Reach Out Reporter wins again!

Building on its success from the ERA’s, we have yet more great news for our topical news service, Reach Out Reporter.


At the 2017 Learning on Screen Awards, Reach Out Reporter scooped up the Education Multimedia Award.


Designed to showcase innovative educational media content, the Learning on Screen Awards are the UK’s only celebration of film and media production in education.


Made in partnership with Imperial College London, Reach Out Reporter was launched in December 2016 and aims to share the wonder of science by exploring a range of topical science stories every week.


A spokesperson for the Learning on Screen Awards said:

This fun online resource provides primary teachers with topical science films and resources to engage their students, highlighting with the latest news and current issues in science. Judges described this production as a valuable classroom resource and praised the range of easily accessible resources available for teachers to use.


Find out more information in our press release, or start exploring Reach Out Reporter now!

What can we learn from teachers around the world?

Every four years the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores rock the world of education, as students from 30 different countries are ranked according to their performance in mathematics, science and reading.


Whether we like standardised assessments or not, tests like PISA have come to be regarded as an accurate reflection of a country’s progress. Education, after all, shapes a country, along with its future leaders and scientists.


Over the years, various studies have been conducted to analyse the merits of successful education systems around the world. Immediately after the PISA scores come out, experts take to investigating what countries like Singapore, Finland, Shanghai and Estonia (among others who top the scores) are doing differently. Education has now become a race. And there seems to be no universal, one-size-fits-all formula that can guarantee academic prowess.


1n 2015, another wave of PISA scores swept across the world, causing policymakers and educators to hit the books once again in order to uncover the secret behind the continued success of East Asia, Estonia and Finland. But it should lead us to recognise that there is something we are still not doing right, for as long as there is a gap between the performance of these countries and the rest of world. So how many PISA scores is it going to take for us to realise that the problem lies not with students, teachers and policymakers, but rather in our whole approach?


Education is not a race. The PISA scores are by no means a way to measure intelligence and aptitude, but are rather markers or indicators to understanding what works and what does not. Analysis of these countries and their successes, however, has fast turned into pitting them against each other – an “anything that works” approach. What we seem to be forgetting in our panic to race to the top of the PISA pyramid is that what works for one country may not necessarily work for another. Each country has a unique set of factors that come into play when it comes to education. Experts believe that culture and policy matter when it comes to achieving successful PISA scores. Yet the PISA results themselves demonstrate that expenditure only plays a part. In poorer countries, the amount of public spending per pupil is associated with higher test scores. But in richer states that spend more than about $50,000 per pupil in total between the ages of 6 and 15, this link falls away. An interesting point to bear in mind is that pupils in Poland and Denmark have, in effect, the same average results in science tests – even though Denmark spends about 50% more per pupil.


What we are failing to see here is that there is no common denominator for success. Instead, each of the leading countries is using methods that work for them. While they might share some common factors, each approaches education uniquely. Finland, for example, focuses on an early education, late schooling approach, with an emphasis on developing good social and communication skills along with a joy for learning. Shanghai’s recurring success, on the other hand, is attributed to a home environment that stresses academic discipline at an early age in order to get good grades (and “tiger parents” who make sure their children really do put that effort in). This is also true for most other East Asian countries including Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, among others. Shanghai also has an adaptive education policy, along with well-paid teachers. Singapore’s success rides on heavy investment into implementing successful pedagogy techniques, while Estonia’s policy of giving equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds – a remnant from the Soviet days – has helped it rank consistently well in the PISA scores.


When the statistics are viewed from this perspective, the answer seems fairly simple. An individualistic approach will allow each country to play on its own strengths and overcome the weaknesses within its educational system. Consulting with teachers will also help policymakers identify problems at a grassroots level, allowing educators to stop struggling students from falling behind. Ultimately, when it comes to education, we really can’t hope to make effective changes without actually including teachers in the discussion.


Want to share your thoughts with us? We’d love to hear from you. Please contact Lucy Jackson at to get in touch and have your say.


Who is accountable for our space junk?

Who is accountable for our space junk?

Scientists and accountability have a long history together. Most great inventions have at some point in time created a hazardous byproduct or been put to destructive use, leading their inventors to feel accountable for the damage.


A horrified Oppenheimer, when faced with the terrible evidence of the atomic bomb, famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become death., the destroyer of worlds.” Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was distraught at the thought of his legacy being one of destruction. When we take into consideration the current challenges our world is facing – global warming, landfills, plastic toxicity – accountability becomes all the more important.


The most recent scientific sphere to demand responsibility is space.


Recent news reports on space debris – the remains of various space crafts that either imploded on their own or collided with another satellite – show that “millions of pieces of man-made trash are now orbiting the Earth.”


Satellite technology is the foundation upon which many modern conveniences such as communication, navigation, and even national security are based – these satellites are all in danger of collision with the space debris. The US Space Surveillance Network is currently monitoring around 23,000 pieces of space junk, but not all of the debris is detectable, and it only takes a particle as small as a paperclip to cause rapid damage. Only recently, the debris from the 2009 collision between an American commercial communications satellite with a defunct Russian weather satellite forced the crew of the the International Space Station to evacuate to the Soyuz capsule in 2015.


Yet initiative for cleaning up the waste is proving to be a tediously slow process, mostly because it is an expensive one. In many ways, it’s similar to pollution and global warming: ignoring it will have consequences. However, scientists are looking into ways of recycling shuttle parts, which is a start in the right direction.


With the recent emphasis on STEM and encouraging students to study within STEM fields, it is our responsibility as educators also to teach them accountability. It is important that we prepare the next generation not just to take on the opportunities that science has to offer, but the challenges as well. If we can encourage an entire generation to be accountable, then we are by that logic also shaping future leaders who will learn and carry that responsibility: responsibility towards not just finding cleaner, safer and more sustainable ways of living, but also an accountability towards using new scientific inventions for the improvement of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Painting the world purple and blue: why you should consider becoming a colour chemist

Painting the world purple and blue: why you should consider becoming a colour chemist

We don’t often associate chemistry with fame and fortune, but in 1856, William Perkin discovered both after accidentally formulating the colour purple – at the time, he was trying to find a cure for malaria. Luckily for Perkin, purple was a highly coveted colour – in fact, laws at the time allowed only the king to wear purple!


Until Perkin’s big discovery, purple (or, to be specific, Tyrian purple) was made from the mucus of sea snails. The snails were found in Tyre, a Phoenician city on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea (known today as Lebanon), and the process of extraction was a smelly one – so much so that it required the dye vats to sit on the edge of the town, leading the Roman author Pliny the Elder to declare purple a “dye with an offensive smell”.


Amazingly, given how many were necessary to sate the appetite of emperors and kings, the sea snails managed to avoid extinction up until a few years ago, when they succumbed to the rise in sea temperatures as a result of global warming.


So, when 18- year-old Perkin accidentally synthesised the most intense purple ever seen in 1853, it was a big deal. Perkin’s discovery singlehandedly changed purple’s status from a “royal” colour to a colour that everyone could enjoy. His genius, however, continued beyond this discovery. Having discovered purple, Perkin decided to find a way to mass-produce the compound as a dye. He called his mixture mauveine, or, as we know it today, mauve. Perkin’s mauve soon captured the imaginations and desires of the masses. Soon the streets of London and Paris – the fashion capitals of Europe – were ablaze with the colour, causing a trend dubbed “mauveine measles”. The final seal of approval, however, came from royalty itself, when Queen Victoria appeared in a silk gown dyed in mauveine at the Royal Exhibition of 1862.


New research has also found that Perkin was a more adept chemist than he was ever given credit for. Dr John Plater, a senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, has compared a small quantity of the mauveine kept in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry to sixpence stamps produced using the dye between 1865 and 1869. Plater found significant differences in the manufacturing process. The museum-stored mauveine used two key ingredients, but the dye used on the majority of stamps analysed contained a very different composition to Perkin’s mauveine, making a different method of synthesis seem quite reasonable. This indicates that Perkin created a subtle variation of his famous dye in order to hide the true formulation from his competitors. Plater’s theory is also backed up with evidence from a famous lecture of Perkin’s in 1896, in which he expressed his concerns about competition.


William Perkin went to achieve several more scientific accomplishments in his time, but it is the formulation of mauveine that he is best known for, with the Society of Chemical Industry even creating the Perkin Medal in 1906 to commemorate the discovery of mauve; the first medal was awarded to its namesake at a banquet held in his honour.


Of course, the age of accidental discoveries of new colours has not passed us by yet. In 2009, Mas Subramanian – a chemist at the Oregon State University – heated manganese oxide and other chemicals to over 1200°C (2200°F), with one of the reactions accidentally yielding the nearest-perfect blue pigment to date, nicknamed YInMn blue. The colour’s high reflective properties can even be used in paint to help keep buildings cool, as it reflects infrared light. Its winning quality, however, is that YlnMn blue is non-carcinogenic: unlike Prussian or cobalt blue, YlnMn blue is far more stable when exposed to heat or acidic conditions, and doesn’t release cyanide. The pigment has already become popular with artists and designers, with Shepherd Colour Company already having issued a patent to sell the colour.


Given the evidence, we think colour chemists (indeed, all chemists) are pretty cool as far as STEM professionals go – not a bad way to achieve fame and fortune, either.

The Importance of the NGSS

Why is a good STEM education important?

In today’s rapidly changing society, STEM careers are in increasingly high demand. These jobs are crucial to continued development and innovation—whether it’s developing new medicines or finding solutions to tackling climate change. As a result, if we are to prepare today’s students to lead the global economy and pursue the diverse employment opportunities out there, we must equip them with a good K–12 science education.

How has science education in the US changed?

Over the last decade, science education in the US has undergone a transformation. Until the introduction of the NGSS in the 2010s, American schools followed the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (NRC) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to teach science in the classroom. 

Both of these frameworks were formulated in the early 1990s and quickly became outdated. Students were learning theory without understanding the underlying principles that make that theory work. But to succeed in both STEM fields and other modern careers, the next generation needs to learn important 21st-century skills such as research, communication, and evidence-based critical thinking. 

How were the Next Generation Science Standards developed? How are they different from older standards?

To reflect the new demands of a rapidly changing world, the National Research Council released the report “A Framework for K–12 Science Education” in 2011. This framework details what K–12 students should learn throughout their science education, with a focus on scientific skills and methods and the understanding of processes.

The framework then formed the basis of the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). A consortium of 26 states as well as the NRC, the AAAS, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the nonprofit organization Achieve worked together to develop the standards. Teachers, science and policy staff, higher education faculty, business leaders, and expert STEM professionals were also involved in the development of the standards. 

In 2013, the final draft of the standards was published. The standards highlight the importance of students thinking and acting like scientists and engineers—instead of just learning content, students are expected to understand and apply methods that scientists and engineers use in their daily work.

How many states have adopted the NGSS?

Today, 20 states have adopted the NGSS and an additional 24 states have developed their own standards based on the NRC Framework and the NGSS. As a result, 71% of students in the US receive a science education that follows the NRC Framework. (1)

What are the three dimensions of the NGSS?

The NGSS fills in a demand in education that had previously been left unaddressed, prioritizing methodology and blending content with practice. The framework is based on three overlapping dimensions of science learning, all of which weld practice to theory: Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs).

Learn more about the three dimensions of the NGSS.

In short, the NGSS focuses on developing the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use in day-to-day life. The standards are formulated to help students learn how to think rather than telling them what to think. Teachers are there to guide students to draw their own conclusions based on evidence and reasoning. The standards provide students with the space and encouragement to question, investigate, and draw their own inferences based on evidence. Through the NGSS, we are preparing future generations to be independent, responsible, and proactive before they go out into the world. 

Twig Science: a genuine NGSS program

Twig Science is a complete PK/TK–8 program built for the NGSS that connects real-world phenomena with 3-D learning. Twig Science is designed to make delivering the NGSS straightforward even for nonspecialist science teachers and includes comprehensive resources in print and digital for flexible lesson planning, a state-of-the-art 3-D Performance Assessment suite, and an innovative, easy-to-use digital platform. Find out more.


Virtual Learning with Mark Ellis

Virtual reality is the next step in the evolution of education, and we at Twig World are always evolving to keep pace with the latest development in science education. So, it was only natural for us to contribute to Google Expeditions – the best virtual learning resource for the classroom.


Also, because we believe in working in partnership with teachers, rather than just delivering a product, we have our very own Mark Ellis speaking at the COBIS Annual Conference, focusing specifically on how schools and educators can get the best out of Google Expeditions.


Mark was kind enough to a give us a sneak peak into what he’ll be speaking about.



Twig: Tell us a little bit about yourself.


Mark: I was a teacher in the UK for 11 years, specialising in sixth-form science, before moving to work for an educational charity where I ran national school improvement programmes in STEM and vocational learning. I then moved to the National Science Learning Centre at York for three years, in a business development role. At Twig I am the Head of Professional Development. In my current position, I am involved in every aspect of pedagogy, including working with the content team on advanced content and giving advice on pedagogical approaches in various products.


Twig: Can you quickly summarise virtual reality in education?


Mark: Virtual reality is an immersive way of learning. It’s learning by seeing and being there in the moment. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to travel physically to say, the top of a pyramid or outer space – that’s where virtual learning comes in. It allows you to travel virtually anywhere, safely. For students, it introduces that bit of excitement to classroom learning and fosters a culture of questioning, which is important in all classrooms.


Twig: What have you been doing with virtual learning?


Mark: We have partnered with Google Education to deliver Google Expeditions, which are short virtual reality tours around the world. So, you can learn how about how an Aston Martin is made, or how to fly Eurofighter Typhoon.


Twig: What are your findings? Would you say that Google Expeditions is a more effective way of learning?


Mark: I would say that Google Expeditions is effective in fostering student engagement. If we think about it, what do students want? They want a bit of excitement and something to remember. I think this is a really good way to get children excited about lessons – they come up with questions and actually engage with what they are learning.


Twig: What are you speaking about at the conference? Why should people come and listen?


Mark: I believe that any multimedia source should be clearly linked to learning outcomes and we want educators to get the most out of virtual learning. So, I’ll be talking about some of the things we learnt about making virtual reality more effective in the classroom, with a definite focus on lesson planning using Google Expeditions.


We hope you’re looking forward to Mark’s presentation as much as we are. If you are attending the COBIS conference this year, make sure you pop by stand 84 and say hello!