by Meriel Jones
Getting children out of the classroom to connect with the natural world should be a feature of primary education and is also an excellent way to introduce science. This is why, towards the end of the summer term on July 5th, children from Pinfold Junior School in Scarisbrick near Southport found themselves in their local Millennium Wood for the day.
Along with building dens, hunting for treasure and making mini scarecrows with their teachers, they went on a bug hunt with Dr James Davies, a postdoctoral associate in the Institute of Integrative Biology. Extracting creepy crawlies from the undergrowth and then admiring dragonflies and butterflies as they flew past kept the young hunters, and James, very busy.
In addition, Patrick Hamilton, Lois Ellison and Kelly Roper, undergraduate students from the School of Life Sciences Student Outreach Society, were on hand with activities in the local church hall that was the base for lunch. Kelly said ‘We all really enjoyed the day and it has sparked some new ideas for outreach activities we can develop further. Therefore it was a beneficial experience for us as well.’
‘I would say the main thing I took away from the day was how much fun the children had applying what we had told them about adaptations, to the creation of their own creatures which had a whole range of creative/imaginative features.’
This event is the most recent in the Institute of Integrative Biology’s relationship with Pinfold School that began in 2010 and has included a project that won the annual national Rolls-Royce Eden Award for the best implemented environmental project meeting the needs of a school in 2013.
by Meriel Jones
Over the years I’ve given many presentations at schools and colleges about what the biological sciences are like at University. So far this year I’ve been to Xaverian College (http://www.xaverian.ac.uk/) in Manchester and King Edward VI College (https://www.kedst.ac.uk/) in Stourbridge near Birmingham.
Xaverian College is in central Manchester and has high expectations of its students. Many continue to higher education and each January the College holds an event with speakers from many universities and subjects areas. This begins support for the students to decide on their career paths post A-level. I go along to talk about the biological sciences. I feel that talking about the subject content is better left to perusal of the websites and prospectuses, and that I should rather include my personal insight from my own experience. My focus is always on the ways that university differs from school, and what sorts of careers are open to those with biological science degrees.
King Edward VI College is on a (large) traffic island in the centre of Stourbridge near Birmingham. The college also has great ambitions for its students. My talk there is at a similar careers event in March that starts the path to UCAS applications and university. This time my topic is the biomedical sciences, and I explain about the important choice between accredited degrees that are a direct pathway to roles within the NHS and non-vocational degrees that can leave additional career paths more open. I also talk about the difference between medical and biomedical degrees and careers.
Both colleges have a large and diverse group of students who take these career events very seriously and ask perceptive questions. Every year, it is a pleasure to see their enthusiasm. It is also great to answer questions from their teachers, who act as hosts during the events.
Guest post by Dr Meriel Jones, Director of Postgraduate Research at the Institute of Integrative Biology (IIB)
King Edward VI College in Stourbridge (near Birmingham) is a sixth form college with around 2000 students aged 16 – 18 from the West Midlands. It teaches almost exclusively AS and A levels and encourages students with ambitions for further study. The college holds a Higher Education Conference each March for Year 12 students who will be applying to universities in the autumn. This starts the students thinking about what and where to study. The conference has presentations by over 30 university academics and this year I talked about studying the biomedical sciences at university.
Around 350 students take A-level Biology at the college so there are many with ambitions within the biological and medical sciences. My aims were to illustrate how Biology A-level can lead to many worthwhile careers apart from medicine as well as explaining the diversity of biomedical science degrees that are available. I ended up speaking to two groups of around 50 students. They were very attentive and some made notes. When I put up a ‘typical’ timetable at university, there were a few exchanged expressions of surprise at the amount of contact time. The questions afterwards showed great enthusiasm for biomedical research. The college clearly has ambitious students who plan rewarding and socially valuable lives.
The Victoria Gallery and Museum
(VGM) started in 2008 as the University’s contribution to Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. As well as paintings, sculpture and ceramics it displays objects of historic, cultural or aesthetic value from the University’s science and engineering departments. It receives around 4000 visitors per month.
A few years ago, my search for insects for a school visit led me to the Heritage Curator, Leonie Sedman
. I visited the VGM stores with her and saw shelves of objects once used in the University’s zoology teaching and research.
From this chance meeting came a plan to bring some of them back to public display through collaboration between the VGM and B. Sc. Life Sciences degree students. Four students have worked on their final year projects using this material with Leonie, Lu Vieira de Mello
The team: Luciane V Mello, Nicole Coombs, Sophie Banks, Leonie Sedman, Meriel G jones
The result is thought-provoking exhibits at the VGM about egg collecting, critically endangered pangolins and rhinos – and a witchitty grub embedded in resin for visitors to handle.
From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.
The museum materials are at the centre, but other objects like a 3D print of a rhino horn (thanks to the School of Architecture/Creative Workshop
), molecular image of keratin and video of live pangolins
put them into a twenty-first century context.
What do the students get from this? Project results that communicate science to visitors, an insider’s introduction to museum curation and the challenge of bringing objects, research and imagination together.