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'Linking science, numeracy and art has enabled the pupils to make real life connections between school subjects and to really see the point in their learning.'

Engaged and enthused pupils, with a deeper understanding of science, a more personal connection to the natural environment and a commitment to drive real and lasting change has been the result of Taynuilt Primary’s Royal Society Partnership Grant project.

Our grant enabled us to carry out research into global issues with plastic pollution by carrying out extensive shoreline sampling. We set up transects and used data loggers and quadrats to collect data and specimens, and GPS compasses to pinpoint locations so we can repeat the work next year. We also purchased a class set of digital microscopes to enable us to analyse the collected samples for plastic. This was all aided by wonderful input from our STEM partner, deep sea ecologist Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy. Our pupils’ faces light up every time our new ‘science boxes’ come out, (some primary 7s have become science box monitors to ensure the equipment is well looked after and accounted for – this was their request!). 

A wonderful ‘side effect’ of this project has been improved parental engagement, with parents accompanying us to the beach to set up transects and collect samples. This engagement of entire families with the science has been something beyond that which we had anticipated, with families even setting up transects in their gardens over lockdown!

Our project was going smoothly and pupils were beginning to discuss how to write up findings…and then lockdown happened, bringing our project to a rather abrupt end. Or so we thought at the time. 

Microsoft Teams discussions with the class made it clear that the pupils felt passionate about finding alternative ways to share their findings and raising public awareness about the problems with plastic pollution in our oceans as a result of their shore investigations. So we set about thinking of other ways in which we could write up and share our results.

I approached local fashion designer (and marine scientist) Jessica Giannotti, who owns local textile company Crubag, as she had previously visited my class to teach them printing techniques. What happened next allowed us to forge a new partnership and resulted in us talking with the pupils about how art can be used to communicate messages (just like scientific papers, but to a larger public audience). The children created mood boards of their findings and created designs using printing techniques taught to them by Crubag. The designs were inspired by the results of their shore investigations, using microscope images of the plastics they had found in their sampling, and materials they had found on the beach. The result was the production of  beautiful and moving artwork with a powerful message. These designs were printed on to organic cotton and used to cover recycled paper notebooks as an alternative way to share our learning. Crubag also ran a series of video workshops about using sustainable materials in fashion and how art can be used to raise public awareness of scientific issues via our Teams platform to fully immerse the children in the work. 

Taynuilt Primary School's notebooks 

A selection of the notebooks produced with the students' artwork 

Each pupil wrote a paragraph, which is printed inside the cover of each of their notebooks, explaining the thinking behind their designs and what they had learned about what we are doing to our shoreline, along with their hopes and fears for the future. Beyond our wildest dreams, these notebooks are now for sale via Crubag (each pupil has made their own notebook as their interpretation of their findings from their sampling and analysis). 

This had enabled the pupils to leave a lasting legacy, educate the public (across the world) and drive real and lasting change. Each notebook is a conversation starter, a colourful reminder to appreciate our planet and a positive channel to spread ocean literacy to people’s homes. Already, many of the notebooks are sold out. Even better, £5 from each notebook comes back to our school science fund as the hope is that I can run a similar project with this year’s class and this money will help fund that, allowing this work to be truly sustainable. The project is truly cross curricular, also acting as an enterprise lesson for the children, where they record sales (giving them quantitative data as to the impact of their efforts) and track the income. This has enabled us to look at real life numeracy and how to run a sustainable business. Money collected will be managed by the pupils who will choose how much will go to fund plastic pollution research and how much will be used to purchase new science equipment for the school that would otherwise be inaccessible to us.  Linking science, numeracy and art has enabled the pupils to make real life connections between school subjects and to really see the point in their learning. 

Taynuilt Primary's notebooks

A selection of the notebooks produced with the students' artwork 

Due to the massive engagement we have had so far from both pupils and the wider public, we applied for, and were fortunate enough to obtain, a grant extension from the Royal Society to purchase equipment to investigate climate change. Our aim is now to continue this project with the new class (which comprises of half of the current class and half new pupils as I have a composite class) to increase their investigative skills to create a new range of notebooks, this time based on the issue of climate change, inspired by air pollution and lichens.

By approaching Crubag, we were able to create new, unexpected partnerships, modifying our plan to create a project with a global reach. All in all, thanks to the Royal Society Partnership Grant, the original sampling and analysis work and our adaptations have enabled the project to be truly sustainable and repeatable year on year.

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