New digital schools programme brings the Science Centre to the classroom


Winchester Science Centre’s new free online ambassador scheme engages hundreds of students in its first two months.

Before March 2020, weekdays at Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium were filled with the ‘oh’s’ and ‘ah’s’ of school children engaging in exciting and inspirational STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workshops and experiments. However, since September, with the introduction of bubbles and social distancing in schools, outside learning has become much more difficult.

But that hasn’t stopped the Science Centre’s dedicated STEM Now team who have launched a brand new free digital ambassador scheme, thanks to generous funding from The Goldsmiths’ Charity and The Ogden Trust. The pilot programme, which launched on 30 September 2020, has so far been delivered to over 700 children through 23 workshops in 10 schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, many of whom would not usually have opportunity to take part in extra-curricular science activities. In the new year, the scheme will be rolled out even more widely with ambassadors from organisations such as the National Oceanography Centre, The Royal Engineers, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, National Instruments and RFEL taking part.

During the sessions, pupils watch a short film from a STEM Ambassador, an expert in the field of STEM, about their job. Students then complete an activity that will encourage them to think about what questions they would like to ask the person before they are given the opportunity to interact with the ambassador in a 20 minute live online Q&A session.

A teacher from the Isle of Wight said: “In the current climate, being able to link with the Science Centre through Zoom with live interaction really engaged our children with minimal effort. At this current time, our remote location on the Isle of Wight and area of disadvantage means that this could not have happened otherwise. The pupils could ask questions directly, which gave more value to the questions the pupils produced and the answers given by the experts.”

Student feedback included:

“Thank you so much, it was really nice to be able to ask you questions, it was so much fun to do it online.”

 “I just had a Zoom call with a really cool person from the Science Centre. I think you would really enjoy it.”

Ben Ward, Chief Executive of Winchester Science Centre, said: “Supporting local schools is so important to us, especially during this disruptive time. As an educational charity our mission is to help improve access to STEM and raise aspirations of young people in the region. We won’t let a pandemic stop us achieving this.”

As part of Winchester Science Centre’s mission to enable every young person to engage with STEM, STEM Now was created to manage the Central South STEM Ambassador Hub and to support a network of STEM teachers in the South of England. The team have over 30 years experience in inspiring young people with STEM through engagement with volunteer STEM role models, in programmes such as the digital schools scheme, and sustained STEM projects.

As an educational charity, Winchester Science Centre relies on visitor income and, more now than ever with lockdowns and government restrictions reducing visitor revenue, the generosity of donations from supporters such as The Goldsmiths’ Charity and The Ogden Trust, who have both given the Science Centre grants to deliver activities to young people in Southampton and on the Isle of Wight. Science Centres, and outreach programmes such as this one, play a crucial role in inspiring young people with STEM, creating the environmental and science innovators we need for the future and ensuring that the UK stays at the forefront of global research, development and innovation.

The digital schools scheme is just one element of what Winchester Science Centre is doing to continue to reach local young people despite the challenges that the region is currently facing. Another is a unique and innovative collaboration with Get with the Program, providers of tech learning events for students, which has seen the creation of a truly unique free virtual Christmas event for schools and youth groups – Al the Robot and the Three Bears Coding Pantomime. Over 1,000 schools, approximately 150,000 potential viewers, have already enjoyed the Christmas treat and it is hoped that thousands more families up and down the country will enjoy it over the festive period.

Set up in 1986, Winchester Science Centre, an independent educational charity with no government funding, made a commitment to spark curiosity in STEM in everyone, regardless of age, ability or background. It aims to improve access to STEM, making it more relevant and fun for all, through interactive exhibits, live science shows, an engaging schools programme, partnerships with university research teams and community outreach.