by Jane Thomson, School Projects Manager, Biochemical Society
The A* Science Club is a scheme for supporting enthusiastic secondary students in Uganda who want to have fun and inspire others through guided science club activities. Our mission is to encourage kids to get into science through providing opportunities for wonder and fun.
Following a fact-finding mission in April 2012 we planned to establish science clubs in 10 schools in the vicinity of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). The scheme was launched in September 2012 where the clubs were heralded with great fanfare and ceremony at our first A* Masterclass which had a ‘Genetics’ theme.
At the end of the Masterclass, resources were provided to participating schools to help the clubs complete a series of challenges in order to maintain their A* status. Clubs were requested to complete five challenges over a year and submit short reports via the local committee or facebook group for each of the following five categories:
Masterclass Challenge: Send a team of club members to an A* Science Club Masterclass.
Outreach Challenge: Send a team of club members to a local primary school (or invite them to come to your school) for a fun science activity.
Meet a Scientist Challenge: Invite a working scientist to speak to club members in school or arrange to visit them in their place of work.
Debate Challenge: Participate in a debate about a controversial area of science with another school.
Project Challenge: Undertake a project to solve a problem or to make life easier using your knowledge of science.
It was with some trepidation that I returned to MUST six months later to help deliver the second A* Masterclass on ‘The Brain’ (last week) with Dr Nick Dixon, A* Champion from the Society’s Education Committee and Head of Science at Magdalen College School, Brackley. The Masterclass included:
- Insect Neuroscience: an expert talk from Professor Sadiq Yusuf, Deputy-Vice Chancellor of the Western Campus of the Kampala International University and TReND local partner.
- Hands-on practicals from Amy Buchanan-Hughes, Lina Munro and Johnmary Kasujja of The African Science Truck Experience TASTE
- Student presentations and debate on the use of smart drugs
Armed with Nick’s strawberry-lace neurons, ‘Thatcher effect’ optical illusions and fresh goat brains we felt we had kept our side of the bargain. But had the clubs risen to their challenges? I’ll let you decide…
Thanks to an inspirational Local Ambassador, enthusiastic support from the Society’s Executive Committee and a grant from the Monsanto Fund, the scheme has captured the imaginations of participants and organizers alike. A* Science Clubs have grown from strength to strength over the year since their inception with over 500 student members and 135 Facebook members. We now have a local committee comprising experts in Science Education, Lecturers in Biochemistry at MUST and representatives from the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology. Thanks to continued backing from our Executive Committee, we are confident this model will remain sustainable and hope that others might be inspired to set up similar schemes in other areas.