Jerusa and I both jumped at the opportunity to design a recipe that resulted in the most realistic-looking poo. Lesley had shown us an amazing YouTube video that served as a great starting point for planning the second session, ‘How our digestive system works’. We decided to use digestive biscuits as the base since they crumble easily and would help the poo hold its shape. The next obvious ingredient was chocolate (poo is brown of course!). We used cocoa powder, rather than chocolate bars, since it would mix in well. We played around with other ingredients to try to get the texture and colour just right, finally deciding on oats and half a banana. Lastly, we had to experiment with the volume of liquid to use as the ‘saliva’, ‘gastric enzymes’ and ‘stomach acid’. We needed enough liquid to make sure all the contents mashed together nicely, but not too much so that the mixture was still scoopable! The next part to experiment with was the type of tights to use for the ‘small intestine’. We found that sheer tights worked best otherwise it was hard to squeeze out the liquid. The more liquid that comes out, the more solid the poo! As a last-minute addition, we decided to add ‘microbes’ in the ‘large intestine’. We used different sized and shaped sequins to represent our microscopic little friends.
We wanted to also prepare a protocol that the kids could follow which contained all of the facts we wanted them to learn. The most important lesson we learned from watching Holly and Grace run the first session was that we needed to simplify our language a lot! We realised that the first draft of our protocol was going to be hard for the kids to read and understand, so we revamped it and added in some fun multiple choice questions as well as a keyword-definition section for the kids to complete.
To prepare for the big day, we made sure everything was measured out and each group (4 groups of 3 kids) had a kit with all the materials inside. We thought the Falcon tubes gave it a nice, science-y touch! We also made sure to purchase latex-free gloves, aprons, and towels to cover the tables as we anticipated there would be a huge mess to come!
Preparations are well and truly under way for the first session of our after-school science club. Disposable aprons and gloves, folders, and ingredients for edible poo and farting experiments have been purchased. Grace and Holly are, no doubt, debating whether you can ever have enough glitter, though the fabulousness may have to wait till they’ve found a laminator for their paper organs and bugs. No pressure … only two more days to go!
Last week, the PhD students and I visited Primrose Hill Primary School. It was an opportunity for Kiana, Marine, Grace, Jerusa and Holly to meet Niamh Keating for the first time, and for us all to see how children are being taught science at school. We spent half an hour in a class with year 5 children who were studying gravity. They put us to shame with their knowledge of the difference between air resistance and friction! It was great to see how enthusiastic all the children were to share with us what they had learnt, and how they were designing experiments to test various concepts associated with gravity.
After our class time, we sat with Niamh and went through the various activities the PhD students have planned for the first few weeks of the science club. Niamh was really impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment the students have for the club, and how they have taken real ownership of it. She gave useful guidance on how activities could be modified to work with year 5 and 6 children, and suggested we changed the week 4 session to allow the children time to prepare items for their week 5 show-and-tell session with their parents.
We now have a plan… Week 1: introduction to the body, its organs and bacteria with Holly and Grace, who are going to run the session as a game show (I’ve heard glitter mentioned more than once!). Week 2: digestion with Jerusa and Kiana, who are going to illustrate the whole process with a hands-on activity that involves making edible poo.
Week 3: Marine is going to teach the children all about farting, with the power of baker’s yeast, sugar, balloons and warm water. It’s going to be fun, and is the session Niamh and I are most excited about (we are 12!). Week 4: the children will prepare posters, videos and props to show their parents what they’ve learnt in their time with us. Week 5: show-and-tell, which will be a great opportunity to get feedback from the children as to how we can improve the science club for its next outing.
We plan to document the development of the various activities we’ve been working on, and will be sharing our teaching resources with the public via this blog in the coming months.
The idea of the after-school science club came from a conversation I had with Niamh Keating, Reception Teacher and Leader of Learning for STEAM at Primrose Hill Primary School after I’d attended a meeting of Camden-based science teachers at the Wellcome Trust. I was keen to go into schools to teach kids about gut health and the microbiome, while Niamh wanted her year 4 and 5 students to be exposed to science that would build upon what they had been learning as part of the core curriculum. We both thought it would be a good idea to set up an after-school science club, as this would allow us to explore a topic in more depth than a one-off STEM activity. I couldn’t manage this undertaking on my own, so I asked PhD students working within the Department of Surgery and Cancer, and the wider Faculty of Medicine if they were interested in getting involved in developing outreach activities. Five intrepid volunteers took up the challenge, and you’ll be reading posts from them in the coming months.
The great thing about setting up an after-school club from scratch is the PhD students get a real insight into how much time and effort (a lot!) goes into preparing classroom-based activities, they have an opportunity to share their knowledge with a non-expert and enthusiastic audience, and they get teaching experience in a friendly environment. It’ll be as much of a learning experience for them as it will be for the kids at Primrose Hill, and the experience and knowledge the PhD students gain over the coming months will allow them to work towards Higher Education Academy Fellowships, demonstrating their professionalism and commitment in learning and teaching.