Students: 154 pupils
Teacher: Mr Richard Holme
Scientist: Miss Annie Cunningham, Marine Education Officer, Newcastle University
The initial inspiration for this project came when a nine year old pupil explained to Mr Holme that she wanted to be a marine biologist when older. This was unusual, as the school is in an area of high deprivation and pupils are often unaware of such career opportunities. This project therefore aimed to enable the pupils to learn more about the role of a marine biologist, by working with scientists at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory and researching ocean ecosystems at Cullercoats near Whitley Bay.
The project began with the children conducting research on rocky shorelines, ocean habitats and ecosystems by using online resources, as well as reference books from the local schools’ library service. The children then utilised this knowledge during their trip to Newcastle University’s Marine Biology Laboratory. Working with university scientists, the pupils carried out field research by surveying the local habitat at Cullercoats: a site of special scientific interest. They studied creatures in rock pools, including velvet swimming crabs, hermit crabs and pie crabs. They also looked at lobsters and starfish and learnt more about how they live, with the scientists demonstrating to the children the methods for carrying out unobtrusive research. Through these activities, the pupils gained further understanding of the role of a Marine Biologist and discovered that Marine Biologists travel round the world studying marine life. This may include looking at endangered species like whales, sharks and dolphins and studying these creatures’ habitats. They also learnt that some Marine Biologists specialise in invasive species, which can sometimes travel in ships to different countries and cause problems by breaking the food chain of resident animals. They also began to recognise the role of scientists in preserving these environments and how the biodiversity of an environment can be damaged, but also assisted by human intervention.
The students then enjoyed being able to use the university facilities to analyse their findings and identify and study the species they had observed at Cullercoats. The children also used to the opportunity to ask lots of questions of the university’s scientists and researchers. On their return to school, the students prepared reports and multimedia presentations on their findings and carried out some further research in lessons. This research followed on from some background information that Miss Cunningham had provided on a species of seaweed called Corallina Officinalis. The pupils aimed to conduct a detailed study of Corallina officinalis and look at how it can harbour invasive species. In order to aid their research, the university kindly loaned the school some of their equipment. This included high powered microscopes, as well as providing the pupils with some live specimens of Corallina officinalis. The students were subsequently able to become teachers themselves by demonstrating what they had learnt to younger pupils in the school. They were also able to set themselves more specific research questions on invasive species, which they formed into a research proposal for inspection by Miss Cunningham prior to their return to the research Laboratory. In their subsequent trip, the pupils conducted research based on their proposals, with Miss Cunningham helping them to use the professional equipment in the laboratory and offering further guidance on the species and ecosystem they were investigating. At the end of the visit, the pupils presented their findings to the scientists and had the opportunity to clarify anything they were unsure about, before returning to school to write up their results.
All the children thought they would like to work as a scientist or marine biologist and some even said they didn’t want to be footballers anymore!
The projected culminated in the children delivering multimedia presentations on their findings to over 100 staff and pupils and preparing a report of their research and findings for their Scientist Partners at Newcastle University. Some of the photographs taken throughout the investigation were also displayed for parents and pupils to view on the school TV channel and the children also wrote a report for the school’s newsletter. At a staff training session, the teachers also enjoyed sharing their new specialist science knowledge with colleagues, while demonstrating how to use the more complex equipment. It is anticipated that this will have increased the capacity for similar projects to be delivered at the school in the future. It is also hoped that this project will have inspired a number of pupils to go on to study science at a higher education level, with many of the children have already expressed a keen desire to do so. The school equally looks set to derive long-term benefits from its new contacts at the Dove Marine Laboratory and the children have been encouraged to ask the scientists for assistance and advice when working on similar projects in the future.