How does one come up with the big questions in biology, collect the appropriate data, test hypotheses and ultimately interpret what it all means? It is a logical sequence of steps integral to the scientific process that many of us have been trained in and which is essential to making evidence supported discoveries. It is also a valuable skill-set for life and, as it turns out, a key part of the national curriculum in getting students to 'Work Scientifically.'
The Crick has been working with local Camden schools to help teach and assess these skills within the Year 7 curriculum. The goal was to develop and pilot an interactive science project which encourages students to think creatively and experience the process of making discoveries first-hand. Data from this project, in the form of mini scientific papers produced by the students, was used to determine a model for student assessment at the end of Year 7.
In choosing a topic, we were inspired by research in our labs on genome integrity and DNA repair. 'Where does UV light come from, how can we measure it and how does increased exposure to UV light lead to skin and as an extension, DNA damage?' Using UV LED torches and UV sensitive beads, students explored these questions, focussing on the effects of increasing UV dosage and the effectiveness of different sunscreen SPFs.
Following the pilot, one student said 'I enjoyed finding out about SPFs because I had never really thought about it and it was really fun'. Another student commented: 'It was great because everyone was included and it was an interesting topic.' Student feedback on how we can further improve the project included following up with real experiments using DNA in the lab. The suggestion of also 'maybe offering a practical for every lesson in class', triggered a few smiles among teachers.
'It was rewarding to see all the pupils plan and carry out the experiment and obtain their own set of results. In particular, it was hard not to be touched by their excitement at making discoveries. It has been exciting to work together with teachers in finding the most effective way of embedding the project within the curriculum, and so now we are looking into ways of rolling out the project across Camden schools.' said Dr. Ivana Petrovska, Science Educator at the Crick. It is with such collaborations involving the Crick, local schools and the Camden Community in which we hope our educational programme will be a great resource to schools and an inspiration to students across the borough.