Carole Kenrick: scientist & inventor-in-residence at Gillespie Primary School’s Lab_13

Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 18 seconds

Everyone has a story. Did you want to fly a rocket to the moon when you were small? Do your kids ask you how to get there and then draw the family holidaying in space? And wouldn’t it be nice to have an inventor at school to help point you towards ways to answer those BIG science questions? If your answers are yes, then you’ll enjoy meeting Carole Kenrick, the pink-haired Scientist / Inventor- in-Residence at Gillespie Primary School. Interview by Nicola Baird

Carole Kenrick the Scientist/Inventor-in-Residence at Gillespie Primary School: “When I ask the children to draw a scientist they often draw someone basically like me with pink or blue hair.” (c) islington faces

“Science is not just about flashy, whizz bang things, it’s about getting children to be curious and critical by asking questions,” says pink-haired scientist Carole Kenrick, who is the inventor in residence at Gillespie Primary School and runs Lab_13. “There are so many hidden scientists – bakers and craft brewers working with yeast, hairdressers calculating the bleach ration – and spotting things that are unusual.”

Gillespie Primary School. (c) islington faces

Keep asking questions
Carole, who is originally from Belgium, had a paleobotanist dad who would, “try to answer my questions. I loved that. But what led me to physics is that there’d come a point with the questions I asked when he couldn’t answer them. He knew what atoms were made of, but I was really curious and wanted to know what a nucleus was made of. When I was studying science in Year 10 my teacher said he didn’t have time in that class to answer my question but I could read In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat. That led me to thinking physics was weird and wonderful.”

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So Carole, now 28, studied physics, and for some years Carole was Head of Physics at a Hackney secondary school. But, disillusioned by the preoccupation with exams for this age group, she switched to working with primary school students and joined Gillespie Primary School, setting up Lab_13. At the same time she is also working on a PhD about ways to develop and sustain children’s science aspirations.

If any of the children at Gillespie Primary School have a science question they want answered when their scientist in residence isn’t working at the school they leave it in a box attached to the door of Lab_13. Later Carole Kenrick transfers it to the story caterpillar and uses the collection of questions to plan her investigations with the children.

Science capital
So why’s science good for young children? Carole offers three reasons:

  1. “Giving the children a level of responsibility really gets them learning deeply and it’s good for other things, like being pro-active. Proactivity is a vehicle for developing other skills in life.”
  2. “It gets the children seeing what doing something properly and in depth means.”
  3. “It builds up children’s science capital. At primary school the majority of children enjoy science, but some don’t see themselves as scientists. Enjoying science is not enough – it has to have relevance, transferability (for future jobs) and is about their understanding and knowledge of science in the media.”

It is clear that Carole could talk entertainingly for hours about science capital – the conditions that make science seem not just like a wonderful subject, but the sort of thing that would suit a student’s further study and career aspirations as outlined by researchers from King’s College. But she’s also keen to show how committed Gillespie Primary School students are to science, and in particular the team who run the school’s science committee known as Lab_13 and suggest ideas for what kind of clubs to run, for instance the Ingenious Inventors Club.

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The Islington Ecology Centre is at the centre of lovely Gillespie Park. (c) Islington Council

Places Carole Kenrick likes in Islington

  • Gillespie Park is a favourite. We had a school STAR club (Stellar Terrestrial Astronomy Rocks club) and met up at night time in Gillespie Park. We borrowed a telescope and saw Jupiter and three of its moons. We also took school binoculars and showed the children and their parents/carers that you can look at Venus any time.
  • I like walking home in winter when it’s not a cloudy night and seeing Venus. During February it was very bright and straight-ahead as you walk down Gillespie Road to Arsenal. Above it to the left, less bright and reddish, is Mars.
  • I always notice a particular tree on Blackstock Road that when it becomes autumn has a patch of leaves that are yellow. It makes me think why does that happen?

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The model of the eco house saw local estate agents Anthony Pepe come to the school to present prizes. More recently on Tuesday 14 March Lab_13 ran an event featuring loud bangs, and special guests from the world of science including the Institute of Physics, the British Science Association and the Wellcome Trust. (c) islington faces

In the school’s dedicated science Lab (known as Lab_13) which has a row of white lab coats neatly hanging by the door and is filled with objects to make science investigation fascinating (think skulls, papier mache objects, red and yellow crates of neatly kept experimental toolkits) Islington Faces meets a few of the team.

There’s 10-year-old Naomi, who is refining her idea for an engineering competition but keen to say: “I’ve been inspired by Carole and really enjoy investigating. We looked at Manuka honey to find out whether it was better than normal honey or not. Now we are doing an air pollution project and a mosquito project.” Danny is on a computer designing a poster for the school’s science spectacular in March. Another boy is experimenting with a battery to make a circuit with a range of noises, helped by a friend. When the pair get stuck, a conversation about persistence, errors and learning begins, inspired perhaps by the recent visit from three biomedical engineers – Jenny, Andrada and Nooshin – who told the students that “the first time you try something it never works, so be ready to try again”.

Proper lab coats for the young scientists at Gillespie Primary School Lab_13. (c) islington faces

Then a latecomer arrives – she’s been out on a school trip – and immediately gets to work writing a blog to introduce herself to the science committee and the school. Considering these are all primary school students, their ability to work independently – and collaboratively – is impressive. Should they get stuck, then Carole is ready with the sort of question they need to ask to help them move on.

She’s also set up the STEAM Hub this year to support other local primary schools to set up their own clubs and develop their science practice, thanks to a grant from the SHINE Trust.

There’s no doubt that Carole’s passion for science is already opening doors for kids who might not have realised the joys of asking big questions. Clearly it won’t be long before we can be reading about the discoveries of the next generation of Islington scientists – and that could be thanks to Carole Kenrick’s role as inventor in residence at Gillespie Primary School.

  • Locals with children at Gillespie Primary School and local teachers were invited to the Science Spectacular on Tuesday, 14 March, a celebration of science and inventing put on by the children. This year the investigation was all about how to tell if the moon is made of cheese – or not.
  • It’s free to visit the Wellcome Trust collection at 183 Euston Road (close to Euston station). Closed on Mondays.
  • Science Night sleepovers for 7-11 year olds are run at the Science Museum (fee payable).
  • The Science Museum is free, and signposted from South Kensington tube. Go and see Tim Peake’s descent capsule, robots and all sorts of amazing scientific inventions.

 

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you to Charlie from Anthony Pepe for this suggestion.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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