Helston Community College, Cornwall
James Allen is the type of science teacher that every student needs. A teacher and scientist who opens your mind to what science is, alive and boundless, not trapped in history or systematic terms.
Currently the Head of Biology at Helston Community College, and involved with IRIS for the past four years, James strongly believes that students should experience science to fully appreciate the subject.
It gives students the opportunity to discover what true investigative science is like, and that we don’t always know the outcome of a practical exercise before we start it.
“I find the complexity of the living world fascinating and I want to help students to understand this. We are still learning so much, not just about our own planet, and it is this spirit of discovery, as well as the ability to find the answers to unknown questions, that I want to instill in students,” says James.
James feels research is an ideal way for students to experience and understand science. In fact, he was first introduced to IRIS at the Royal Society’s student conference, where his students were presenting a research project.
The resources available through the IRIS website have been invaluable in helping the students who I’ve worked with develop their investigative and communication skills.
“We joined IRIS following this and the resources available through the IRIS website have been invaluable in helping the students who I’ve worked with develop their investigative and communication skills.,” said James.
An integral part of the IRIS experience is students’ introduction to the culture of research. Sharing and collaborating is a significant part of the process, both during and following their period of intensive research. IRIS encourages all students to take part in its conference. This is an element of the process that James really appreciates.
“Students are often carrying out their research projects in isolation so for them to be able to talk with other students doing the same thing was a brilliant experience for them. It was also really useful for me to be able to share my experience of trying to carry out research in school with other teachers who are doing the same and begin to develop a possible support network for future projects,” explains James.
James’ students have been involved in many IRIS research projects over the years, including Timpix, where students investigate radiation data collected by particle detectors on the International Space Station. One became so excited about the subject that he began an independent research project looking into the impact of radiation on mealworms, with a view to them being used in space as a food source.
“In my opinion, the way we are currently asked to teach science is not a true representation of what science actually is. The national curriculum, certainly beyond KS3, requires us to teach students a series of facts, with practical work being used largely to demonstrate a concept which students have been taught. This is why the work IRIS carries out is so important. It gives students the opportunity to discover what true investigative science is like, and that we don’t always know the outcome of a practical exercise before we start it,” comments James.
I have been really delighted that after their involvement with IRIS projects, so many of my students have opted for degrees in STEM subjects at university” continued James, “one of our first ever projects was looking at whether artificial colouring caused hyperactivity in our class hamster. One of the girls who was involved in that project has just finished her degree and had begun a PhD in neuroscience. I am very proud and privileged that her passion for that subject started here in my lab.”