Good preparation and fun, simple experiments will have the students gladly forfeiting their lunchtimes.
It all started just over two years ago when I joined the school on completion of my PGCE. The new second in department started to run a science club after school, just for year 7s. This was a new club, the old science club having folded several years earlier.
Unfortunately the club didnt take off as it was competing with too many alternative after-school activities, and of course many youngsters dont consider science to be cool any more. So after just a few short weeks we folded.
Later that year in the summer term, I decided to have another go but this time in the lunch hour (50 minutes these days!). Summer was a good time to start the new club as I could take advantage of the schools environmental study centre for some simple outdoor experiments.
At first there were just seven or eight keen young scientists from year 7 but after a very successful pitfall trap experiment word got around that there was some good fun to be had at the science club. By the end of term there were 14 regular members.
The following year I ran the science club at lunchtime for years 7 and 8. By the end of the year we had 24 regular members. This year we now have 50-plus members in years 7-9 (forty of them are in year 7). And I now require at least two teachers in two labs to run the club.
The reasons that the club seems to work so well now where it had failed in the past are twofold. Firstly, there are very few other lunchtime activities competing with science club and secondly all the experiments we do are completed in just thirty minutes. Oh, of course you also need a very co-operative technician.
Careful planning is the key
To achieve this, each weeks activity is prepared and planned as carefully as any lesson. Simple, clear worksheets are prepared for the experiment and the required equipment is ordered from the technician as early in the week as possible.
As there are two teachers and two labs involved each week there are two different experiments set up, one in each lab. The pupils will do one experiment in the first week and then swap around for the second week. This means that there is only one experiment a week to plan.
On a Friday lunchtime (the day we run science club) the first twenty minutes of the lunch break are given over to setting up the equipment for the experiment so that when the pupils arrive they do not have to do it themselves. This saves a lot of time and helps ensure that the work can be completed in 30 minutes.
The pupils will get their lunch during this period. We have a queuing rota at our school so each year goes to lunch in their turn. So pupils attending science club have a membership card that tell the teacher on duty to let them in first so they can attend the club.
The pupils arrive at 12.50pm and collect their worksheet. To save wasting time in detailed explanations and instructions it is very important that the worksheet is as clear as possible. On it is a set of instructions to carry out the experiment, a space for results and a space for a one or two sentence conclusion.
I dont worry too much if they dont manage to write a conclusion, time can sometimes be a bit tight, but I do insist that they record their results. This can be a simple statement (It exploded! It changed from red to blue) or a diagram of the specimen.
It is important that time is not wasted in explanations to the group as many pupils will require help with their experiments even though they have been set up for them.
At the end of the lunch break the importance of a very co-operative technician will become apparent. As there is no time for the pupils to clear up. It is down to the teachers and technician to do the clearing up, or in my case, as a form tutor, it is down to the technician.
Pick experiments that can be repeated at home
So what experiments do we do? We look for experiments that will be different to the ones that they will do in lessons. Many of them will be ones that they can repeat at home using equipment that they can find in the kitchen or dads garage/shed. A good source for this kind of experiment is 101 Science Experiments by Dorling Kindersley.
A good example of one of the experiments we did was a magnetic field experiment using iron fillings in golden syrup. A thin layer of this is placed on a clear plastic tray and one or more magnets are placed underneath. In about five minutes a clear pattern showing the magnetic field can be seen. It can even be placed on a good OHP for projection.
It produces a better pattern than I have ever seen ding the experiment in the classic way with magnets and paper. Several different arrangements of magnets can be achieved in the thirty minute session.
Another resource that is used regularly is the Dorling Kindersley The Way Things Work Kit. The parts supplied in the kit are used as templates for the technician to copy onto card. The club members can then carry out many of the fifty experiments in the kit.
Perhaps though the best loved experiments are the ones that involve explosions, or animals and plants. When carrying out explosive experiments it is usually best that most of the session is demonstrated with one or two simple explosions for the pupils. A paint tin (with lid), candle, plastic funnel, rubber tubing and a small measure of flour will produce a spectacular but safe explosion that most pupils will enjoy.
A few examples
In a similar vein fill take a small paint tin with lid. Make a small hole in the lid and a hole large enough for a rubber hose in the bottom. Fill the tin with gas, remove the hose, stand it on a tripod and set fire to the gas coming out of the lid. Wait, wait some more until the flame disappears and BANG! The lid flies up and pupils are well impressed.
Take an old empty soft drinks can. Put a small amount of water in the tin and heat it on a Bunsen burner for about thirty seconds or so. Place the top of the tin in cold water and BANG! The tin collapses.
Animal experiments that are very popular are pitfall traps, setting up woodlice farms, respiration experiments using woodlice, microscope work using samples collected from the pond. Plant experiments that work well include a plant maze, starch test stencils, extracting DNA from peas, and staining chromosomes in onion cells (this uses the A level microscopes so be sure that your colleagues dont object).
Finally, it is a good idea to have a supply of good entertaining science videos, as these can sometimes be used instead of doing an experiment, and a selection of good science CDs. These we find useful when the technician is not available to help.