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Durham University helps local school go for gold

(23 March 2007)

A County Durham school has found the formula for success on its doorstep as it looks to win a gold award.

Durham University PhD student Graciela Becci, is helping Gilesgate Sports College students build their very own lego-style robot for their entry into a series of awards aimed at rewarding school pupils for their achievements in science. These awards include the ‘Silver BA Crest Award’, a nationally recognized accreditation scheme aiming to encourage students to develop their scientific curiosity, problem-solving and communication skills, and the ‘Golden Bunsen Burner Awards’, a competition between the six LIG schools in Durham. Six schools throughout County Durham are entering the awards, which aim to raise participation in science amongst pupils. Electronic Engineer, Graciela from Argentina, came to Durham University two years ago to do a PhD in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Her expertise was exactly what Gilesgate Sports College needed and she is helping four students from Year 10 to build and programme their own robot. Graciela’s placement at the schools is part of Durham University Teaching Fellowship Scheme. The scheme places highly qualified PhD students into local secondary schools where they assist with teaching and enrich the curriculum by bringing up-to-date science into the classroom. Graciela said: “When I heard about the Teaching Fellowship, I immediately wanted to get involved. I had done a science outreach project before so I knew how rewarding it is getting children interested in science by enhancing the curriculum and pushing them onto a higher level. “I like to put all my enthusiasm and expertise into these projects and I thought helping the pupils with their award entry was the perfect opportunity. It is important to show the pupils how science and engineering is linked and how this can be applied in the real world.” Jimi Carter, science teacher at Gilesgate School, said: “The Teaching Fellowship is fantastic, the pupils get so much out of the PhD students. It boosts lessons and activities by having people there that know and really care about their subject. Our pupils now see that it is not just scientists that do science, there is science in the real world. “Before Graciela started her placement we met up and decided what projects we could do with the pupils. Because of Graciela’s PhD it was clear to us that the pupils should build a robot from scratch and program it. “The Golden Bunsen Award gives pupils something different to do from what they would normally do in lessons and Graciela’s expertise and enthusiasm really rubs off on them.” Dr Paula Martin, Durham University’s Science Outreach Co-ordinator said: “The Durham University Teaching Fellowship Scheme is one of the many projects we run in our Science Outreach programme. “When Graciela told us that she was helping the students with their entry for the Golden Bunsen Burner Awards we were delighted. The objectives of the award tie in brilliantly with the aims of the Science Outreach programme to stimulate interest in science and to encourage better understanding of the application of science in everyday lives.”

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