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Schools Outreach ~ Jade Oh ~Biological Sciences

As university shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BioSoc's usual in-person volunteering activities also had to go on hiatus. As many of us have simply not yet had the chance to do some fulfilling volunteering in the past year, here's a brief rundown of some of our pre-COVID activities which are hopefully soon to return in full swing!

Warwick Bright Stars aims to engage young (primary level) students from disadvantaged backgrounds in a variety of subjects. The programme especially prioritises schools which fulfil certain criteria, such as being in an area of high deprivation or have a high percentage of pupils on free school meals. Student volunteers from Life Sciences were involved in all parts of the process, from meetings to discuss which topics to explore to the creation of our activity boxes.

In early 2020, we successfully created a “Lesson in a Box” resource on the digestive system, a hands-on and highly interactive hour-long lesson for students to learn about how food is digested. With the use of an iPad app developed collaboratively by Warwick Life Sciences and Monash University, we were able to use augmented reality to display all the organs involved in digestion. Next, the activity involved getting student’s hands dirty by simulating various stages of digestion with real-life food – for example, students would physically mash bananas and water in a permeable stocking tube to represent water absorption in the large intestine. By maximising the physicality and interactivity of our lesson, we hoped that it would be especially memorable for young students!

Additionally, the creation of a Lesson in a Box aimed to increase outreach by also being a stand-alone “product:” if a school or teacher requests, the box of resources can be mailed out to them free of charge, with full and detailed instructions on how to carry out the activity even without our volunteers there.

To cater to older students, we also contributed to various university Open Day and Pathways programmes, sharing how and why we chose to study Biosciences at university, as well as providing mock lecture experiences for students considering a similar path. This involved various activities ranging from presentations of final-year dissertation projects, to simulations of seminar discussions with sixth form students. We also supported teaching staff in going out to schools to deliver more advanced workshops with techniques such as gel electrophoresis.

Unfortunately, all these activities had to be suspended for safety, especially since our lessons were so hands-on and thus terrible for social distancing!

When COVID hit, we had to go digital – such as with our development of a virtual Lesson in a Box on fermentation. To maintain the interactivity of the lesson despite working from home (and also inspired by the widespread trend of home baking) we taught students how to make their own sourdough starter with full instructions in the form of PowerPoint slides and a video. We also aimed to practice their observation skills, which are undeniably essential in the sciences, by creating a tracking sheet for them to observe and make notes on the feeding and care of their starter. Lastly, we hoped to capitalise on the then-popular game Among Us, making a “choose your own adventure” set of YouTube videos where students had to choose the fermented “imposter” out of a crew of different foods.

As we work towards returning to a new normal, we hope that you will join us in our quest to engage students of all ages and backgrounds and expose them to the opportunities of life sciences. Volunteering with students is a great way to give back by reducing obstacles faced by disadvantaged communities, gain experience for your CV, explore a career in teaching or outreach, or simply remind yourself why you chose to study a life science degree!

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