Getting hands-on with science: Behind-the-scenes with our writer

Getting hands on with science [text], with image of young children holding up a big globe

Science is no longer an abstract construct in education, it is all about students learning about our reality. Children today “are science”. They are living science every single day, whether they realise it or not. So now more than ever, it is vital that primary educators engage with “real world” science from an early age.

But if you are an educational author, how do you go about creating classroom resources and science books for pupils that help them to celebrate this new vision of science? We spoke to Dr. Anthony Russell to get a behind-the-scenes look at his creative process.

Q: Where do you start, as a textbook author, with engaging students in real-world science?

Engaging pupils with real-world science is quite easy when you break it down. It’s all about teaching pupils how to interpret reality in ‘scientific’ ways.
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. So, when writing these books, I aim to guide this natural curiosity in a way that helps pupils achieve the learning objectives of the curriculum.

Q: What would you say are the main changes since 10 years ago, when the previous edition was written?
There has been a growing global awareness of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) for a while, and so science education has been receiving more international emphasis. Introducing science as a subject from the start of schooling has now become the norm, with the hope that more pupils will opt to study it and go on to careers in STEM.
But science is no longer just a subject to lead pupils into specific careers. The modern world relies more and more on increasing the knowledge, understanding, and skills of science, regardless of whether children aspire to “scientific” careers. And so, science is not just a subject at school. Pupils are now encouraged to look at their surroundings, their homes, their own bodies – everything which makes up the physical realm – as ‘science in action’.

Q: And how did you translate “Science in Action” onto the page?

When thinking about ‘science in action’, it was difficult to narrow down the infinite range of examples that celebrate this! Age appropriateness is a big factor here, so utilising knowledge of popular children’s interests (like dinosaurs) was a big focus for me. The inclusion of recent news items about the sale of a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil skeleton, for example, seemed an obvious ‘science in action’ item. Life outside of school provides pupils with most of their science experience. Lessons in school aim to help them recognise and understand that experience.

Q: Can you give teachers a bit more insight into how you catered the course to EAL learners worldwide?

Jargon – keywords – in science is unavoidable. Primary science cannot ‘dodge’ this challenge of specialised vocabulary, wherever it is taught. The EAL learners face a particularly difficult task.
For Nelson Science, The introduction of keywords in the text and the provision of definitions in the glossary in each Pupil Book is one way I catered to the needs of EAL learners. I was consciously mindful of sentence length and general vocabulary usage, especially in the books for younger pupils. The font size and the amount of text on a page have also been regulated across the 7-year course. Furthermore, illustrations throughout the books assist EAL learners to understand what the text says, particularly through the use of local examples such as plants, scenery, animals, domestic settings.

Q: Can you tell us more about how utilizing everyday objects helps to make science lessons more inclusive and engaging?

The use of everyday objects in school science lessons is the only option for many teachers as specialist science equipment is not available, through financial and supply issues. So, apart from a very small number of items, such as magnets, magnifying glasses, and thermometers, most activities in the books can be done with items found at school and home. Improvisation is encouraged. So long as the items allow the task to be done in a way that produces reliable results, there is no problem in using them at all. I wanted to provide lots of options, to ensure that finance and supply issues do not get in the way of engaging science lessons.

Q: Are there any other sources of inspiration that you felt influenced by? Or anecdotes that give insight into the process?

In the INSET sessions I provided for teachers in 8 countries in Asia and the Gulf, one task I gave the groups was to construct a simple circuit and make a bulb light but they had no bulb or battery holders. This turned out to be a genuine challenge for most groups. So, when a group succeeded the only word to describe their feelings was ‘delight!

That sense of delight, excitement, achievement and new understanding is what I want children around the world to experience through using the books as I intended.

Nelson Science is a fully refreshed primary course for pupils aged 4 to 11. It is written specifically for EAL learners and focuses on linking the curriculum with life outside of the classroom in engaging and exciting ways. The course takes a hands-on, practical approach to science, using materials readily available in Primary classrooms to create a lifelong love of science.

To learn more about how Nelson Science can inspire a love of science in your pupils, see

About the author
Dr. Anthony Russell has worked in primary teaching and teacher education in the UK, Africa, and Europe. He has worked in curriculum development, university teaching and researching, and advisory work in science. He has authored over 50 books for teachers and pupils, including Nelson Science.