Cutting Edge Research in the Classroom

Guest blog from Claudine Anderson, Policy Manager, Public Engagement with Research, Research Councils UK

The world of research is amazing – new developments are leading to exciting discoveries, changing the way we live and our understanding of our environment. At Research Councils UK, the partnership of the UK’s 7 research councils, we invest in only the most excellent, cutting edge research which offers tangible benefits to the UK economy and to society by tackling important global issues such as climate change, poverty and terrorism.

Engaging with the public is fundamental to our mission. One way we achieve this is by connecting young people with contemporary research to provide inspiration and enrich their learning experiences.

Using authentic contexts in the classroom demonstrates to students the real-world applications of the theories they learn, exposing them to new ideas and inspiring them to consider post-16 studies in relevant subjects or to pursue a career in research. If they decide to not follow a research career, the experience will help them to better understand the place of research in their lives, enabling them to act as informed citizens in the future.


Breakthroughs in research happen at an incredible pace and we recognise that it isn’t always easy for teachers to keep up-to-date with the latest findings. For this reason, RCUK encourages and supports its researchers to create school resources about their work which can be found on the eLibrary. The RCUK collection is continually growing and covers a broad range of topics from genomics and climate change to greener fuels and new discoveries in space. For example:

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s resource “Fighting Crime Through More Effective Design”, discusses innovative practice-led design solutions to reduce criminal activity.
  • The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has developed a guide on heart surgery and dissection, which also highlights recent research in experimental biology.
  • There are fantastic posters exploring topics such the applications of crystallography by the Science and Technology Facilities Council or the Economic and Social Research Council’s “Where Would Social Science Be Without Maths?” poster, which shows some of the landmarks in statistics in social science.
  • “Engaging Maths”, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, explores the fundamental role that maths plays in virtually every aspect of our lives from security, telecommunications and the internet, the environment, finance and economics, industry, transport and travel, and in medicine and biology.
  • If you’d like to know more about stem cell research, then check out the Medical Research Council’s booklet which outlines the current challenges surrounding stem cell research.
  • Or to help your students explore climate change, the Natural Environment Research Council has produced lesson plans for students to research the effect of climate change on glaciers.
  • To give students a taste of what it’s like to work in research, RCUK has asked its researchers to share their story about what inspired them onto their chosen career path and a day-to-day account of their work.

Teacher CPD

RCUK also funds the “Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom” CPD programme, organised by the National Science Learning Network, where leading researchers deliver the latest research knowledge to teachers.

The RCUK Collection on the eLibrary contains the complementary materials developed from this programme designed to further teachers’ understanding of research on topics such as sustainable communities and the applications of mass spectroscopy.

RCUK School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI)

In addition, RCUK is supporting 12 UK universities to form partnerships with their local schools to help bring contemporary and inspirational research contexts into formal and informal learning to enhance and enrich the curriculum. There’ll be many school resources developed from these partnerships so watch this space!

There is a wealth of RCUK activities linked with topics in the curriculum available on the eLibrary to give your students an insight into research. If you use or have used any in your class, we’d like to know how you found them so please let us know.

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