Science Busking at Kirkstall festival

So after a busy few days I’ve finally got time to write up how it went.  It was an excellent day and the busiest Kirkstall festival ever, as the biggest free community event in the UK with over 25,000 people going on just the one day. This meant it was a great chance to get out and speak to the public about DNA and the research we do.

On the day we really ran with two events, The first was DNA Ladders, explaining how so much DNA Fits into our cells using a rope ladder and hook-on ‘nucleotides’ this was a great springboard to talk about epigenetics.

This was a great chance to teach people about DNA and a bit of cell biology and the kids seemed to really enjoy playing at being chromatin.

The other activity that went excellently was DNA Bracelets, Using bracelets and beads of four colours we  got people to make their own bracelets. This was great as it could be done at either as an introduction to base paring where one strand of ‘DNA’; was made and participants simply matched up the ‘base pairs’, the activity also allowed expansion into replication, where we could talk about the different enzymes that make it possible and also translation, allowing people to write words by coding for amino acids.

Originally I thought ordering 1500 beads was overkill but I’m glad I did as this was really well received and we got through loads. Again this activity was a great chance to speak to people about genetics, stuff like mutations and heredity.

Though we had plans and resources for another couple of activities,  one around singing a gene and another, a dance activity based on mitosis, we were so busy we couldn’t cover it all and we will hopefully bring these to another event in the near future.

On the day  we spoke directly to about 400 people so it was great and though tiring was excellent to speak to people outside of schools who I’d never get to talk to about my research.

As in my previous post I noticed the lack of biology specific activities that I could find on ‘Science Busking’ and having developed some of our own activities I think this first foray into it was a really great experience and one I’d love the chance to repeat again sometime.

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Leeds Festival Of Science: My Outreach Project

Back in November whilst I was working down in Wales I got an email about becoming and Education Outreach Fellow for my faculty. Outreach is something I have always wanted to be involved in and since some work in the first year of my PhD with  a primary school have struggled to get into it really.

I applied for the position and to my surprise got it. This has involved working with the engagement department of the university and has had a big emphasis on delivering sessions during Leeds Festival of Science and British Science week.  During this 2-week period I worked alongside the other biology outreach fellow doing practical workshops in high schools in west Yorkshire. We ran a session on DNA Gel electrophoresis and discussed the example of the Human  Papilloma Virus, something that many of the kids were aware of from previous vaccination programmes.

The sessions were really rewarding and whilst seeing it as a taster of teaching there were definitely some moments we were thrown in at the deep end which was a steep learning curve but really enjoyable and a great experience. It was interesting to see how much emphasis is given to DNA technologies in the syllabus and how this has changed even in the last ten years since I did my GCSE’s.  Having gone to a fairly rural school this is the sort of activity that would not have occurred in my high school and form the reaction of some of the teachers students this was definitely out of the ordinary.

The materials we were using were form a dedicated scientific education company which made running the sessions really easy with colour coded tubes and pre calibrated pipettes, it really took the stress out of planning and preparing when in the schools. Over the 2 weeks we ran sessions for almost 150 students which was busy but really rewarding, we have yet to receive the majority of the feedback from students and teachers but it was really good to engage children of this age and demonstrate how science isn’t just facts and talk about what we do as scientists.