What is Rubbish science?  

Rubbish Science is based on a very simple premise, the world has too much rubbish  and too many people lack the scientific literacy to make balanced and informed decisions. So why not teach and learn science by using rubbish as a resource and kill two birds with one stone?

The core aims are to

  • Allow all students , including those who haven’t had access to resources to do science experiments where we don’t know the outcome.
  • Give people the skills to improve their lives by thinking scientifically – To be able to make better informed decisions.
  • Take rubbish out of the environment and increase the understanding of why it is important to do so
  • Produce something that is actually useful to a local population and/or the environment

It is actually brilliant science, but using locally available rubbish.  Taking plastic bottles and bags, for example, out of the environment and turning them into something useful like fly traps or a hydroponics system.  More importantly it is about developing creative thinking scientists.  It doesn’t matter if you are in the least developed country on earth or the most advanced, these challenges provide a level playing field in terms of equipment needed. Science in school is focussed on doing experiments where we already know the answer, but that isnt what scientists do!  For most of our activities no one knows the ‘best’ solution and access to the internet will not help you much. There is still a long way to go to reach the laudable UNICEF aims to improve the lives of  poorest children through education, but these activities will support that.   For the poorest communities, it allows local people to shape their own environment, to not be limited by a lack of equipment.  Rubbish Science is not about competition, it is about collaboration.  Let us make the world a slightly better place and develop a do-it-yourself Liter of Light  style accessible,   learning system that is appropriate to local communities needs. Rubbish science  is gender neutral and totally inclusive. All are welcome to contribute and everyones’ contribution is of equal validity. We do not know where the activities  will go, there are no limits, which is what education should be!

Rubbish science is not just about science, it is about thinking and solving problems with multiple variables. The vast majority of science taught in schools focus on a single variable with a known outcome. Research has shown without careful thought Practical activities often lead to little learning and many activities don’t challenge. How does the resistance of a wire vary with length? How does the action of an enzyme depend on its concentration?  How does the rate of a reaction depend on the temperature?  For these experiments the students dutifully follow a recipe, getting mostly the results they and we expect. Of course the foundation of good science is creating ‘fair’ tests that enable us to understand how single  factors affect the outcome. `But all too often these activities  are simple  and algorithmic  with obvious outcomes. Many can be solved by google or apps such as Wolfram Alpha. If these are the only problems our students can solve they will become redundant, possibly replaced by Artificial Intelligence.   Almost every problem in the ‘real’ world is complicated and deals with many interrelated variables and a combination of algorithmic and heuristic processes are needed to solve them. If we do not challenge our students to go further than the single variables, then we risk limiting their ability as scientists, or thinkers in the future.  Climate change, growing crops in drought conditions, viral infections, treating cancer are all complex problems and no one truly knows the ‘best’ solutions. Referendums, elections, sales strategies, buying a car/house/anything all require us to consider multiple variables. Politicians, salespeople and newspapers often try to convince us that the choice is simple. We have a duty to our young people to equip them to challenge these assumptions. If you think it is simple then you probably don’t know enough about it – beware the people who are very confident!

Rubbish science activities builds on the concept of fair tests, it provides simple, real problems, but the results or ‘best solution’ are not known.  The activities are built on the premise of Low Threshold, High Ceiling taken from NRICH Maths   (LTHC) . Everyone can do the tasks, but there is no limit to how high a level they can go. The same task with the same equipment can be given to a young child or experienced researcher with a doctorate. Both can complete the task, but we would expect the researcher to produce something more sophisticated. This however is a simplistic assumption, the child may well produce something far more creative as the researcher may suffer fixation – the curse of knowledge.

There are many brilliant ‘intuitive’ scientists around and we need to engage them in science and develop the systematic scientist.  Writing a project on Physics in football  for the Institute of Physics made me realise that these footballers had an incredible understanding of physics. They knew how the ball moved through the air and could control it skillfully . All they lacked was the ability to explain in a standardised, scientific  way what they were doing. Rubbish Science aims to extend this paradigm shift of valuing what people already know and building on it. We should never ignore indigenous knowledge and science and also should understand local populations reluctance to believe research if it does not fit into their beliefs.

Gender balance will also be a feature of Rubbish Science. It  is a concern that many people think scientists are slightly crazed, clever old white men in white coats doing weird stuff that may save or destroy the world. If we take science as the ability to evaluate evidence and make rational decisions based on that  evidence. Then we are all scientists and the world can be a better place if we develop these skills. People with a vested interest will be less likely to be able to sell us their belief systems without evidence.

Rubbish Science  projects on their own are not likely to make a huge difference, they are more about marginal gains lots of tiny changes that create large ones

Rubbish Science is a not for profit CIC . The aims are to spread the ideas as widely as possible. We are interested only in humanity and inclusivity so Rubbish Science is apolitical, gender neutral and is respectful of all religions.

These are some of the people behind the scenes at Rubbish Science

Neil Atkin – Director 

Neil Atkin who has 20 years of teaching experience, the last 9 as an Advanced Skills Teacher in challenging schools and rated by OFSTED as ‘Inspirational’ , started exScites to transform learning and understanding. He discovered that the way to succeed was not to try to make the curriculum engaging, but to shift the paradigm and to find the engaging activities then add the curriculum. So rates of reaction can be taught using powerkites, momentum with rockets and the science of survival skills and surfing can hit a huge number of concepts! Having only left teaching recently due to a hearing loss, Neil’s experience is very current. He still regularly teaches and doesn’t deliver anything unless he knows it works.

Neil’s CV includes the following, either current or within the last three years

  • The Institute of Physics – Teaching and Learning Coach
  • Science Learning Centre – Triple Science Consultant
  • ASE – train the trainers
  • LSN – Coach the coaches
  • Vital – Online tutor
  • Hodder Murray – Author and digital learning advisor
  • Phillip Allan – Author
  • Dragonfly Training – Trainer
  • Lighthouse Education – Trainer
  • Fresh Science – Online facilitator
  • Southampton University – Mentoring PGCE and NQT students
  • Arsenal Football Club – Science of Football (IOP)
  • Adventure Learning Schools – Science advisor
  • Malaysian Government – Innovation Club
  • Australian Government – Co-construction of Lessons

Alex Bell 

Leader in creative education and leadership wellbeing at school, local authority, national and international level
International facilitator and conference speaker
Experienced leadership coach and mentor
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts – Innovative Education Faculty Member and Fellowship Councillor for Creative Education
British Council International School Award
International Leadership & Management Programme
Associate consultant and national associate coordinator for Education Support Partnership
Coach for the Teachers Guild/IDEO, USA

Helen Reynolds 

Masters in Physics from Oxford University, Oxford UK

Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Oxford University, Oxford UK

Post Graduate Diploma from Oxford University, Oxford UK

Awarded MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire medal) by the Queen for services to Science Education

Awarded Science Teacher of the Year by National Teaching Awards Trust

Awarded Physics Teacher of the Year by the Institute of Physics

Alessio Bernadelli 

Alessio has nine years of teaching experience and has worked as Head of KS3 Science for five years. He also worked as Field Development Officer for NGfL Cymru, as Science Subject Lead at TSL Education (TES) and as Nation

al Support Programme Partner in Wales with CfBT. Alessio won a number of national and international education awards for the innovative and creative way he integrates emerging technologies in education. One of these awards is the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, 2007. Alessio is an accredited Microsoft Peer Coaching Facilitator, one of few Partners In Learning Top Tiered Teachers worldwide, a TASC Framework Specialist, an Official iMindMap Leader and a Teacher Network Coordinator for the Institute of Physics, as well as one of the Editors of TalkPhysics.org. Alessio is currently working part-time as Teaching and Learning Coach and Mentor in Gloucestershire with The Institute of Physics