Lab_13 where students learn to BE scientists (as well as learning science)

A space managed by children for children for their own investigations, driven by their curiosity and guided by a Scientist in Residence

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As the build phase draws to a close, we have been focusing on how to make Lab_13 a relatively simple idea to trial and test in an abbreviated, maybe pop-up version.  This fortuitously coincides with a number of enquiries and expressions of interest to run Lab_13 for special science weeks and similar celebrations in schools both in the UK and USA (thanks GA and PA).

So bearing in mind that there are five essential ingredients for a Lab_13 - a space, a student management committee, a scientist, a champion and lots of questions (see below for a fuller description) - how can these be 'flexed' so that you, as an interested and intrigued follower of curiosity and authentic STEM learning, can set up a Lab_13 (and feel the buzz)?

If you can find the necessary ingredients, albeit for a week, this is what we suggest.

Talk to your students about what matters to them; what would they like to investigate? How do they feel about leading a project for a week? And how would they wish to nominate and select a management team?

Can you find a space, that they can take ownership of? Are they happy to put up a logo, create an identity for the space as a wonder room, a curiosity corner - in short, a Lab_13? If you don't have a room or a spare lab, can the SMC take over part of a lab?  A corner? A prep room? Part of the library?

Can you get hold of a Scientist? Suggestions:- talk to the outreach, widening participation teams at your local university; talk to the area organiser of the STEM ambassadors programme; talk to your local industry employer; give your local science museum or science discovery centre a call... and talk to the Student Management Committee about the qualities they would like to see in a Scientist in Residence (we can supply job descriptions and interview questions from existing student management committees).

If you have got this far, you are already the champion of the idea - so you can tick that box NOW.

Lots of questions - not so fast, Wiley Coyote.. this is easier said than done.  How are you going to fire up the curiosity of the users of Lab_13? How are you going to collect the Qs? And what are you going to do about the 10 year old who wants to know what dark matter is? (this has genuinely happened). And then how are you (ie the SMC) going to select the topics for investigation?


if you get this far, as Tracey Barton says in the video, the impact is fantastic, powerful, transformative..

One more thing, will you add your findings to the Lab_13 blog? Our vision for Lab_13 is to build an international network of Lab_13, where members of SMCs around the world share their experiences, investigations and projects.  Then we really will be making a change to the way that STEM is taught, and learned - and more especially how young people see themselves as scientists..

here is the link to the Lab_13 blog - 

and contact me, and I will send you the login details.


OK - back to the original idea.  The reason I was attracted to propose this idea to the Teachers Guild is a belief in the link between curiosity and creativity; and the question about authenticity in the work that children do in science.  As someone, probably Einstein, nearly said, 'if we knew the answer, it wouldn't be an experiment.'

In my experience, far too much science teaching is directing children towards a set of formulae that we require them to learn and then test them on their memory and recall; when IMHO we should be encouraging them to think like scientists.. That is what Lab_13 attempts to promote - the opportunity and authentic STEM experiences to be scientists, as well as learning science.

There are five essential ingredients for Lab_13:

  1. a space that can be dedicated to STEM research and investigation, and that pupils can 'own' and take responsibility for;
  2. a Student Management Committee, the pupils who lead the programme, select the topics for investigation and 'appoint' the Scientist in Residence;
  3. a Scientist in Residence, who is not a teacher and does not deliver the Science syllabus, but who advises and guides the pupils in their investigations, research and experiments.  This is usually a paid position and can be full or part time; some SiRs are volunteers, or seconded or on work experience, and at least one Lab_13 invites guest SiRs to come in for special events.  The SiR also supports regular class teachers with ideas around STEM and confidence in delivery (especially important in primary phase);
  4. a champion at senior level - either on the SMT of the school, or the Science Lead, or a parent Governor.  In some Lab_13s the Science Lead teacher is recognised by external awarding bodies for their vision and expertise;
  5. lots of questions.. and it is everything to do with curiosity.  When Sam (aged 9) asked how do fish breath under water, the SiR showed him how to dissect a fish and extract the gills so that he could examine them.  He learned the scientific method.

Lab_13 started in Nottingham UK in 2009, and has received credit and praise from Ofsted (the UK schools inspectorate) and independent bodies like Wellcome Trust. Lab_13 appears to work most effectively in Primary phase where pupils are more able to visit the Lab_13 during the school day, when their other class work is done.  Membership of the Management Committee is highly prized and is shown to raise the confidence and communication skills of members. Members of the SMC are also responsible for writing the blog of experiments and activities - see link here - Lab_13blog

Lab_13 now operates in around 12 UK schools, and now two in Ghana and one in South Australia.

We at Ignite! (Rick Hall FRSA) have received a grant from the RSA to develop Lab_13 International which we hope to do over the next two years, to open new Lab_13s in sub-Saharan Africa, Finland and wherever interest takes us.

FINALLY - thanks to my mentor in this Teachers Guild process, the inestimable Maggie Powers, I have been working on a GoogleDoc, into which I have poured most of my thoughts, suggestions and arguments for Lab_13...

you can access the 'back-story' here


Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far

1. Do you love this idea?

Yes! I love this idea! - 100%

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Attachments (2)

General presentation Lab_13.pdf

'The best thing about Lab_13 is now I know that in Science sometimes, "I don't know" IS the right answer...' - Year 6 member of the Student Management Committee. Here in 16 slides young people tell their story of Lab_13 and what it means to them.

Lab_13 article for Visionist Magazine rh0516.pdf

Following his address to a conference of African Science educationalists in 2015, Rick Hall summarised his arguments and aspirations for an international network of Lab_13s and the benefits that would result, in this article for Visionist Magazine.


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Oh dear I'm behind with the build phase
many thanks to the esteemed colleagues at Cal academy of Science who ran a hackathon on Lab_13 last week - I'm sorry I could not stay up through the night for a second time that week to follow the results (once was enough).. but the feedback sounded wonderful and very encouraging..
and now thanks to my Mentor, Maggie Powers in PA I'm creating a handbook to help meet the demand and expressions of interest in Lab_13 from UK, US and around the world..
Just in the past 10 days or so I have been informed of a new Lab_13 in London, and one in South Australia which could be part of a new build in a science specialist school..
Plus my friends in South Korea are tapping me on the shoulder to ask, when will I complete the proposal for a Lab_13 pilot there?
Maggie and I have been sharing a google doc to start the process of creating the Lab_13 Handbook - and if anyone from the TG is interested to contribute there as well as through comments here, I'd be very grateful for all suggestions and ideas..
here is the link..
colleagues may need to cut and paste I guess..

I'll be putting in the time over the next few days to pull this together, so do please raise questions with me
and thanks a million for your interest and support.

Here is the latest on the Lab_13 network blog
another link -

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