We returned to Oxley School on a windy day, and the children were certainly more lively than on our first visit (which you can read about here). We had brought along their cultured plates, and prepared for our second round of activities.
Before describing the events, I’d like to share why we chose to target upper primary age children. Year 5 (10 year olds) is the penultimate year of primary school. There are a number of reasons.
First, 10-ish year old children are a good age to work with in that they already have a reasonable knowledge and capacity to carry out complex tasks, while at the same time still have an enthusiasm that dampens in early teens. Second, we would like to get the children enthusiastic about science before making decisions about specialism – so it is important to address children before making GCSE choices (i.e no older than 13). Third, British primary schools are expected to teach “Working Scientifically” as part of the National Curriculum, that includes planning experiments, measuring and analyzing data and evaluating test results. However, the majority of primary schools lack both the human and material resources to carry out such activities, we we are meeting a genuine need here. Within primary schools, the oldest (Year 6) children are already engaged with high stakes national standardized tests (a shame on our country’s education system) so there is little space for exciting enrichment activity – hence year 5. Finally, we had access to the G&T coordinator at Oxley School to help us devise the lesson plans. As research scientists, with little experience of devising classroom activities for school children, having an experienced teacher to help devise the lessons made an important difference.
Returning to the events. After a re-cap of the previous week’s activities, we returned the cultured plates to the children. They were divided into 6 groups, and each group given a score sheet and a set of plates to grade – from 1 (nothing growing) to 4 (totally covered). After grading their plates, we passed the stacks around, so that each plate was graded by 3 groups, and so that the children each saw about half the plates (a good sample!) Interesting plates include one where a fungus from a child’s foot has myceliated over the plate (3D), and another with plenty of microbial colonies on a plate where the gel has split due to enthusiastic application of a child’s hand:
The children loved this activity – especially the really gross plates. And the scores were remarkably consistent, which was interesting. Evidence of both serious endeavour and fun (with permission from the children and school):
We wanted the children to produce reports and graph their results – but sadly ran out of time – a lesson for us for future activities. We did get scores for all plates, and found the following order from most to least gross:
- Hands run through hair and then placed on gel
- Hands washed in water
- Hands washed with soap and water
- Hands unwashed
- Hands washed with alcohol gel
- Control (opened but not touched)
The hand washing increasing microbial counts is apparently well-known: bacteria become dislodged from dead skin cells that are removed. This was new for me!
However, the class teacher did ask the children to write letters to us, and we received wonderful letters from the children with some great artwork and lovely comments about the day. A selection of drawings from the children showing (i) A summary of all activities; (ii) colonies growing on a plate; (iii) dark-tent for glow-in-the-dark activity; and (iv) rhizopus that I showed them on the microscope:
We have a lovely letter from the class teacher too, but I think the children deserve the final words. So here are some elected quotes from (different) children that I think summarize all the activity (spellings as written) and how well they were received:
- The cuddly toys were cool. My favourite one was the green one.
- My favourite part was looking through the microscope and seeing all of the bacteria.
- I loved it when we looked inside the tent with glow in the dark bacteria in.
- I also loved the lab coats they made me feel like a proper sciencetist.
- I also liked it when we put our hands in the culture pot. The gel felt cold and slimy.
- Its mind blowing what sort of bacteria grows on are body.
- It was very fun grading how disgusting the fungus and bacteria can be.
- The second week was awsome to, because we did lots of maths.
- I had the best time ever doing science it was so cool.
- p.s. tell your boss to consider giving you two a pay rise.