Leading the Way: Inspiring through science

by Phil Aldridge

“I normally do not like science, but…”

Leonie, Science Set G2, Year 8, George Stephenson High School

This is the opening comment to one of the feedback statements from the 180+ Year 8 students at George Stephenson High School in Killingworth who participated in Leading the Way last week. Leading the Way was coordinated by Leading Edge in collaboration with ICaMB. Leonie’s comment sums up a very inspirational week a team of 15 early career scientists from the Faculty of Medicine had at her school.

Leading the Way was developed based on feedback I had received from Teachers involved in Leading Edge, who wanted to know if it was possible to develop something to work with their year groups rather than just 6 chosen students. After discussions with our Director Rob Lightowler it was agreed to run a pilot scheme to combine the requests of the Teachers involved in Leading Edge and ICaMB’s drive to explore alternative routes to promote our science to the wider community.

We were very lucky to find a school like George Stephenson High School. The School have been a brilliant partner, willing to work with us to develop a program to allow our young scientists to interact with Year 8 (12-13 years old) during one week of their science lessons. A note to worried supervisors and Institute Director – this may sound a lot but in reality each of us involved in running Leading the Way had 12 direct contact hours.

With the help of the science department, we split the year group into teams of 7-9 students based on their science sets.

Our timetable was as follows:

Day 1: Year 8 off timetable to experience “Science in Action”

Day 2-4: We used the timetabled science lessons (2 per set) to create a poster on the topic chosen for the week. Each group worked with one of our scientist team.

Day 5: There was a poster competition with the winning entry earning a day visiting ICaMB.

Some of the Day 1 high points included the isolation of DNA from strawberries, using the isolation of apple juice to experience enzymes in action and playing with alien blood (milk with blue food colouring – see above).

On Day 5, while their posters were being judged, each team built a tower out of 200 straws and sellotape. The goal was to build the tallest self standing straw tower capable of holding a 50 ml Falcon tube containing sweets. We had expected them to require some guidance. However, to everyone’s surprise, Teachers and Scientists alike, all offers of help were refused as the entire year group wanted to do this task alone.

Then the prize giving. We came up with a series of competitions: Best Team Name, Most Visual Experiment, Most Accurate Experiment, Most Volume of Juice isolated, Largest Tower, Best Poster Design and the Big one: Best Idea.

Accuracy and volume were decided on a bar chart and standard curve the teams were asked to produce. This was based on one meeting had with the Science department who suggested we explore data analysis with the students in some way.

Our Judges were ICaMBs own Dave Bolam, Kevin Waldron, Paula Salgado and GSHS Head Ian Wilkinson.

A highlight for the entire Leading the Way team was experiencing the enthusiasm for science from students of all abilities. The winning team who will be visiting ICaMB was Au from Set S1 with their very artistic poster on Mad Cow Disease.

A big thank you goes out to:

– the Leading the Way team: From ICaMB Kayleigh Smith, Simon Syvertsson, Lauren Drage, Martin Sim, Mark Turner, Sarah Billington, Lorna Young, Nichola Conlon & Pippa Harvey and from ICM, IAH, NICR and ION: Elizabeth Gemmel, Laura Mottram, Emma Woodward, Karen Fisher, Joseph Willet, Sanjay Vijay

– the George Stephenson High School Science Department:  lead by Andy Williams and our Liasons Dr James Henderson and Rachel Grimmer.

– the ICaMB supervisors: for allowing the ICaMB LTW team members for being part in this truly inspirational pilot: Mike Gray, David Thwaites, Colin Brown, Caroline Austin, Phil Aldridge, Leendert Hamoen, Brendan Kenny and Jeremy Brown.

Watch this space – we aim to have a second blog post in a few weeks describing their visit….

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