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Location, location, habitat – who shares our neighbourhood?

Posted by on December 8, 2014

By David Urry, regional coordinator for the Society of Biology.
Applications for the regional grant scheme close on 12th January 2015.
Please contact David to find out more or to get involved with running activities in your local area.

bug box 1Curiosity is an innate and essential human quality. It is also the main driver for scientific endeavour. A healthy nosiness is an important tool in the arsenal of any budding scientist trying to make sense of the world around them, so I am delighted to report that the art and science of curiosity is alive and well in rural West Norfolk.

Under the guidance of two local biologists, Dr Ray Mathias and Mr Dennis Doman MSB CBiol, around a hundred local primary school children, and their parents and teachers were encouraged to act as nosey neighbours, discovering who or what they share their local habitat with. No stone was left unturned, no quadrat left uncounted, and last week I had the pleasure of visiting the colourful exhibition of results created by the schools. I attended a special assembly at St Andrew’s CE VA Primary School in North Pickenham, where aspiring young biologists expertly reported upon their findings and those of the neighbouring school, Caston CE VA Primary.

“The students are proud of their learning and the teachers and parents are pleased and proud of the students.” Dennis Doman

The project was borne out of Ray and Dennis’ desire to stimulate an interest in science, biology and nature amongst local primary school pupils and was funded by the Society of Biology’s regional grant scheme (recently opened for a new round of funding). A grant of £430 enabled Ray and Dennis to purchase equipment, such as a moth trap and sweep nets, required to undertake summer and autumn surveys at both schools. However, while listening to the children report enthusiastically about what they had learnt in the assembly, it was quite clear that although a small injection of funding was important, the real success of the project was down to the efforts, enthusiasm and expertise of Ray and Dennis, and the other staff.

IMG_1700The Head of St Andrew’s Primary in North Pickenham, Mrs Emily Gore-Rowe, explained that working closely with Ray and Dennis early on was very important, as was placing the project at the heart of learning and class activities from the onset. As a result, the project became a basis for not just science, but art, maths and literacy as well. This meant that the teachers didn’t feel like they had to ‘fit in’ the activity around their normal classes. This cross-curricular activity was beautifully displayed in the drawings, diagrams, paintings and reports that decorated the school hall.

“The children are much more aware of what is happening around them in their environment, even when they are just outside during breaks”
“We now see the children ‘bug hunting’ as part of their child-directed play and break times”

Teaching Assistants at Caston and North Pickenham

The pupils not only discovered and recorded the natural world in and around their school, but learnt about sampling techniques and the scientific process as well. A big part of the project was comparing what was recorded in the summer to what was found in the autumn. Students found the moth trap perhaps the most compelling and through the expert knowledge of Ray, were able to learn about a great number of species and appreciate the diversity that exists within the British Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). We learnt in the assembly how very few moths were recorded at the school in October, but before I had a chance to become overly concerned by this news, another student thankfully explained that this was because many of the moths were going into hibernation!

The Society of Biology has many goals and aims. Promoting biology and encouraging a wide interest and appreciation of the life sciences are, in my opinion, of most importance. We are blessed with an army of volunteers throughout the country, made up of our membership and beyond, who operate as part of local branch committees, as well as independently, and devote their time, enthusiasm and expertise to this shared goal. Part of my job involves supporting our members in this aim throughout the UK and acknowledging the achievements made possible only through their endeavour. I would like to thank Ray and Dennis, as well as St Andrew’s Primary, for inviting me to visit and learn about the discoveries and experiences of the students that took part. These are best put by the students themselves, so I will leave you with their words and images of their fabulous work…

“It was nice to work outside for once; I liked doing investigations because it was more fun than inside. Dr Mathias and Mr Doman made a good session and I hope they can come again – it was fun.”

“I liked finding the moth that looked like the pavement because it was camouflaged, I enjoyed working outside using the string to find the bugs and flowers next to it “

“I liked all the different kinds of moths, especially the hawk moth. Sweeping the long grass with nets was good because I liked looking at all sorts of wildlife.”

swallow prominent
“I enjoyed investigating all of the insects and moths in the moth box and being able to work with our friends.”
Applications for the regional grant scheme close on 12th January 2015.
Please contact David to find out more or to get involved with running activities in your local area.

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