Mother Earth: Taking Research to School Children During the Pandemic
1 September 2020
Public Engagement - case study
In 2020 summer term, as schools closed down due to the corona virus pandemic, Cowley Road Works (CRW) and researchers and museum staff from the University came together to bring a planned schools engagement project to life for children to access from their homes.
This project was originally conceived as a public engagement with research activity that would see school students taking part in research engagement workshops and then creating carnival floats with support from community artists.
With families stuck indoors, often with limited resources, and schools on pause, Cowley Road Works quickly reworked the projects to create interactive, engaging, hands-on learning opportunities that were hugely impactful on children facing some very challenging circumstances.
All over East Oxford, children in schools with high levels of Pupil Premium entitlement have been learning about insects, bees and volcanoes from Oxford University Researchers, and creating their own fabulous paper insects, model bees, bee hotels and fire god masks.
Cowley Road Works reported that "155 children from the Virtual School, St Gregory the Great and St Francis School engaged with these exciting and important at home science and art learning projects. We are so grateful to the MPLS Public Engagement for supporting this important work."
Taking the Project Online
The initial plans were to offer offer one scientific engagement workshop led by University professionals, followed by up to three response workshops in each school, where young people continue their independent research into the subject, and design and make their own large wicker make, lanterns and costumes. CRW Schools Coordinator worked with the schools to see what kind of learning model could work for their students, and process we followed was:
- CRW Producer and Schools Coordinator liaising with Headteachers and year group teachers to design project and match subject matters with schools.
- Artists and Researchers matched, and discussions begin on topics and different approaches.
- Based on learning topics, each artist design a science inspired arts project which can be undertaken from home using materials found about the house and in the recycling bin.
- CRW developed a guide to filming at home, using a phone, tablet or camera, for researchers and artists to use in creating their films
- Raw video footage was sent to CRW, and our Technical Manager worked intensely on this to edit a film project guide for each of the four projects, interspersing research learning and arts activity.
- All four videos were posted online at the Cowley Road Works website, and shared via social media.
- CRW developed downloadable guides demonstrating how to access the project and what materials needed to be gathered – water bottles, cereal boxes etc. These were accompanied by How to Make guides for the art project, and worksheets about the learning materials.
- Projects were shared with teachers and work began!
The Projects Themselves
- Researcher Liam Crowley’s Bees Learning Project & Artist Groovy Su’s Buff Tailed Bee project
- MNH Education Officer Chris Jarvis’s Insects Learning Project & Artist Caitlin Howell’s Bee Hotel
- MNH Education Officer Chris Jarvis’s Second Insects Learning Project & Artist Emily Cooling’s Paper Insect Display
- Researcher David Pyle’s Volcanoes Learning Project & Artist Mani’s Fire God Mask
CRW reported that their key lessons came when two of the schools let them know that home learning was proving a challenge for their students as parents were unable to engage and the majority of the students did not have access to a computer at home, and therefore home schooling was minimal and many pupils were not engaging at all. So CRW came up with new measures to combat these challenges. They created packs with craft materials for three of the projects. These packs also contained any printed materials, like instructions, templates and worksheets. They also included parent information sheets pointing families to the videos on theCRW website, which was made accessible for mobile phones and tablets. These packs were made up, delivered and left to sit for 72 hours to help negate any covid-related risks.
Evaluation was a challenge but they did manage to collect email feedback from teachers:
“The children loved it. They were really engaged throughout and the bug investigations at the beginning were a fantastic hook. The resources were of a very high standard and the instructions given very clear. The videos were engaging and informative, given instructions accessible by all. Great project. Would love to it again.”
– KS2 Teacher
“The Beagle Bubble enjoyed creating insects for Cowley Road Carnival. We liked creating little habitats for them and thinking about their features and then putting our own spin on to them.”
– Year 5 & 6 Teacher
“The packs were good, with a good range of resources for the children to use - great in the current situation, no need to share. Most children rated the packs and activities 4 or 5 stars (5 stars max) a high rating from this group! The children really enjoyed the learning activities and it was a great way of settling the children back into school after a long period away. The pupils found the art relaxing and this was a way for the children to nurture their own mental health, providing them with time to work on something by themselves in a quiet and purposeful way.”
– Primary Head of School
Researchers reported that it was a brilliant working with the artists, and had a positive, creative experience.
CRW reported that participants supported young people to develop confidence, self-esteem, and to find a calm and creative activity to engage with in a chaotic and changing world during the pandemic and gained:
- Improved scientific understanding. Films and worksheets by University of Oxford professionals gave young people the opportunity to engage in new subject matter and learn from top researchers.
- Challenge to rise to a new academic level. Being exposed to top academics and museum professionals challenged participants to think of themselves as scientists at home, hunting out insects and noting their features in their record books, drawing their details and then creating their own models as they rise to a new level of engagement with the science explored in the films.
- Access to creative thinking and developed artistic skills as make-at-home projects encouraged them to use their imagination, to respond creatively to a theme and rethink the materials in their home as arts potential.
- Research skills as the young people delve into the learning materials as they plan their art work.
- Creativity as young people have the change to explore other aspects of learning, to envision their own creation and bring it to life, with guidance from professional artists.
- Improved mathematical and physics skills. Often those who struggle to engage with maths enjoy practical applications – measuring with rulers, folding 3D shapes.
- Confidence through having their contribution valued by professional scientists and artists. We encouraged students and families to photograph their work, and we shared and celebrated these on the Cowley Road Works website and across our social media channels, signposting them to our 10,000 strong Carnival at Home audience on 5 July 2020.
Huge thanks to the team at CRW who put in a huge amount of effort to adapt and bring these projects to life for school students.
What to read next
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This new guide from the Centre for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement presents a range of 'recipes' of how to do various different event formats virtually, with plenty of useful practical tips and tricks.