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Real World Science – Engaging with the Experts

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Overview

Who: A collaboration between The University of Manchester research scientists and museum educators

What: To design and host a programme of ‘Engage with the Experts’ A-Level Study days entitled ‘Genes to Phenotype’ and ‘The Hard Cell’ Stem Cell Debate day

Why: The aim of these days is to give students an insight into science as a career whilst covering subjects that are directly relevant to their studies

Where: Manchester

When: Ongoing since 2008

Project Description

Since 2008, Manchester Museum has formed a close partnership with researchers in both the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences to create a programme of innovative and engaging A-level study days for local post-16 students. The aim of these days is to give students an insight into science as a career whilst covering subjects that are directly relevant to their studies.  ‘Genes to Phenotypes’ was the first study day that was devised in collaboration with The Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research. ‘Genes to Phenotypes’ is a half day workshop which is held twice a year and comprises an introductory talk followed by two parallel sessions; ‘Meet the Scientist’ and ‘CSI Matrix’ that run in carousel fashion.

Using the microscope

Photo: Using the microscopes and working with PhD students from the Faculty of Life Sciences to identify phenotypic differences during CSI Matrix.

CSI Matrix is a practical workshop in which the students use various scientific techniques, such as analysis of stained tissue sections on microscopes and DNA sequencing, to gather data in order to draw a conclusion based on the supporting evidence.

The ‘Meet the Scientist’ session enables the students to talk to the research scientists in small groups and have the opportunity to ask questions about their research and life as a scientist.  The scientists are competing with each other to ‘sell’ their research as at the end of the session, the students vote on who is doing the most interesting and valuable research.

Our most recent addition to the programme is a Stem Cell Debate day entitled ‘The Hard Cell: Considerations for Stem Cell Treatments’.  This day was devised with tissue regeneration scientists from Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences. The day centres around a case study which involves the students in the personal journey of someone investigating the possibility that stem cells could cure their damaged spinal cord and enable them to walk again.  An introductory talk on the science behind stem cell research precedes a series of activities in which the students work in one of 7 groups, each with their own scientist, to investigate different aspects of stem cell research and to design and present a poster based on the information provided and their own opinions.  Posters are presented to the group and the students partake in a facilitated debate/discussion where each group has to present a different point of view of the same initial case study.

Purpose

  • To provide for secondary school pupils a positive experience of  science and potential role models that encourages them to consider further study and career options
  • To provide research scientists from The University of Manchester with an opportunity to engage local A-level students with their research.
  • To enhance and extend certain topics in the A-Level curriculum and relate it to real life research and examples.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

The feedback from the students after both events showed how much they enjoyed their experiences.  They particularly enjoyed meeting the scientists and hearing about the issues from an expert in the field.  The range and interactive nature of activities also proved a big success.

This was reflected in the evaluation responses from each event, for example 97.5% of students thought the Genes to Phenotypes workshops gave them a better understanding of science and more than 75% at both this and the The Hard Cell workshop said they would be more likely to continue studying science when they leave school.

Preparing posters with Dr Stephen Richardson, co-author of ‘The Hard Cell’ debate day.Student engrossed during the practical session ‘CSI Matrix’ as part of the ‘Genes to Phenotype’ event

Photos: Student engrossed during the practical session ‘CSI Matrix’ as part of the ‘Genes to Phenotype’ event and Preparing posters with Dr Stephen Richardson, co-author of ‘The Hard Cell’ debate day.

“I enjoyed doing things practically and relating things to careers and everyday life.” Student, Genes to Phenotype

“Today was very informative and enjoyable and I feel more motivated to learn science now.” Student, Genes to Phenotype

“The idea of different views and debating really got the students to think 'out of the box.'” Teacher, The Hard Cell

Overall, the scientists enjoyed working with the students and were surprised by the questions and interest the students showed in their research.  The increased energy and enthusiasm of the students throughout the workshop was obvious to see and was very rewarding for the researchers.

What didn't work well

‘Meet the Scientist’ had mixed response depending on:  

a) the number of students assigned to each scientist

b) the confidence of the students to ask questions and partake in discussion

To address this, prompt sheets were prepared from which the students could work to find out information about their scientist.

Furthermore, students were asked to present their scientist back to the rest of the group, providing a clear outcome from the activity and hence helping to focus the students.

Resources required

  • Genes to Phenotypes
  • Scientific equipment for example, microscopes and measuring callipers, practical activity worksheets, electronic voting pads, PowerPoint and AV equipment
  • ‘The Hard Cell’ Stem Cell Debate day
  • Case study packs including information, images and guidelines for both students and scientists, materials for making posters, electronic voting pads, PowerPoint and AV equipment
  • However, the most important resource for both events is the availability of scientists that are able to talk to the students enthusiastically about their research

Top tips

  1. Production of wide ranging resources which tie together key concepts and learning objectives
  2. Brief scientists on what to expect before the day and provide them with relevant material to read and prepare prior to the event
  3. Keep each aspect of the event succinct with a clear outcome for the students to work towards

Contact

Name: Alexa Jeanes

Name of organisation: The Manchester Museum

Email: alexa.jeanes@manchester.ac.uk

Telephone: 0161 3061764