Students 'evolve' into science communicators

Issue date: 03 December 2009


UWE Students from Bristol secondary schools are about to undergo an evolutionary process that will enable them to become science communicators.

Scientists from the University of the West of England are teaming up with the Orchard School Bristol and Downend Technical College on a project called 'Evolving Communities'.

Evolving Communities kicks off at the Downend Technical College on Friday 4 December 2009.

Evolution will be demonstrated through a series of workshops and practical activities held at the schools. Dr Dawn Arnold from UWE explains, “As this is Darwin year it presents a great opportunity to create a multi layered project that not only inspires excitement around evolution in science but takes things a step further. We aim to arm the school students with knowledge and ideas to 'evolve' into science communicators themselves.

“We will hold a series of sessions looking at different aspects of evolution. UWE scientists will share their expertise and bring the theory of evolution to life. A good example is how wheat has been selectively bred over hundreds of years to produce grain with husks that easily fall apart making it easier to produce flour and hence bread, our staple food.”

Plant Biologist Dr Ian Wilson will take examples of differernt grains that he has grown especially for the workshops to show how important it is to 'manufacture' grain that can be easily turned into flour.

Other activities include a practical demonstration showing how scientists extract the genetic material DNA from plants, in this case bananas, using solvents. A session on natural selection will look at how animals with similar appearances are significantly adapted to their different habitats.

Dr Darren Reynolds, Director of Recruitment and Widening Participation for the School of Life Sciences continues, “We feel very proud to be working in partnership with students and staff from local schools. Darwin's work on evolution was amazing and underpins our understanding of the environment and society. We hope these activities will assist teachers to further inspire their students to explore the wonders of science and become scientists of the future.”

Evolving Communities will culminate in an exhibition held in a public arena with examples of artwork that the students produce based on the science activities. The students will also use some of the ideas learned to hold their own demonstrations to teach the wider community about evolution.

Matt Grafton, Head of Science at the Orchard School Bristol, said, “Evolving Communities is a great idea and we're delighted to welcome UWE experts to the school to inspire the students with some exciting scientific concepts. This work neatly dovetails curriculum topics and will give the children a better understanding and appreciation of the wider significance of evolutionary theory. The contact with real scientists and the opportunity to become science communicators also gives students a broader understanding of how science concepts have tangible meaning in our every day lives.”

Dr Karen Bultitude, from UWE's Science Communication Unit concludes, “Evolving Communities is all about inspiring young students to look at the bigger picture and to aspire to take their knowledge further. We need more scientists and we believe that by making science relevant and meaningful is key to encouraging more students to take their explorations further.”

'Evolving Communities' is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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