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Lab_13

Full Dovecote / Lab_13 Interview (Courtesy of BBC Nottingham)

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LAB_13 ONLINE WITH DOVECOTE PRIMARY

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Introduction 

Back in 2019, we launched Lab_13 at BioCity Nottingham. In collaboration with Ignite!, and with the help of a Scientist in Residence (from the BioCity collective), we led experiments that allowed local students to find the answers to their questions. 

Throughout 2019, we hosted over 150 students and delivered 28 different activities.  

Here's how we helped local primary school students find answers to questions including, "Why do we get smelly breath when we don't brush our teeth?" and "How far can you get in a black hole?". 

This year, we are piloting Lab_13 Online with Dovecote Primary School to meet Covid safety requirements. Whilst the aim of the project remains the same, "investigation, innovation and creativity; in a space managed by young people, where children learn to be scientists as well as learning science", the sessions will be delivered virtually, over six weeks. 

Week One 

Zooming into class 6TB, we were welcomed by an enthusiastic group of 10 and 11-year-old budding scientists eager to get started with their first Lab_13 online workshop. 

This term's 'Scientist in Residence', Dr. James Daubney opened the session, introducing his work as a Research Scientist at MediCity Nottingham-based Exonate. The biotechnology company is developing a revolutionary eye drop that improves the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases and aims to transform the lives of those suffering from vision loss. This sparked lots of questions from the class, including: 

  • What are the different parts of the eye and how do they function?  

  • What specific foods are beneficial to promoting better eyesight? 

  • What are the most common/uncommon chemicals in fruit and vegetables (and their benefits)? 

  • What causes different eye diseases? 

Following the call and inspired by their enthusiasm and real-world curiosity, our team set about creating experiments that the students could conduct over the next half term.  

As the students were keen to learn about the benefits of fruit and veg and their chemical make-up, we discussed conducting live experiments that involve extracting DNA from strawberries and using red cabbage as an indicator. 

As the sessions will run over six weeks, we also discussed conducting longer-term experiments that will allow students to learn about the process of an investigation (or 'how to be a scientist'); deciding variables, making predictions, and monitoring changes or developments in results over a period of time. Ensuring we selected the ideas that will best enable the students to find answers to their research questions, we planned a myth-busting experiment involving eating a carrot every day to see if it really does improve your eyesight.  

To add another layer, we decided that if the two classes ran different experiments, they could demonstrate their findings by creating and presenting their own science posters to each other at the end of the investigations - another real-life practice of a scientist. Therefore, we selected an experiment for the second class that involves growing bacteria on a petri dish. This will not only enable them to learn about how bacteria can cause eye disease but the importance of personal hygiene, especially when living through a global pandemic.  

Next week we will present these ideas back to the class – we just hope they like our suggestions! 

Week Two  

This week, Claire from We are Pioneer Group began the virtual session, introducing the brand and explaining that scientists (like James) are working in various sectors to solve real-world challenges. Next up, Dr. James and Rick from Ignite! presented our experiment ideas to the groups. It's safe to say the group seemed pretty excited about our plans! 

After a quick vote, it was decided that Ms. Birch's class would conduct the myth-busting investigation into whether carrots really do improve your eyesight, whilst Ms. Barton's class would look at common bacteria and how they can become harmful to our eyesight. 

Time to rope in some help from our Lab Services Coordinator Ryan, who will be preparing our Petri dishes! 

Week Three  

This week the two classes shared with James and Rick their plans for their experiments and how they'd designed them to be as scientifically rigorous as possible.  

Ms. Birch's class had already begun testing their eyesight, with one-third of the class eating carrots, one-third eating apples, and one-third eating nothing extra as the control. The class reported that they had really good eyesight so they were going to have to move the eyesight chart further away to make it more difficult! James explained that it's the vitamin A in carrots that's important for eyesight as these help the cells in the eyes work better. The overwhelming prediction from the pupils was that there won't be much difference between the carrots and the apples because many of the pupils already eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and this led to a discussion about the concept of 'masking' in scientific studies.  

Ms. Barton's class had received the delivery of agar plates and had created a thorough plan for their experiment: testing children's hands in the morning, after break time, and after lunch as well as testing hand sanitiser, soap, and no handwashing. The children had thought a lot about the different variables that might affect their results like what they eat and what they play with, and how to keep the experiment as controlled as possible - doing it all on one day, everyone using their dominant hands, not changing their behaviours. James demonstrated how to use the agar plates, and gave the class some tips on how to label, store and observe them.  

Week Four 

The main investigations are in full swing and the students are beginning to see results already. During the past week, year 6 has been learning more about experiment design and recording their observations of the bacteria growth and eyesight. 

RESULTS

As only one class are investigating the effects of fruit, we wanted to ensure all students got to carry out an experiment that explores the research question, "What are the most common/uncommon chemicals in fruit and vegetables (and their benefits)?"  

Dr. James came up with the brilliant idea of a live experiment to extract DNA from a strawberry. So in this week's session, we introduced the idea to the class. This is a task they'll be carrying out during the week, so James filmed a demo video. 

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Week five  

Our Lab_13 workshops are sparking much curiosity among the students and leading to brilliant questions, such as:  

What if there was no DNA?  

What happens to the DNA in a strawberry when we eat it?  

Do bats have more cones or rods in their eyes? 

These questions are closely linked to the work that Exonate carry out in their labs at MediCity Nottingham, so following the session, Dr. James sent us a video tour of his lab. 

Unfortunately, one of the classes is having to self-isolate, so the other students are kindly looking after their bacteria investigation until they can return to school. As shown below the bacteria in the petri dishes are growing at a very fast rate.  

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The eyesight experiment also continues, with the students eating carrots or fruit each day and testing whether their eyesight is improving on a weekly basis. From this investigation, the students are beginning to draw conclusions about whether carrots really do improve your eyesight.  

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Week Six 

Just like that, our first-ever virtual Lab_13 workshop draws to a close. During the final week, students carried out more experiments using food, this time making a pH indicator from red cabbage. 

Instructed by Dr. James, and supervised by their teachers, the students used red cabbage, boiling water, a coffee filter, and plastic cups to test the PH of various chemicals (vinegar, bicarbonate of soda). The fourth experiment of the workshop, the students are now becoming experts in the process of scientific investigation, making predictions, planning methodology, recording results, and most importantly, asking questions and challenging assumptions. 

The final week also saw the results of the six-week investigations. 

Hypothesis 1 - Do carrots improve our eyesight? 

Millie told us, 'It depends. Some pupils who ate carrots could read the eye charts further away, and some could read lines where the letters get smaller.  But so could some of the apple group and the control group, so we may have to think up another experiment to work out why.' 

Hypothesis 2 – Which is the most effective in preventing bacteria – no hand washing, hand sanitiser, or soapy water? 

Results showed that soap and water were most effective, proving their initial theory that handwashing with soap is more effective than hand gel. Furthermore, the students also found that their hands were cleanest in all groups after lunch. 

It has been an absolute pleasure piloting our Lab_13 Online workshop for pupils at Dovecote Primary School in Clifton. We want to say a big thanks to the teachers for gathering materials and assisting with the investigations, Ignite! for coordinating the sessions, and to Exonate's Dr. James Daubney for all of the wonderful ideas, how-to videos, and leading the experiments with the students. We can't wait for the following sessions! 

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