The evolution of science at Watson's

If the pandemic continues for much longer, is there a risk that people who are used to making digital-only payments will lose the concept of physical money? 

It’s ok, you don’t actually need to answer that question. 

But it is an indication of the type of debate you might find in a physics lesson. 

Indeed if you have been in Iain Lawrie’s class last week you could have observed what freedom to succeed means here at Watson’s. 

In case you are wondering, the class was learning about the scientific security features which you find in physical money, these days. 

The new polymer banknotes have hidden ultraviolet reflections. This means under UV lights you see different colours. It’s another step in the fight against fraud. 

At Watson’s, your child’s teacher won’t laugh that off and consider it’s a question better suited for another subject on another day. 

“I think the fact that we are willing to take these questions on, and engage in a conversation is a good thing,” Iain explains of what is essentially a dip into behavioural science. 

“It is having the freedom to encourage our pupils to ask questions outside the curriculum. We have the flexibility, expertise and time to adapt our lessons in response to our pupils' curious minds.

“If our lesson leads to a wider conversation we encourage it. You get some really good conversations.”

Of course, when children have freedom to explore subjects and challenge thinking, you need teachers who are comfortable with the unexpected. The fact is, not everyone can know everything.

“We are confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know’,” Iain continues. “That is refreshing that pupils see us as humans. We are not just sources of information!”

Learning at our school is highly collaborative, aided by instant access to digital technology. A conversation about why Fahrenheit and Celsius are what they are might open up lively discussion between pupils as they look for answers. When they pool together what they learn, and are guided by expert staff, children are learning not only information in itself but how to learn. 

A lot has changed in Physics, Biology and Chemistry over the last 20 years. 

Wireless technology, video analysis (for example looking in slow motion at the curve of a ball moving), and instant access to data means that learning can be more valuable because of the precision. Seeing it really is believing it.  

Software used in our classes is exactly what pupils will find if they read a science subject at University, too.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) is a big part of the direction of travel at Watson’s. 

Over the last three years, pupils in Senior 1 have specific lessons across the discipline, culminating in an annual STEM festival. By the time pupils present the results of a research project, they will have spent over 20 hours exploring what interests them, and then present the findings in a creative, visual way.

Stop-motion graphics are used as part of Senior 2 where this tricky form of media is used to tease out findings from another research project. 

Relatability is critical in a world with a lot of noise these days, and that’s crucial when it comes to encouraging girls to consider a career path involving science or engineering. 

The US blockbuster Hidden Figures featured in conversations last year highlighting the extraordinary impact that black women made on the first orbital space flight in 1962.

“There’s also a real misconception that you need to be in science 20 years before you do anything useful,” Iain explains. 

“Three or four years down the line you could be at the cutting edge of your field if you specialise. 

“Look at the science TV presenters; they are younger, energetic scientists. You are able to do that from a much younger age.

“We often bring back former pupils, who are perhaps only three or four years out of school, so they can talk about the impact they are already having.”

The gender split on certificate courses across science is about 50/50 although in physics there is still a larger proportion of boys (approximately two thirds).  Although it’s an area in which Watson’s continues to push towards equal participation, it’s still ahead of national averages.

“I think all pupils feel that being a doctor is a ‘normal' career path but some genders might not consider a career in engineering in the same way, so we are working to address this,” Iain explains.

For example, Girls in Physics events seek to specifically highlight the real-life value of physics and the opportunities that young women can make in their field. 

And if they like what they see the opportunities open up, because at Watson’s, subjects like biology, chemistry, physics and engineering evolve by the time you reach Highers and Advanced Highers. Our pupils are able to study human biology, graphic communication, design and manufacturing, and environmental science (which is co-taught between staff in our geography and biology departments).

Evolution is a concept given to us by Charles Darwin but it well reflects the approach we take at Watson’s. In maroon it’s about the journey together, the freedom to discover, and the opportunity to learn that you really can make a difference.