The Role of a School Science Technician

My first post of the new year is not about living in Belgium but about the role that a Science Technician plays in a successful Science Department.

A number of times I have been asked to explain what I do, but it’s difficult as there are so many different things. One of the companies that support Science Departments (Sciencecraft) asked what was it like to be a Technician and this was the reply from Chris Hardie working in a school in Middlesex:

http://blog.sciencecraft.co.uk/

Fast forward to 2015 and I am one of the lucky ones who has been recognised for my achievements over the last few years which has culminated in my current role as Head Technician at BSB, one of the best schools in Europe. Without the advice and support from the many Technicians and Teachers I have had the pleasure of speaking to I would not be where I am today.

Because of this I try everyday to support other Technicians. As a member of The ASE Technicians Committee we discuss ways that we can support and improve not only how we do our job, but to ensure that people outside of Science can see the valuable role that we provide. We encourage more Technicians to apply for RSCi and RScitech. This is to show employers that we have the skills and experience to do the job. It also shows a commitment to the role.

http://www.ase.org.uk/professional-development/registered-science-technician-rscitech/

In 2013 I set up a forum for Technicians to complement the other ones available. In under 18 months this community has expanded to nearly 700 technicians who on a daily basis go out of their way to support others, share amazing ideas for new practicals or help us to improve our skills. In an age when education is losing money it is becoming increasingly difficult to be able to attend external CPD courses but this is the next best thing.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/schoolsciencetechnicians/

Inspired by others I set up a questionnaire and shared it across the internet to find out more about the Science Technician Community and found some interesting stats. Out of 627 replies:

80% of Science Technicians are female

0% Science Technicians were under 21 and only 10% were under 30. Only 20% were under 40.

25% have been a Technician for over 20 years

50% are educated to degree level including 10 who are P.H.D’s

65% had attended an external CPD course in the last 2 years

The full results of the survey can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1xSLZLqFuOXhkfjYUC_TBjnzdcr8Oxz2oJRH0B43uDfE/viewanalytics

The biggest concern here is the ages of Technicians. With so few younger people joining our profession it is becoming less and less attractive as a career for the under 30’s and who can blame them? One of the questions I asked was what one thing would you change about being a Technician? Out of all the responses there were a couple of big things to come out. Now if you are a Technician these will not surprise you…

Better pay.

Lack of recognition for the skills we have.

These 2 responses are linked together but unfortunately a lot of schools and educational establishments can’t see this. Whenever I see jobs advertised it is very rare that the pay is over £20,000 even for a Senior Technician. For a Science Technician, pay is usually advertised at below £17,000 and even rarer that the job is full time. When you then look at the job requirements it nearly always asks for the candidate to be educated to degree standard. How many other jobs do you know where that level of education pays so low?

It is when you look at the actual job descriptions you realise how little school management understands our role. Often you see jobs such as photocopying, displays and invigilation listed as part of the job description. Departments that don’t have Technicians have to do their own so why is it different in Science? Until the majority of leadership realise we are more than just “staff who can do things teachers aren’t allowed to” nothing will change.

That’s where we come in. As a Technician who has managed to get Leadership to see my role as one that should be respected and the benefits it can bring in improving the Science Department, I call on other Technicians to do the same. Invite your Headteacher up to observe when you are demonstrating to a class, take photos of experiments were you can see students enjoying the Science, get involved in open nights so parents can see who you are. Promote yourself!

We are very lucky at the moment that we have the support of so many outside agencies who are trying to convince schools of our value. Some of these include The ASE, CLEAPSS, The Science Council, Science Learning Centres, Gatsby and companies such as Gratnells and Sciencecraft to name a few.

There are also a lot of Technicians getting involved in discussions on Twitter and promoting our role including @LammasScience @ASETechs @TechknowUK @Chimbles84 @quinnell75 and many more. We even started a Technician Tweetup last year which runs on the 1st Wednesday of the month. Previous ones can be found here:

https://storify.com/ASETechs

So although it can seem a bit doom and gloom at times we love our job and always do our best to ensure that students get the most out of their Science lessons and want to go on and study Science in the future. YOU can make a difference, YOU just have to believe.

The Social Side

It hasn’t all been work, work, work though and I have been exploring more. On a recent Bank Holiday (on a Tuesday!) I went for brunch with the technicians of BSB past and present to Stonemanor which is a British shop and Tearooms which serves teacakes, scones and cheese on toast!

The shop itself is amazing. It’s only when you walk round you realise how much “English” food you miss. Salt & Vinegar crisps, Hovis bread, potato cakes, scotch eggs! Not very cheap as they have to import it all via Waitrose…

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After brunch a trip to Leuven was on the cards. Nearly everywhere was closed apart from a pub called Domus which serves their own beer brewed on site. A few beers later and some amazing spicy chicken wings it was off to the cinema to see Interstellar. The film itself was in English but there were French and Dutch subtitles at the bottom of the screen which was distracting at first but after a while I started trying to practice my Dutch reading skills. Great movie by the way and a superb soundtrack as well.

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Last Sunday I was given the opportunity to visit a traditional Xmas Market actually in Germany. We visited a town called Monschau just over the border which was about 90 min away. It was just how I imagined it to be. Extremely quaint and old fashioned set in the base of a valley. Anyone who knows me also knows my nickname is The Grinch around this time of year but dare I say it? I actually felt Christmassy.

Some of the local shops where selling beautiful homemade mustards and pates and there were some fantastic arts and crafts places as well. Handy as I picked up a few Xmas presents as well.

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The food and drink was excellent especially the Gluwein (mulled wine) with Amaretto in (available in Aldi in the UK!). This was a great way of warming up in freezing conditions. Food wise I had some Brockwurst sausage, Mushrooms cooked in garlic butter with bacon lardons, potato cakes with apple sauce and of course Snitzel and Stollen. We went into a couple of pubs with really friendly and welcoming staff which made us feel right at home drinking some German Beer (not as good as Belgian though…).

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At the beginning of December I was honoured to be invited for drinks and to meet up with the Science Council and their partners as they were in Brussels visiting the European Parliament to discuss EU Science Policy. As an RScitech it was great to meet so many people involved in different aspects of Science on a daily basis.

As I went into the city straight from work, I took the opportunity to have a look around the Brussels Xmas Market and to visit Grand Place to see their giant tree. The bar we met up in was called Bonnefooi and I would heartily recommend it. A very shabby chic place with musical instruments mounted on the wall and playing a mixture of Soul, Acid Jazz, Trip Hop and Lounge Music. They even have live music and DJ’s on most nights.

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http://www.bonnefooi.be/

It has also been a difficult few weeks dealing with homesickness as it’s been over 2 months since my last weekend home and I really miss my family. Skype is handy and useful but it can’t replace the real thing.

Anyway this is my last update of 2014 and it’s nearly time for the Xmas holidays which I know a lot of teaching staff look forward to more than the summer ones. I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone for taking the time to read my posts and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2015!

Visit to Technopolis and Mira

So it’s been a while since my last update but it has been a busy few weeks in the run up to Christmas. Lots of big practicals going on and the classic dilemma of trying to perform photosynthesis experiments in December! A couple of weeks ago I went on my first school trip to the amazing Technopolis which is only about 30 min away from School. We took Year 11 on a day of science discovery where they could try loads of great hands on equipment and experiments.

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http://www.technopolis.be/eng/

One of the most impressive things at Technopolis is their giant Rude Goldberg machine which I unfortunately did not see in action on the day but to give you an idea what one is check out this video by OK Go.

After a great morning exploring and a quick lunch break, we headed off to Mira which is an observatory just outside Brussels. (It’s also next door to one of the best breweries in Belgium but that’s another tale…). Not knowing what to expect, I was thrown by the coach turning a tight corner into a narrow road. Up ahead was a big hill with a beautiful church on top and my thinking was perhaps it’s in the church or at least next to it. Nope. We pulled in and there was the observatory. At the bottom of a hill, behind a restaurant! Very unassuming and quite small, Mira still managed to deliver. We sat through a presentation on sunspots and then headed up to the roof to look through a telescope and see them for ourselves. Again I was thrown by what to expect. In a very small “shed” they had a couple of impressive telescopes that we could look through. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse as we went to look through the lens and we didn’t get to see very much. Still it didn’t matter and it was great to see the students being enthused by our guides and we even got to see a small piece of rock from Mars!

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Sightseeing at last

Today is the first day back after half term and the first question you usually ask everyone is “How was your week off”. Well mine was a mixture of work, sightseeing and trying local cuisine. Last weekend was the first time my wife had managed to come over to visit so I was responsible for providing 4 days of showing her what Belgium has to offer!

We had decided to stay in Brussels on Saturday night as it was a good chance to actually do a bit of sightseeing. I arrived at the airport to meet her only to find that her flight had been delayed 45min (Thanks Brussels Airlines!). Upon arrival we jumped on the train and went to our hotel around the corner from one of Brussels iconic sights “Grand Place” which looks even more impressive lit up at night.

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After a lot of walking and sampling chocolates in the 100’s of shops around the area we decided to have our dinner in the Hard Rock Café in Grand Place square. Although not very Belgian for food we made up for that by sampling some lovely Belgian Beer instead and admiring the fantastic guitar wall and the view from above.

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After a leisurely breakfast we headed to Tervuren on the Sunday for the “Blessing of the animals” ceremony in the park. This involves loads of pets and animals being blessed by the local priests. There were so many horses, dogs, birds, cats and of course lots of noise as well. It was certainly a sight to behold!

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On Monday we decided to head into the historic town of Leuven. Famous for its University and also the Stella Artois brewery! Leuven also has some fantastic architecture and squares but is much more relaxed and traditional compared to the bustle of Brussels. There is also a very strange piece of art in one of the squares which is essentially a beetle on top of a needle!

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For Michelle’s last day after showing her Tervuren park and BSB, we headed back into Brussels for a bit more sightseeing including The Comic Book Museum and The Delirium Café which holds the world record for the amount of different beers it serves! Delirium cherry beer is delicious by the way 🙂

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Then of course came the hard part of saying goodbye at the airport. It was great being able to share all my experiences with Michelle and show her my new workplace but now it’s 7 weeks till I see her and my family again. I know it’s going to be difficult especially with it getting darker earlier and us both being busy with work but I’m a very lucky man who has a very understanding wife who is supporting me with my move. Until next time…

Back in my Liverpool home… (For the weekend!)

After a hectic and surreal 6 weeks since my arrival in Belgium I booked myself a flight home for the weekend. With the benefit of a lift to the airport (Thanks Jon!) on the Saturday morning so I did not have to get up at 5.30 A.M. Not that it mattered when my flight was delayed for 45 minutes. Eventually I arrived at Manchester airport to be greeted by my extremely supportive wife and my brother and headed back to Liverpool.

On the way back it felt very strange being able to understand all the signs and recognising all the familiar landmarks on the way back. One of my biggest worries about being away from home for long periods was how our 3 cats would react to my homecoming! Our eldest cat Spike couldn’t care less but Yoda and especially Vader ran off as soon as I walked through the door. After shaking some treats, Yoda headed back in to see me but Vader was extremely unsure. It was only during the night that he was confident enough to get on the bed for some much needed cuddles!

Yoda

Yoda

Vader

Vader

My wife had arranged for some family and friends to visit on the Saturday and it was great catching up with them after so long. The next day we had a quick visit to the supermarket to stock up on cat food and then headed to my parents house to meet up with as much family as could make it for a leisurely lunch before it was time to head back to the airport and onto Brussels ready for work the next day! I’m so spoilt I even managed to get a lift back home from Brussels Airport (Thanks Suzi!)

The whole weekend was very surreal and tiring but I was so glad to see everyone in the flesh rather than Skyping. The next thing to look forward is half term and my wife gets to visit me in my new home. One thing I haven’t had time for is sightseeing so that will be an ideal chance to have a proper look around the city.

In my Tervuren home..

So this post is about my local area. I am living with a couple of fantastic people who also work at BSB and have helped me settle into Belgium really well. We live just outside a beautiful town called Tervuren which has a park and forest on the doorstep. The days I can’t get a lift into work I have the pleasure of walking through parts of the park and the views are stunning. Although it takes approx. 30min to walk, the scenery makes up for it.

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The morning journey to work is the best. Headphones in with a bit of Chillout music (Air, Zero 7, Portishead etc). It sets you up for the day and has enabled me to get some fantastic shots.

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You can often see people jogging, cycling and setting up fishing rods at 7am and making the most of the ay ahead. Of an evening there are lots of families enjoying the sunshine and people walking their dogs around the park. There are times I wish I had arrived earlier in August so that I could have a picnic in the sun! Until next time…

The preproom and fire fighting!

The most important place to a technician is the preproom. Some of us have very small areas to work in and some of us have state of the art brand new large rooms (looking at some of the posts in School Science Technicians on Facebook!). My preproom is a decent size with a lot of equipment and paperwork stored in it and I share with the KS3 technician.

Once I had settled in I began going through drawers, cupboards and shelves to try and create some work space as to me there seemed to be a lot of potential but a good clearout was in order. Luckily enough the technicians that were in during the summer had started already and given the room a bit of a blitz. As I suffer from very mild OCD which in my opinion makes some teachers panic, I made a start tidying. Within a few days I had managed to clear all the benches so that practicals can be laid out clearly and teachers can check what they have ordered. See the before and after pictures below…

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There is also a massive basement store at BSB which contains a huge amount of equipment, some of which is unusual, old or just unknown!

A very old and heavy vacuum pump!

A very old and heavy vacuum pump!

A possible Faraday cage?

A possible Faraday cage?

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Last week also saw the technicians taking part in some fire fighting training as well. We had a theory lesson first with a powerpoint in Flemish but luckily the pictures were easy to translate and we had a retired fireman explaining as well. Then we had the practical side of our training which consisted of using an extinguisher correctly and then putting out somebody who was on fire! Although the training was of a serious nature we managed to have some fun with the dummy 🙂

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You can follow me on Twitter @floorphillaz or if you are a technician you can join over 500 colleagues at School Science Technicians on Facebook. Until next time…