Evaluation shows IOP’s mobile lab proved its worth in tour of Wales

23 June 2017

An 18-month tour of Wales by the IOP’s Lab in a Lorry (LIAL) has had an extremely positive effect on the pupils who took part, and most participating teachers and volunteers gained from being involved in the project, according to an independent evaluation commissioned by the Institute.

Evaluation shows IOP’s mobile lab proved its worth in tour of Wales

Lab in a Lorry is a mobile laboratory filled with open-ended experiments for 11- to14-year-old pupils to undertake, supervised by IOP staff and volunteers. The programme began in 2005 and the lorry has visited schools in all the nations of the UK and Ireland. From September 2015 to March 2017 it visited schools in Wales on a tour funded by the Welsh government and evaluated by AlphaPlus Consultancy Ltd.

Among the consultants’ key tasks was to look at how far the tour had succeeded in fulfilling its aims of having a positive impact on pupils’ attitudes to science, being a valuable opportunity for the volunteers involved to gain skills, and increasing science teachers’ awareness of other STEM enrichment activities, as well as encouraging them to introduce open-ended experiments in the classroom if they had not already done so and stimulating their take-up of IOP membership.

One measure of the impact on pupils was whether they were more likely to consider a career in science as a result of the project.

The evaluation involved online surveys of science teachers and volunteers, followed up with telephone interviews with a smaller number, exit surveys of pupils at a sample of schools after they had taken part in the experiments on the lorry, and face-to-face and telephone interviews with two teachers at a case study school.

Evaluation shows IOP’s mobile lab proved its worth in tour of Wales

The consultants’ report showed that 98% of pupils responding to the survey had understood something new about the real world as a result of the lab session, while 43% said they could envisage doing a science job in the future. Almost 20% had never met anyone with a science job (apart from their teacher) until meeting the volunteers in the lab session.

Around three-quarters of the teachers responding to the survey thought their pupils engaged with the activities and found them enjoyable, and more than half believed that the activities had enhanced their pupils’ understanding of science in the real world.

Positive responses to the project were also very high among volunteers, with 96% reporting that their communication skills had developed to some degree by taking part and a third of these saying they had developed a great deal.

Volunteers had also developed their teamworking skills by having to negotiate tasks alongside different teams of volunteers at each event and having to ensure that a coherent and positive experience was presented to pupils – 86% said their skills had improved in this area.

All but two volunteers, out of 114 respondents, said they would volunteer again in the future. More than half of respondents were already STEM Ambassadors and a further quarter said they had signed up to the scheme as a result of their involvement in LIAL.

Among science teachers, nearly a third had been motivated to consider becoming individual IOP members following the LIAL visit and nearly half said the visit had prompted their school to consider joining the IOP as an affiliated school.

Just over half said the visit had made them more aware of other STEM enrichment activities and it had prompted a third to contact a local STEM Ambassador to arrange for them to come and run an activity with their pupils.

Three-quarters of the science teachers had used or were planning to use the post-visit experiment sheets on LIAL-style activities that were given to them.

As well as looking at the numbers, the report also includes some enthusiastic comments and recollections of memorable moments, as well as suggestions for improvements, from pupils, teachers and volunteers.

Some comments from first-time volunteers included “I enjoyed seeing less able pupils excel and really engage and enjoy learning” and “I spent a session explaining fibre optics with two students who came to us described as ‘excluded from mainstream education’. They both asked intelligent questions and listened to the answers.”

Many more comments about personal experiences during the project, such as  “it’s when the kids get that spark in their eyes and you feel you’ve made a difference” are in the report.

Evaluation shows IOP’s mobile lab proved its worth in tour of Wales

Suggestions from volunteers included creating short videos for new volunteers of experienced people undertaking the experiments and giving advance guidance on how to deal with more challenging pupils. Several volunteers wanted to see LIAL extended with visits to more schools, more lorries and more promotion of the project.

Teachers’ suggestions to volunteers included pitching the sessions slightly lower and using fewer big scientific words, seeking support in preparing to interact with pupils who speak English as an additional language, and asking about what kinds of pupils to expect at the start of the day, such as more challenging pupils.

LIAL senior operations coordinator, James Bamford, said: “I am delighted with another successful LIAL tour in Wales. The feedback from the report has been insightful and aids us as we continue to improve the experience for everyone who is involved – pupils, teachers and volunteers. The support from our volunteers continues to amaze me – many of them come along multiple times, giving their expertise to inspire the next generation. Without them our project simply wouldn’t be the success that it is.”

• LIAL has received further funding from the National Science Academy, Welsh Government to extend its tour of Wales until March 2018. To find out more about volunteering, visit the LIAL website.