Kathryn Boulton-Pratt: A Winning Experience
1 November 2014
A Winning Experience
Science is a subject that I am passionate about and as a teacher I have always worked hard to engage my students in a subject that is essential to everyday life. Last July I was incredibly touched when my Head teacher told me that she had nominated me for the WISE Advisor Award. I was astounded and lost for words (rather unusual) when I received a phone call last October telling me I had been short-listed. The award ceremony, held in the magnificent setting of the Science Museum, was a glittering affair. It was more akin to the world of celebrities than to scientists and teachers. My husband and I were sat towards the back of the Great Hall, next to Stephenson’s Rocket, with some fascinating people from universities, a school and different industries. We couldn’t see the stage but there were TV screens around the hall so that everyone had a great view of what was happening. The time for the WISE advisor award arrived and I was very keen for my husband to photograph the TV screen as the short listed names were shown; I was very excited to have my name almost in lights! When the winner was announced and I heard my name it was almost heart stopping, I was crying and laughing at the same time. It seemed to take forever to reach the stage to accept the award. All I wanted to do then was phone my mum and tell her, I did wait until the end of the event though.
Enjoyment of Science in the Classroom
Before teaching I worked in the pharmaceutical industry developing analytical methods for drugs that were in advanced testing stages. There I met people with all sorts of jobs that I didn’t know existed, let alone considered, and I do feel that being exposed to some of the careers that science can lead to, has stood me in good stead over the years when teaching students about the practical application of science.
I now teach at Sheffield High School, a girls’ school, and when I teach science I am always trying to make it relevant to the everyday world. More importantly, I try and show how it can help to make a better world. So much of what we take for granted – from email to Velcro, from medicines to clothing – is the result of breakthroughs and inventions by scientists and engineers. And so many of the issues facing the world – from climate change to pollution to obesity to how we feed a world with nine or ten billion people on it – which is the predicted human population for 2050 – these will be solved, or at least alleviated, by scientists and engineers. So I try and inspire them with how they can use science to change the world for the better.
- It is important to encourage a ‘can-do’ approach. Science has a reputation for being difficult, so I think part of the role of science teachers like me is to give our girls confidence – once they feel they can do it their enjoyment and appreciation of the subject builds.
- Leave them wanting more – wanting to find out more about a topic. So I like to go beyond the syllabus as much as possible.
- Aim to teach girls about the doors that science can open to them, and also make them aware of the potential doors that a lack of scientific knowledge can close to them.
Girls’ intuitively tend to be caring and nurturing and often many of my good scientists think of careers in medical disciplines. I feel one of my roles is giving them opportunities to consider other scientific options. Some of our successful ventures include:
- “Off timetable” engineering days for KS3 students working with local engineers and university students.
- Year 9 girls competing annually in the Go4SET challenge with the Engineering Development Trust, mentored by local engineers
- In 2012 our Year 11 and sixth form girls worked with PhD students from Sheffield University to launch a balloon into space. The excitement when the balloon eventually landed north of York, with photographs of the earth’s surface on the on board camera, spread rapidly throughout the whole school.
- Actively encouraging girls to apply for the excellent courses available such as Headstart, Salters’ Chemistry Camps and those run by the Smallpeice Trust
I am also continually looking for opportunities for work experience for my students and to bring external speakers into school.
Winning Benefits and the Future
Winning the WISE Advisor Award has opened more doors both personally and for school. Over the last year people have approached me and as a result we have been able to offer more opportunities to our students and, on occasion, those from a local schools. I have also had invitations to speak to groups both locally and nationally. The Science department at Sheffield High School have always willingly supported me and my ideas and I could not have achieved many things without them. It is now wonderful to see them having the confidence to develop and put into practice their own ideas. This year, for the first time, we have a young member of staff, Dr Emma Rozgowska, who actually has responsibility for STEM in school. At Sheffield High School we will be continuing to encourage and inspire more girls to take up careers in engineering, science, maths and technology by offering as many different opportunities as possible.