The activity described in this case study was delivered through the School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI). Funded by Research Councils UK, SUPI involves 12 universities working in partnership with local schools, with coordination support from the NCCPE. SUPI projects aim to develop more effective engagements between researchers and school pupils, and to inspire a broader range of pupils to develop inquiring minds by engaging them in a diversity of exciting hands-on research related activities.
This case study looks at an activity run by the University of East Anglia hosted SUPI with year 10 pupils.
- Target audience
- Year 10 students
- Project overview
- In July 2013, eleven Year 10 students from City of Norwich School, Norwich School, and Archbishop Sancroft High School took part in an eight day summer school research experience at UEA through the UEA School Universiy Partnership Programme. The students enjoyed a packed programme of Biological Sciences activities, from learning about the cultivation of bacteria and cell culture techniques, to embryology and the biology of bees.
In many Norfolk secondary schools, Year 10 students are required to find a work placement in the last week of the summer term. This is an ideal opportunity for students to learn about research, but it is not possible to place that many students within actual research laboratories. The solution to this was to instigate the summer school, where the students would have the opportunity to learn research techniques in a variety of scientific disciplines and also be taught by postgraduate research students. This approach had multiple benefits; it allowed the school pupils to see young roles models, who were only 6-7 years older than themselves. It also developed transferable skills for the PhD students, enabling them to learn how to pitch their research and teach research techniques to a younger audience. The scheme was piloted in 2013 with nine students, extended to fifteen students in 2014; there are plans to increase capacity to twenty students in 2015.
- Project outputs
- In the 2013 summer school the students investigated the content of the popular probiotic products Actimel and Yakult, learning techniques that enabled them to determine the number of bacteria present in each bottle, assess the survival of bacteria in artificial gastric juice, and identify the bacteria using 16S rRNA analysis. Students also learnt how to culture human cells. With the help of PhD student Natalie Crowe, they split cells into new tissue culture flasks with fresh tissue culture media and then incubated the cells for 48 hours. They then stained the cells with tryphan blue and determined how many cells were still alive. They estimated that 90% of the cells had died.
Students also used a technique called whole mount in situ hybridization with PhD student Nicole Ward. This uses short DNA probes to examine when genes are switched on during the development of the frog embryo. The group also had the opportunity to work with Stewart Spinks, Norfolk’s Bee Inspector. They examined the UEA hives and sampled the bees for the fungal parasite Nosema spp. After finding the parasite in some of their samples, the UEA hives were treated to prevent the spread of the disease. The students also carried out a bee dissection and conducted pollen stains. In the 2014 summer school the students learnt DNA analytical techniques using spectrophotometry, explored histological staining, conducted experiments on muscle fibres and learnt how to use the protein folding and analysis software ‘pymol’ to create protein structures.
- Project outcomes
- The students reported that they found the summer school to be an enjoyable and stimulating experience. They particularly valued the opportunity to do more complex techniques and analysis, not taught until degree level, and to learn more about the variety of biological disciplines and the work of researchers. A wordle of the skills they learned is shown below:
One of the PhD researchers, Nicole Ward, summed up her thoughts on the experience:
- "I took part in the project for a number of reasons. Firstly I think it's important to engage students in the research that is being conducted in labs. Once they gain an understanding it will allow them to form their own opinions on stories they read in the media as well as giving them an opportunity to partake in experiments which they would not have been able to do under the normal school syllabus. From the reaction of the students who partook it is clear that the programme was successful in engaging students in research, they clearly enjoyed the various workshops with some of them saying they now want to go on to complete PhDs themselves. The workshop proved to be very rewarding for me as well. It was a great feeling seeing how enthusiastic the students were about learning about my area of research and an even better feeling when I felt I had inspired them to go on to complete their own research one day!"
One of the participants, Alex Carter (now in sixth form) stated:
- "I really enjoyed my experience with the summer school, seeing research applied to real problems, such as the bee parasite work was particularly interesting. Although I'm not taking biology for A-level, the summer school confirmed that I wanted to continue with science, and gave me insight into the research process, and I have chosen to do physics alongside maths, geography and history.”
Josephine Conway, another pupil now in sixth form, reflected:
- "When I did the summer school, I found it incredibly insightful about, not only the biology involved, but also about the working and running of a lab at university. The experience really helped me to get an informative and detailed view of studying science after school. The activities were fun and helped in aspects of my GCSE exams especially as they were so different from anything I had done before. It really helped me to realise that I have a passion for biology and as a result, I decided that I would go on to take biology A level. I am hoping to study bioengineering and my experiences with Professor Yeoman really helped to enforce my plans to study science at university."