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By Beth Hawkins on

The Building Bridges project

The Building Bridges project has been a 5-year (2012-2017)  partnership between the Science Museum and secondary schools from its London partner-boroughs and Reading.

Through the Science Museum’s learning approach and amazing stories from our collections, the project explored the applications and relevance of science principles to support school and home-based learning. The project programme aimed to engage and inspire young people from diverse backgrounds to explore and value the science that shapes their lives today and in their future, through activities and resources which:

  • Raise awareness of skills that are used and developed through doing science
  • Highlight the applications of science in everyday life
  • Introduce people who use science in their work
  • Give opportunities for students to reflect and discuss science at home to promote the relevance of science in their lives and communities

Academic research partners

We know that museums, like ours, play a part in the STEM and cultural learning ‘ecosystem’ and we have the opportunity to support and encourage our visitors to extend their learning within and beyond the museum environment. To help us gain a better understanding of how museums, schools and families can collaborate and work together to support young peoples science engagement and learning, the project has worked with two academic partners over the past 5 years  (Sheffield Hallam University (2012-2015) and University College London (2015-2017)).

A ‘multi nodal’ delivery model

The project was structured around a programme of activities which took place across an academic year, (from September – July) to give us multiple points of contact with teachers, students and their families. These included:

  • A school based outreach visit (including a show and workshop)
  • A visit to the Science Museum with workshops led by STEM practitioners
  • A ‘VIP’ family evening event at the Science Museum

Throughout the project, classroom and home based activities were used alongside the facilitated events to help integrate the programme into the school curriculum and to enable students to reflect on their experiences back at home with their families and in their local community.

The Building Bridges project timeline including elements such as the teachers' course, outreach visit, museum visit, family event and pre- and post- visit activities.

Skills focused

Running throughout the project was a focus on the skills associated with science, rather than working with any specific scientific topic. These skills were; asking questions, sharing knowledge and ideas, creative problem solving, finding & using evidence and being a team player.  We aimed to build students awareness and confidence that they used these skills every day to help them to recognise how science is a relevant and useful subject which could support them in their future aspirations – whatever they might be.

You've got skills! poster showing skills people have that are also used by scientists and engineers such as team work, communication, creative problem-solving.

Working with families

We recognised that families play an important and influential role in their child’s education and shaping their attitudes and relationship with science, and so we wanted to focus the final two years of the project to investigate if there was a way that we could do this more effectively.

So, in 2015, we partnered with University College London to work with some of the families of students who were involved in the project who came from under-represented or absent visitor groups of the Science Museum.  The research questions we chose were based on insights gained from prior research, gaps in existing understanding within the academic literature, alongside the aims of the Building Bridges project. They were:

  • How might families’ cultural references and values, including their interests and aspirations, affect their engagement with Western science?
  • How do families’ everyday conversations, activities and skills relate to science content, process and/or practice?
  • What is the impact of families’ involvement in the ‘Building Bridges’ project on their views, conversations and activities related to science?

Impact so far…

The greatest impact of the research to date has been on us as a learning team. It has already started to change the way that we think about and develop, experiences for both schools and families to help make them more inclusive and accessible. Some of the changes that we made to the project include:Cover of 'Try this...' activity book.

  • Creating information for parents about their child’s science learning in various visual formats.
  • Supporting teachers by creating resources that connect science learning experiences, in school and at the Museum, with students’ families at home.
  • Showcasing student’s work to appeal to family values around academic success.
  • Advocating that the Science Museum is a place where everyone is welcome and can be enjoyed as a family.
  • Creating activities that promote family learning, encourage science talk at home and challenge perceptions of science and museums. E.g. the Try this.. activity book.

We will share a summary of the project and the findings from the research as soon as it has been completed.

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