Science Mavericks: Igniting Curiosity Outside the Classroom!

On the back of the huge success of the Year 11 event, the Year 9 ‘Mavericks Cadets’ four-day event took place in December involving nearly 800 pupils from 17 of our secondaries.

Pitched at potential triple award higher-grade pupils who will ultimately be aiming for GCSE grades 7 and above, the event took place in the impressive auditorium facility at the Education Exchange and was organised by Fiona Marshall, Rich Ward, Zoe McConville and Chris Hoyle in the Science Director Core Team.

Against the backdrop of the COP28 summit in Dubai our Mavericks Cadets were recruited to an elite taskforce, the brightest and best of the age, assembled to confront the challenges currently facing the planet; how to stop and reverse climate change, accommodate a growing global population to provide food security, sustainable energy and building materials for the future, and – in the wake of coronavirus – understand how another global pandemic could develop and how we can be ready for it when it does.

These very real global issues formed the overarching theme for a progression of science-based problem-solving activities using both their current learning and knowledge from the upcoming GCSE programme of study which the Mavericks were prepped with as an integral part of the event.

Many of the Mavericks’ students were unphased by the prospect of tackling learning aimed at peers two years their senior; one of the many ‘cadets’ representing Manor Croft Academy explained (whilst deftly evaluating data on a series of graphs).

“Using more fertiliser on the land hardly improves the crop yield at all, but profits get lower and lower. It’s obvious, isn’t it? You’re producing nearly the same amount of crops but spending more on fertiliser and getting nothing back.”

From the moment the teams entered the venue the atmosphere was charged with excitement and adrenaline.

“I’ve never seen an event like this,” said Maverick Cadet Keanu, from Melior Academy. “It’s absolutely mind-blowing!”

Each task carried with it a 10-point win for the first team to propose a comprehensive solution, pitched against the peril of being knocked out from that round if their proposal was incomplete or lacking breadth – helping the students to develop skills they will now take back into lessons, and ultimately their GCSEs. There were also 5-point ‘brilliance bonuses’ to be had, awarded by the directors for notable creativity or thoroughness in a team’s particular approach.

This was reflected in feedback from staff, too, with Leah Forrester from Rossington All Saints saying: “They’re really loving the competitive element, it’s great to see their appetite for the problem-solving.”

Adam Tomlinson, Head of Physics at Garforth Academy, said: “They’re on it. The competitive element is really good – there’s one student on one of our tables who is straight up, hand in the air, ‘I’ve got this one!’ It’s great to see.”

Entering its later stages and on the back of a points-check to see where academies were on the leader-board, one Maverick from Garforth Academy confided “At the moment it’s a close tie – I think it’s neck and neck!” and the competitive aspect served as a powerful motivator, too,

galvanising one Academy to boost their score more than six fold between the half-time count-up and the end of the event – the biggest turnaround seen across all the academies both this year and last.

Having being introduced to the overarching premise, throughout the day each challenge the Mavericks solved led on to others; firstly by tackling the main issue head-on – identifying what climate change is, how humanity’s insatiable thirst for innovation and development had brought civilisation to the brink and how it is likely to develop over the remainder of this century, which led to teams devising their own strategic solutions to the energy crisis, simulating the spread of pandemics to understand how to defeat them, constructing buildings from sustainable materials and investigating the effectiveness of ways to promote crop growth.

Zoe McConville, part of the director team behind ‘Mavericks’ explained

“Every stage of this event involves hands-on problem-solving, often based round practical tasks – we need to cultivate confidence in students exploring science experimentally and being able to do that in a robust and resilient way.”

At strategic points in the day, the groups received news updates – specially recorded by Richard Smyth, Kirsty Mitchinson and the core team at Education House – which presented the Mavericks with updates on the success of their recent endeavours and posing new challenges to tackle. This developing narrative and solving successive problems was picked up on by staff as well as a number of pupils taking part.

“This is great – they’re really into it” and had noticed the contrast as one table from Melior Academy were really vocal in articulating their answers, whereas others were quicker but less forthright, and intuitively began working on developing their confidence in putting their ideas forward.”

Melior’s Head of Science, Steve Rae,

This sentiment was echoed by staff, executives and principals from academies who were participating and who came to join and support their pupils on the day, and who on several occasions marvelled at the energy and dynamic across the auditorium.

CEO Paul Tarn remarked “It’s brilliant that such a high-quality event has reached out and involved so many hundreds of children and engaged them in Science.”

With practical activities aplenty, the buzz of activity and engagement continued throughout the day.

“From the moment the challenges were posed, you could feel the energy and enthusiasm fill the room as ideas were bounced across the tables. Then the bristling tension as an opposition team were putting their proposal forward, only to throw themselves back into it when the 10-point winner’s prize slipped from their grasp!”

Science Director Chris Hoyle

The vibrancy continued right through to the final, adrenaline-fuelled tasks and the closing ceremony where all Delta Mavericks were presented with a specially-designed lapel pin-badge on the auditorium main stage.

“The Mavericks event highlighted to me the resilience and determination of Delta students we are lucky enough to teach,” said Science Director Fiona Marshall, who coordinated the event.

Gemma Scothern, Delta Director of Operations agreed; “I’ve got to say, throughout the breaks and lunchtime all the students have been really great, so polite and mature – an absolute credit to themselves and their Academies.”

The success of this event, coupled with the original ‘Year 11 Mavericks’ two-day launch last year, paves the way to ultimately form a three-part programme that will stimulate and engage Delta’s students through three successive years of schooling.

Watch this space . . .