Last week, the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition took place in the RDS in Dublin. It’s been taking place every year for over half a century. This year saw thousands of second-level students taking part, competing for a number of awards. Many of the students’ projects involve research – similar to those of PhD candidates – because it has rarely or never been conducted before. We had a look at a few of the projects at the event.

Education:

The effect on students’ academic self-concept and self-esteem on moving from primary to post-primary school.

Second year students Ben Finnerty and Michael Lohan from Roscommon Community College took part in a project that looked into the culture shock that many school kids experience when they leave primary school in order to start secondary school.

20170114_155604“Students have a higher academic self-concept and a higher self-esteem and more positive emotions towards school when they’re in primary school than in secondary school,” Ben confirmed. “We sent a questionnaire out to fifteen different primary schools and two secondary schools. We got 120 back from the primary schools and 99 from the secondary schools.”

Is everyone miserable at secondary?

“No! There were a good few that were actually really happy in secondary school. Both sets of students were likely to say that they liked school. But in secondary school, they find subjects hard, books are more difficult to read, and they feel like they’re more likely to be bullied.”

So issues like bullying need to be addressed – but there are greater social supports in place at post-primary, is that right? Is that through friends giving support, or the staff?

“Well, the staff definitely help a lot because there are more teachers at secondary level to help you.”

The importance of positivity in the mindset of the child: Meaghan Jeal

My project is focused on positivity and mental health in primary schools. I was looking into what children think to be positive and negative in their every-day lives, and whether parents influence their positivity. To find this information, I visited local primary schools and surveyed the children. I asked them to reflect on a list of statements based on their general routine, by deciding whether they thought of them as positive, negative or in-between. The list of statements is as follows:

Rainy days

Sunny weather 20170114_125912

Weekends

School holidays

School

Homework and Tests

Free time

Brothers and Sisters

Friends

Chores

Technology

Getting up early

Staying up late

Food time – breakfast, lunch and dinner

Grocery shopping

Fifty-six percent of the responses from the children were positive, twenty-two percent were negative, and twenty-two percent in-between. Looking at the results broken down, it is evident that for things like sunny weather and friends the children have a positive attitude. Then for things such as rainy days or homework, the children think quite negatively.

I asked parents the same list of questions and found that children were influenced by their parents by fifty percent. This means they have a huge effect on their children’s attitudes towards everyday life, and should encourage their children to think more positively every day. I’d suggest simple activities such as asking them what the best part of the day was before bed each evening. This will encourage children to focus on the positives of their day. I noticed that older children in families had less similar attitudes to those of their parents compared to younger siblings. This shows that as a child grows older, they begin to develop independent thoughts and opinions.

What’s next?

I’d like to see a topic based on mental health added to the primary school SPHE curriculum. At current, there are aspects that relate to mental health such as work on friends, emotions, bullying etc, but I’d really like to see a topic directly based on mental health. At the moment the number of people in Ireland experiencing mental health disorders is crazy high! In fact, statistics posted by the RCSI show that one in five Irish adults experience a mental health disorder. I think teaching young children about positivity and mental health could really help to combat mental health illness.

Road Safety

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Road safety also featured quite prominently at the Exhibition. Jason Feely, Edward Gough and Sean McKeon of Jesus & Mary Secondary School, Mayo, came up with a road-sign that changes the speed limit according to the weather conditions.

“We found out that there were more car fatalities when there was more rainfall,” Jason said. “So we have a sensor in the sign itself that takes humidity and temperature. We’d like to connect the signs up to the Road Safety Authority’s weather stations, and they collect information like wind speed.”