Pierre and Marie – scientists who researched radioactivity, Watson and Crick – worked out the double helix shape of DNA, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – founders of Apple computers, Sam and Amy – who? That is me and my science technician!
I could not do my job without the support of the technical team. We, like the other pairs of scientists and engineers have developed a close working relationship that allows us to make discoveries, harness new ideas and technology to make advances.
Science technicians are the often forgotten about heroes of the science department. They complete the mundane tasks like washing up and cataloging, but they also make sure we have a constant supply of equipment and materials, with the help of CLEAPSS keep us up-to-date with safety and help us embrace curriculum change and develop new practical skills that the new exam courses expect. As a PGCE student I was warned never to get on the wrong side of your technician!
More recently, there has been a trend in encouraging technicians to instruct and assist in the classroom with practicals. This allows teachers to develop a circus of activities where there can be two skilled scientists in the room to oversee two different practicals. Also, having a willing technician to demonstrate frees teachers up so that we can focus on the learning of our students rather than trying to make a demonstration work or put it away safely after it has been shown.
Sadly, many science technicians can feel isolated. Especially in small schools were there may be only one full time technician. But, many areas have technician groups which have email forums as well as regular meetings. At my school we host an annual Technician Conference which aims to share good practice and network with colleagues. I have been allowed to join the event and have found that it has really helped to boost my own practical skills and gain insights into how the same experiment is prepared, used, and disposed of in different schools.
So, how can we recognise the professionalism of our technicians? The Science Council is now recognising the contribution that technicians make to teaching and learning. Through the ASE, they are offering professional registration in the form of RSciTech or registered Science Technician. This qualification allows our support staff to document their continued professional development and recognises the knowledge, skills and standards they apply in their working life.
All the best,
Sam Holyman is Junior Science Co-ordinator at Bablake School in Coventry, and West Midlands ASE President. She is also author of a number of best-selling science textbooks for KS3 and GCSE, and a keen advocate of innovative teaching and learning. She was recently nominated in the Teacher Scientist category for the Science Council’s 100 leading practicing scientists in 2015.