Cell Explorers outreach activity
Primary school students often have a limited understanding of biological science and lack role models of real people with careers in science. This EXPLORE project has created a pilot model for outreach activity in cellular biology and biotechnology for primary school children in 4th-6th class. Designed and delivered by 1st, 2nd and 4th year NUI Galway biotechnology and biomedical students, the initiative stimulated civic engagement among students towards schools. It comprised four one-hour sessions and was run in collaboration with the Galway Educate Together National School. The NUI Galway students involved benefited from peer learning and gained valuable experience, which will be particularly relevant to those interested in a career in teaching or a career involving the development of scientific outreach activities. The outreach activities will be refined and extended next year, and possibly expanded to include a secondary school format at a later date. The outreach programme was jointly presented by the school children and the outreach team at the Galway Science and Technology School Exhibition in November 2012.
We were waiting for our first meeting with our school partner – Galway Educate Together National School – to take place. It happened on the 15th of March.
Both Lilian and Muriel went to the Shool to meet with John Farrell, the school principal, and Barry McGuire, who teaches 5th class and who is the science specialist in the school. Both John and Barry were very welcoming and enthusiastic about starting the project. The school has had several successful collaborative projects with NUI Galway in the past and is very keen on reiterating a good experience. The school has a lot of experience in running science projects. This is good because it means that the teachers are very enthusiastic about starting new projects and the children are very receptive about science.
We talked about how we would like to introduce cellular biology and experimental design in our programme. John and Barry really liked the ideas and were clear on how the project will benefit the class, how it would connect to the biology curriculum and what we could cover in the few sessions of our outreach programme.
We will be working with 5th Class, a very active class as you can see on their school website.
5th class has done several science projects this year, but not on cellular biology yet. After discussion we ended up with a theme for each of the 4 outreach sessions we will do with this class for our pilot programme. Each session will be one hour long and taking place on Tuesday. The following dates have been penciled in: 22nd of May, 29th of May, 5th of June, 12th of June. Note that the usual length of this type of project is 6 sessions of one hour. We should move to this format next year.
Barry has offered to give us plenty of feedback on the session contents while they are created. He will keep in touch with Lilian who will inform him on the project progression.
The next step is for our group to meet and discuss the content of the 4 sessions. We will work on establishing a precise structure for each lesson and split the group into working groups to make progress on the design.
We have been very busy since the meeting with Bary and John at GETNS.
We had a meeting on the 22nd of March to define the themes of the sessions and working groups. Session 1 and 2 will be an introduction to cell biology and DNA and session 3 and 4 will be about micro-organisms and thinking like a scientist.
3 working groups have been formed - Fintan, Emma and Rebecca are preparing session 1, Veasna, Sarah and Lilian session 2 and Rachel, Louise and Orla session 3 and 4. Each group has been working at planning and trying the activities for their sessions as well as drafting the presentation they will give to the class. Group 1 tried some of the small microscopes that will be used by the class and Group 2 has tried the DNA purification protocol that the children will use to prepare DNA. We also have acquired mollymod DNA models to be built in this session.
We had a progress meeting on the 22nd of April during which a first draft of each session plan was completed. The plan also includes learning objectives and comments on how it links to the primary school curriculum. This was sent to Barry for feedback. He was very positive and gave us some constructive comments and aspects to think about.
The groups are now working on establishing the precise schedule of the session and generating the materials that will be given to the children in class as well to the demonstrators who will be involved in each lesson.
May was busy with exams but as soon as we were finished we all commited to preparing the sessions again. Session 3 and 4 picked up and Louise managed to design a protocol involving oil, water and glitter to experiment on the best way to remove microbes from hands.
Muriel suggested naming our primary school programme Cell Explorers and we all agreed on titles for the 4 sessions.
Currently we have run 2 of the 4 planned sessions. You can see the pictures of the first two sessions on the school website. http://getns.weebly.com/cell-explorers.html
Session 1: Amazing cells! (21st of May)
Rebecca gave a presentation prepared with Emma to explain the structure of animal and plant cells and their characteristics. She also explained the basics on how to use a light microscope. Following this, the children prepared microscope slides with onion cells and their own cheek cells helped by their demonstrators (Fintan, Emma, Louise, Lilian, Veasna, Sarah). Each child was given a small microscope and had to observe the two types of cells. Cells were installed under a larger microscope brought from a laboratory from the biochemistry department. They were then shown on the class’s interactive board so that every body could see them. We ran out of time to do everything we planned. The children only got started filling up a work sheet designed by Fintan and had no time to get started with their cell model made from a paper plate.
We left some material, including two 3D cell puzzles, to Barry so that the class could continue discussing animal and plant cells. They have filled out Fintan’s well-designed worksheet and included it in their personal school science folder. They also worked very hard on making cell models with really impressive results as you can see on the class website.
Session 2: Fantastic DNA! (28th of May)
Sarah gave a presentation prepared by Group 2 (Sarah, Veasna and Lilian) on what DNA is and how important it is for cellular life. After this presentation the children prepared some DNA from cheek cells with help from demonstrators (Lilian, Sarah, Veasna, Fintan, Louise, Orla, Claire – a visiting PhD student from France very keen on helping us) and engaged really well with the activity. We learnt from the previous session and time was managed in a much more efficient way. We reached the second part of the session in which Sarah explained the DNA structure and what are the elements that form the double-helix. After this, the children worked in pairs to build a DNA model under the supervision of their demonstrators. They were extremely fast in doing this and nearly did not have to rely on the detailed building protocol prepared for the occasion!
We are all looking forward to our next two sessions on micro-organisms and experimental design!