Microscopes in the classroom: Dunn School researchers motivate budding scientists at primary school

Microscopes in the classroom: Dunn School researchers motivate budding scientists at primary school

For the second consecutive year, researchers at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology have organised a series of outreach events to ignite an interest in science in Year 5 pupils at Pegasus Primary School, in Blackbird Leys, Oxford. The second outreach session of this year, entitled ‘Microscopes – peering into the invisible world’, took place on the 27th February 2019 at Pegasus School.

Following last year’s success, a total of around 60 pupils aged 9 to 10, benefited from these unique outreach activities, which aim to teach and demonstrate the excitement of scientific discovery in the classroom. Throughout the day, the two Year 5 groups covered the concepts of what both living and non-living things look like when magnified with a lens, how essential microscopy is for scientific discovery, a bit of pioneering microscopy history from 350 years ago, and how scientists use microscopes to observe and better understand microorganisms, plants or cellular structures.

One of the highlights of the event when the pupils were able to get ‘hands-on’ like real scientists, looking at various samples using different types of microscopes. They observed an onion skin and learned about cells as the building blocks of living organisms. They also looked at nettle leaves and learned about their sting-causing spikes, and examined a flea to notice the claws on their long legs and the large mouth parts the use for feeding. The pupils were particularly enthusiastic about being able to use microscopes themselves to observe everyday objects; these included lavender, sliced strawberry, pennies, sea shells, dried green tea leaves, kitchen sponge, salt, and even their own hair. They also learned about the scientific method of posing questions, observing, taking notes (and beautiful illustrations) and drawing conclusions or making hypothesis based on their experience peering through the microscope.

At one of the workstations, one pupil shared his enjoyment by saying: “I wasn’t expecting this day to be so exciting! It’s been much more fun than our regular maths lessons. I can’t wait for the Dunn School scientists to visit us next time!”

“Many of the children were using a microscope for the first time and it was very rewarding to see their faces light up when they saw things they couldn’t see by eye, like how hairy lavender flowers are”, said one of the volunteer demonstrators, Dr Errin Johnson.

The keen volunteers that helped ensure the success of this outreach event were Professor Shona Murphy, Dr Errin Johnson (electron microscopy, EM, facility manager), Dr Adam Costin (EM facility), Dr Anna Caballe (Raff lab), Dr Arun Dhillon (Lea lab) and Ms Ana Wallis (Niedusynski lab). This series of three outreach events has been planned and coordinated by Dr Lindsay Stimson, Dr Rachel Exley and Professor Christoph Tang, together with the teachers and staff at Pegasus Primary School. The first session of the series took place in November 2018 and covered bacteria and antibiotics – with a special focus on penicillin – while the third session, which will take place during spring time, will cover DNA and genetics and will allow the pupils to perform their first experiment in the classroom.

Written by Dr Anna Caballe (@caballe_anna)

Monday, March 4, 2019 - 15