Our school had always entered the BT Young Scientist competition in the past and had been very successful over the years under the supervision of Mr McKenna. Mr McKenna retired in 2010 and we hadn’t entered a project until 2016, when he helped a student enter their project in his own time. I had visited the exhibition and knew from Mr McKenna that preparation for the competition was very demanding but having experienced the event in 2016, we decided to enter three projects in the 2017 competition.
One of the greatest challenges for the entry form was thinking of a project which was new, innovative and different. After the initial application, two out of three projects were accepted and the real work began.
Pupils came in at lunchtime and after school and a lot of extra time was put in. On 30 December we got a call to say that a project had withdrawn from the competition and our third project was invited to take part. Our initial reaction was that we couldn’t get the project ready in 11 days, and the pupils weren’t even back to school until the 9 January to get any experiments done. However, having been at the exhibition the previous year, I knew how much our pupils would enjoy it and so myself and my colleague Mrs Katrina Brolly, really encouraged them to go for it. It was definitely a mammoth task ahead!
Getting to the event
BT were very good helping us with the grant etc, but other than myself and Mrs Brolly, staff members in the school were not really aware what was going on as we tried not to disrupt any class time. They were supportive the week of the competition when they realised we were going to the exhibition that week and the excitement started to build. The main challenge (as in our everyday jobs) was time. Free time during the school day is very limited, for both pupils and staff, so to complete anything during the school day was impossible. You have to be prepared to put in extra time but the students (and teachers) worked hard and began to get really passionate about their projects.
The RDS, January 2017
The competition was fantastic! The most incredible part was how much it improved our pupil’s confidence and ability to converse with strangers. From day one they were so well looked after by BT staff. Having the accommodation grant meant we were able to stay in a lovely hotel, which was a big deal for the pupils.
The three days were tiring and the students were on their feet all the time but they never complained as they were enjoying it so much. They loved the whole thing as I knew they would!
The judging process was nerve wracking for them especially for our group who had got the late call, they didn’t feel as good as everyone else initially, but as the 3 days went on their confidence grew. Sometimes the judges asked them a very detailed question and it was only after they had gone, they realised how they could have answered it!! A good learning experience for all!
The overall experience
We had great success at the exhibition which surprised us as we couldn’t have known how good our projects were in comparison to others who have so much experience of the exhibition. So we went home in high spirits!
I would say that the best thing to come out of the competition was how enthused our pupils were when they went home. Our ‘late’ group consisted of three very quiet young men who had little confidence in how good their project was. Although they didn’t win any individual prizes, they were coming up with new ideas and ways to develop their project long before they left the exhibition and they can’t wait to go back next year! I could never have predicted this aspect of the competition – what it would do personally for the students, rather than academically.
Although a very challenging experience in terms of preparation; the commitment needed and the perseverance when so much is done outside of the classroom, the benefits were fantastic for the pupils, the staff involved and for the school’s reputation. We can’t wait to do it again!
Mrs M Close,
Head of Physics
Loreto College, Coleraine