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive.

They acknowledge how important it is that children receive a high-quality primary science education and are working to support teachers with this. And they really, genuinely care about what teachers want, and are interested in providing useful resources. The education team are led by the wonderful Louise, who spent many years teaching and leading schools herself, and on top of this they regularly engage with actual, real teachers to find out what is needed and how to improve the existing offer. Case in point, here I am with a bunch of lovely fellow-educators at the Wellcome Trust building earlier this week!

(As a sidenote, if anyone is looking for some helpful primary science Twitterers to follow, this bunch is a good start! @katesutton70, @Snotlady5 @ErChilvers)

To summarise the resources on offer in one sentence is difficult (they can be used in so many different ways!) but I’ll have a go! Explorify offers a collection of ready-made resources that allow teachers to facilitate scientific discussion in the classroom, with interesting concepts that can be easily linked to the curriculum if needed. The best way to become familiar with them will be to log on and have a click around yourself, but the activities include:

What if? activities, in which pupils think about what would happen in a given scenario, for example, what if the sea was gloopy like ketchup?

Odd One Out activities, which ask pupils to use scientific reasoning to choose which of three objects/images is the odd one out and explain why (the great thing about this is, so long as you can justify your reasoning, there’s no wrong answer!)

What’s Going On? videos linked to a range of different scientific concepts, which pupils can watch then discuss their ideas.

Zoom In, Zoom Out activities, which show pupils a highly zoomed-in image that they then discuss and suggest ideas for what it could be, then repeat as the camera zooms out to different degrees until the object is finally revealed. These ones were absolute favourites of every class I’ve had, and it’s wonderful to talk about our original ideas not exactly being wrong, just based on limited evidence (much like ‘wrong’ ideas that scientists have had in the past, such as the Earth being flat).

There are other activities, so do have a click around yourself; those are just a flavour of what’s there. They all come with explanations of the science behind the activity for teachers and suggestions for use in class.

Now, what can it do for you? In other words, how could you use this in your classroom. Well, there are soooo many ways you could go with this! One of the reasons I love these resources so much is the versatility. Here are a few ideas (although I’m sure there are many more I’ve not thought of!)

Lesson starters

You can search the activities by topic (e.g. Plants, Materials etc.) and use an activity to get discussion going to introduce a topic or at the start of a lesson. Personally, I think the Odd One Out activities are great for this, as you can start eliciting vocabulary from children and noting it down somewhere, or doing some subtle formative assessment by listening in to their conversations (who doesn’t love a bit of sneaky AfL!?). Doing this can also be a good way to identify any misconceptions pupils in your class have about your current topic.

Assessment

As mentioned above, Explorify activities can easily be used for formative assessment. As the activites are based around discussion, you could easily listen in to what children are saying to gauge their understanding of a particular concept. Or, if this proves tricky with your particular bunch (some classes are just noisier than others!) you could get them to write responses on whiteboards and hold them up, or do a ‘vote with your feet’ where pupils move to different, designated areas of the classroom to show their opinion, then you strategically choose children to explain why they have chosen a particular option. You could even carry out the same activity at the beginning and end of a topic to see how pupils’ views have changed as they have gathered more knowledge. Far more inventive than a KWL grid!

Early Bird/Morning Work

…or whatever you call that first bit of the day where children come in and work on something independently before/during the register. Activities like What If? And Odd One Out can be left on the board for pupils to think about/discuss/jot down thoughts independently once they are familiar with the activities. It’s a great way to sneak some extra science into your day!

Gap-Filling

You know all those times when assembly is suddenly cancelled, or you have to wait an extra 15 minutes to go into the Early Years Christmas performance dress rehearsal because it’s taken them a little longer to get into their costumes than anticipated? Throw an Explorify on your interactive whiteboard! Rather than fill the time with more Heads Down Thumbs Up, seize the opportunity to squeeze in some extra scientific discussion and allow your class to practise using all that new scientific vocabulary you’ve been teaching them. (It feels important to note here, these activities are too good to be resigned to just being gap-filling exercises, but if your pupils are familiar with them already through lessons, they’ll likely love the opportunity to try out more and you’ll be making the most of every minute in the classroom!)

Alternatives to Story Time

You’ll be getting absolutely no argument from me against story time being a vital part of the day, no matter how old your pupils are. However, if you did want to mix it up a little and squeeze a bit more science into your weekly timetable, you could swap story time for an Explorify activity one day a week/fortnight/month/term.

Supply Teachers & HLTAs

Every now and again, I do a bit of supply teaching. It’s a great way to see what’s happening in other schools and extend beyond my comfort zone a little. I’ve found that Explorify activities are incredibly engaging, even for more challenging classes, and the vast majority of them require no advance preparation and no resources beyond internet access and an interactive whiteboard. If you find yourself with spare time at the end of a day or a session, or just want to enhance a science lesson. In a previous school, I worked with the most wonderful HLTA I could have asked for (shout out to Miss Kilvington, you legend!) who, as I’m sure is the case for many HLTAs, was often asked last minute to cover other classes, and so collected a ‘bag of tricks’ that she could pull out with children of all different ages. Explorify activities are a wonderful addition to that arsenal, and there’s no need to worry about subject knowledge, with all the relevant info being supplied with the activity.

Home Learning

Some of the activities could easily be sent home for children to discuss with their families (love a bit of no-pencil homework!). In particular, the ‘What if…’ questions would be an easy one to pop into home-school diaries, or even pose to pupils at home time and ask them to talk about it with their family on the walk home, or any point that is convenient. A great way to sneak in some extra science learning while engaging families!

In short, Explorify is a versatile resource that promotes scientific thinking and discussion in an engaging way, with high-quality resources. Oh, and it’s free! What more could you ask for! You can get there by clicking the ‘Explorify’ logo at the top of this post, or here: https://explorify.wellcome.ac.uk/

Have you used Explorify in another way? Do you have resources you’d like me to investigate and blog about? Are there any areas in particular you’d like me to identify resources for? Let me know your thoughts and comment below!

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