All Systems Go for ORBYTS 2017-18

ORBYTS (Original Research by Young Twinkle Scientists) has grown fast since we launched the programme in January 2016. From 15 students at Highams Park School, working under the supervision of 3 tutors from UCL, ORBYTS now involves 10 tutors from UCL, Imperial College, Kings College and Queen Mary University of London, working with 13 schools around London and over 70 students aged between 15-18.

This academic year, we have a new ORBYTS coordinator, Will Dunn from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, ESA and Harvard-Smithsonian, who uses X-rays to study other planets. Will is supported in supervising EduTwinkle and ORBYTS by Katy Chubb, who has been an ORBYTS tutor since the programme launched. Laura McKemmish, who has led ORBYTS since September 2016, is taking up a Chemistry lectureship at University of New South Wales Australia. We wish Laura the best in her new role and hope to work with her on an Australian ORBYTS programme once she has had the chance to settle in.

The range of ORBYTS research projects available is also growing. In addition to our MARVEL and Diatomic Constant (DC) molecular spectroscopy projects, which have run successfully over the past two years and had two scientific and two education papers published as a result, we are now piloting a project to observe transits for exoplanets on Twinkle’s target list.

We will be encouraging all our tutors and ORBYTS pupils to submit guest blog posts, so you should have an opportunity to hear directly from them about their experiences over the coming months.

Welcome to our new team of ORBYTS tutors

On 4th December, we were delighted to welcome the 2017-18 team of ORBYTS tutors to UCL for a workshop on teaching small groups, led by Michael Slavin, the Education Development Director of the Brilliant Club.

The Brilliant Club has been working since 2011 to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to higher education by bringing university-style learning into the classroom. Just 11% of underprivileged students (measured by free school meals) get to highly-selective universities, e.g the Russell Group, compared to 64% of privately educated students. Both Will Dunn and Clara Sousa Silva, our former EduTwinkle manager, have participated in Brilliant Club programmes and it was Clara’s experience with their Researchers In Schools teacher training programme for PhD graduates that led her to set up the original ORBYTS pilot at Highams Park School.

Since mid-November, the new ORBYTS tutors have been going into schools around once a fortnight to supervise two-hour sessions with their groups of pupils and give them the opportunity to participate in real, state-of-the-art research.

To support the tutors in building engagement and trust with their ORBYTS groups, Michael’s training workshop included exercises to help create a good environment for thinking and learning, and to ensure that all pupils participate in activties.

Tutors discussed broad principles such as the value of storytelling and energy in communicating ideas and maintaining audience/pupil engagement. The workshop also covered more detailed applied techniques such as what tasks can be set to test pupil understanding and exploration techniques such as “think, pair, share“.

As a practical exercise, tutors were give two minutes to think about how they would introduce themselves and the ORBYTS programme to pupils. They were then asked to discuss their scripts in pairs, and then share with the group. This exercise demonstrated how “think, pair, share” makes every individual in the group contribute through talking with their partner. The discussion in pairs slows down the thinking process and means that the quality of ideas goes up. By putting forward the best ideas from each pair, it’s more likely that good ideas get heard.

Michael also showed a  teaching masterclass on questioning by Dylan William, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the UCL Institute of Education. Our tutors were asked to write down 14 interesting things from Prof William’s presentation. It’s fascinating – not just for teachers – and we would encourage you to watch.

Many thanks to Michael, Will, Katy and all the tutors for their time and commitment. We look forward to another very successful ORBYTS programme in 2017-2018.