Science for opening possibilities

In October 2013 on October 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Kirsti PLC girls ant looking

Kirsti: Science is all about primary school extension projects for me right now. After my last blog entry about first year university biology, I’m taking it back some 15 years.

I’m a Scientist in a School. Two schools in fact.  I run a citizen science project called School of Ants at both schools in slightly different forms, and teach kids each week in grades from 3 to 5.  These schools are my second and third Scientist in Schools partnership, and I love it.

My personal gripe is that I don’t believe the majority of primary school students in Australia get exposed to enough science, or encouraged to ask their own questions – real questions.  Let alone answer them using a rigorous process of enquiry like the scientific method.  Science is often seen as daunting to teachers and students alike in primary school because we are so often told that we must invent something, solve a global issue or be the ‘smartest kid in the school’  to actually be doing science.

And of course this is bollocks!

In fact, primary school students in Devon, UK proved in 2010 that they too could publish science in a prestigious and high impact journal, Biology Letters. And the experience transformed their perception of science in fundamental ways.

In collaboration with a scientist – and much encouragement from their teachers – Blackawton Primary School students added to our knowledge bank on foraging bees: how they discriminate between flowers with and without nectar rewards. The paper is great, and the study designed, carried out and written by 8-10 year olds. BRILLIANT.

In their own words, their principal finding was that,

“Bumblebees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships when deciding which colour flower to forage from.

We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

I love being able to contribute to young people’s awe of nature. Just today my teacher colleague at PLC, Armidale and I decided that our measure of success in these first weeks of the project was the ‘squeal factor’. The girls have been so interested, so genuinely curious, fascinated and excited about ants that the squealing is in sheer delight of the discovery of spines, queens and hairs on the gasters of ants! They are learning about diversity, colony structure and habitat preference, and doing so with voracity. I am not limiting them in their questions or perceptions of what they can do.

Who knows? We might embark on a real scientific paper.  But for now, I’m happy helping to open possibilities in these kids’ lives.

Image of students conducting ant research published with permissions 


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