Looking for ideas to challenge your more able learners in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? In this blog post, Alex Pryce selects four “Big Questions” from the University of Oxford’s Oxplore project – providing rich starting points for debate, investigation and independent learning…

Oxplore is an innovative digital outreach portal from the University of Oxford. As the “Home of Big Questions”, it aims to engage 11- to 18-year-olds with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the classroom. Big Questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draw on the latest research undertaken at Oxford. Oxplore aims to realise aspirations, promote broader thinking and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Our Big Questions reflect the kind of thinking students undertake at universities like Oxford. Each question is accompanied by supporting resources – including videos; quiz questions; possible answers, explanations and areas for investigation; and suggestions from Oxford faculty members.

In the classroom, these four STEM-related Big Questions could offer super-curricular enrichment spanning a diverse range of subject areas. Teachers could ask students to design a mini research project on a particular aspect of the question, or extend their learning by challenging them to create Big Questions of their own.  

1. Are explosions always destructive?

Provoke debate around the Big Bang, chaos, laws of probability, and where explosions fit into this as examples of order and disorder. Students can learn about the history of explosions, and positive examples of the things that wouldn’t exist without them. Delve deeper into the science behind the nuclear bomb and take a closer look at creatures that could survive one.

Perfect for: a wide-ranging subject discussion.

2. Is a robot a person?

What does it mean to be a human being? Examine the nature of intelligence, language, creativity and the law with your students. You can debate the role of artificial intelligence within society and explore the boundaries between computers and consciousness – now and in the future.

Perfect for: debating future technological developments.

3. Can time travel ever be possible?

We all travel forward through time, but what happens if we change how we do this, or the speed in which we travel? Inspire your students to explore special relativity in action – through GPS, electromagnets, and TV and PC screens.

Perfect for: Doctor Who fans!

4. Is it OK to clone a human being?

Is it right to interfere with nature? Introduce your students to the science of stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, and create neuroethics debates. Discuss whether humans should be allowed to “design” new animals, and explore the development of cloning: from Hans Spemann’s original 1902 experiment that split a salamander embryo in two, to the first successful human embryos cloned in 2008.

Perfect for: discussions of the weird and wonderful.
Alex Pryce is Oxplore’s Widening Access and Participation Coordinator (Communications and Engagement), leading on marketing and dissemination activities including stakeholder engagement and social media. She has worked in research communications, public engagement and PR for several years through roles in higher education (HE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). She holds a DPhil in English from the University of Oxford and is a part-time HE tutor.
How do you challenge more able learners in STEM? Get in touch to share your school’s approach.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018