STEM boxes for Edinburgh pupils inspire next generation of scientists

Curiosity boxes packed with fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) activities have been given the thumbs up by primary school pupils in Edinburgh.

The School of Physics and Astronomy joined the project led by Edinburgh BioQuarter to provide education packs to children in its neighbouring communities at Craigmillar, Niddrie, Moredun and Gilmerton after being approached by local teachers for support.  

Dr Jean-Christophe Denis, the Ogden Outreach Officer at the School of Physics and Astronomy, was approached by both local schools and colleague Cathy Southworth, BioQuarter’s community science engagement manager, to initiate the project to provide enough STEM activity boxes for children in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The School of Physics and Astronomy contributed to the £20,000 raised to finance the project, and provided logistical helps thanks to the good relationships already established with the local community.

Jean-Christophe said:

Over the past years, we have done a lot of work to develop good relationships with our local neighbours so that we can mutually benefit from our interactions. We have been running year-long weekly science clubs in schools in Craigmillar and Moredun, delivered tailored activities for the local schools, a local holidays programme offered by Edinburgh City Council and helped organised the Craigmillar science festival since its start. We believe that it is our duty to engage with the communities physically near us and build bridges between our campus and local residents. 

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis put a brutal stop to our activities in these communities. We know that these times are very challenging for all of us, and we wanted to do our part to support local families. Schools had informed me about the difficulties some families face regarding access to materials to do home schooling effectively. When Cathy mentioned the idea of sending STEM boxes to the community, I knew this was the answer and the right thing to do.

Eight-year-old Seamus Whelan, a pupil at St Francis Primary in Craigmillar, is delighted with his STEM box. He lives with his mum Kara, an early literacy project manager with a local charity, dad John, who works in a homeless hostel, his older brother Oisin and his dog, Buddy.

Kara said:

Seamus loves STEM work and it really captured his imagination over lockdown. His grandparents sent him a microscope for his 8th birthday in May and he set up his own YouTube channel 'Snake creations'  to share the science videos he was making with his Dad.

When we realised the STEM boxes were available we were thrilled. A lot of children will be keen to do activities over the summer whereas before lockdown, when boundaries between school and home were clearer, the end of the school year would have drawn the line for educational pursuits.

Mhairi MacDonald, depute head teacher at Niddrie Mill Primary School, made the initial approach for support.

She commented:

Like many families across the city, lots of our children and their loved ones have found lockdown difficult. Some have experienced more financial difficulties and have struggled without the structure and resources that school usually brings. A number of families also do not have a garden, so keeping the children entertained in a contained space has been challenging. During COVID we have had many families in crisis looking for support to make their home a more positive place to be.

We are limited to what we can offer but reached out to Edinburgh BioQuarter and asked if they could help, and they provided us with these wonderful exciting science boxes, fully funded. These boxes were offered to all children locally to offer equitable experiences during lock down.