The outreach project (MBP²) outlined below is an innovative sustained approach to outreach in the sciences which blurs the divide between schools and University. It has involved setting up a genuine research project in a school, supported by the University of Kent Biosciences Department. The project has been so successful in outlining a new approach to genuine science education for both school students and teachers, working with researchers from the University, that the model is being extended out to four other institutions and partner schools with a view that this outreach model could become a manageable model for outreach in the sciences. It is different from many models in that the process allows students to undertake original research in schools and so allows them to take part in the scientific process and contribute to it. In doing so the model of the teacher as part time researcher develops, which has a huge impact on teacher retention and recruitment. The impact achieved within the University framework is significant because the University researchers are involving the school student body in their research programme and the postgraduate scientists are gaining a range of skills in the process. It is a sustainable model for both schools and Universities because it generates increased uptake of the sciences in schools and in the University provides a mechanism for continued training and development of postgraduate scientists.
The initial objectives of the project were to see to what extent school students could become involved in authentic science research. In physics the school had been able to develop a model whereby students worked alongside academics at Imperial College and succeeded in producing research papers in scientific journals at age 17. The University of Kent saw the potential of involving students in a much larger research project linking to their research base. The impact has been of such significance that we have been able to secure a £250k Society Award from the Wellcome Trust to replicate the model as a new innovation in outreach across the UK. This wider roll out is called Authentic Biology.
The original Myelin Basic Protein Project
For the past three years, the Myelin Basic Protein Project (MBP2) has successfully proved that A level school students can engage in genuine academic research in molecular biology and protein biochemistry. More than two hundred students have taken part in the project, learning and applying skills to investigate human myelin basic protein (www.mbp-squared.org ). Six members of staff have been team leaders, learning new techniques and effectively becoming researchers during the project. This whole outreach project has been made possible by the input and constant support of the Biosciences Department at the University of Kent and more than a dozen of their staff, spanning professors to postgraduate students, have acted as demonstrators and mentors for the school students, both in the school and at the University
We have developed a powerful and effective model for providing school students with an authentic experience of doing real science, teachers of being real researchers, and seen that the university research community can engage in a sustained way with local schools.
The MBP2 model allows for three “collapsed curriculum” days each year, where all the students involved in the project are off-timetable and spend the whole day working in the school labs. The day is supported by staff from the university acting as demonstrators and mentors. This is an intensive training session where large numbers of students will start to become familiar with the techniques used in the project. Ongoing work continues between these full research days as staff and student team leaders in the research groups continue to progress the project.
There have been clear outcomes in terms of student engagement and inspiration. The numbers of students taking biological sciences in school and at University have more than tripled with students having the both the confidence in the subjects and more detailed knowledge about what various biomedical courses involve.
The 'Authentic Biology' Project
As the wider ‘Authentic Biology’ project rolls out across the UK at four other Universities (Queen Mary, University of London, Sheffield, Southampton, Bristol) 500 students will be involved in authentic biological research. These students will be able to present and discuss their work with confidence and authority. This will develop a national group of biology teachers and technicians who will have the scientific and educational expertise to lead future work and to become hubs for similar projects in their area. In the initial MBP² project with the University of Kent the school has rolled out twelve training and research days to local schools.
Authentic Biology provides a clear context for university departments to work alongside their local schools in developing an on-going and sustained outreach programme. It provides opportunities for early career university research workers to develop presentation, time management and interpersonal skills both with their colleagues and teachers and with school students.
Towards the end of the project we will be able to produce a guide comprising easy-to-use instructions on how to replicate Authentic Biology in other regions. This will have been collated from the shared experiences of all of the schools involved over the forthcoming three year period. We will hold three research symposia at which students will present their work. These will be open to all of the schools and universities, the charities they support, learned societies and other invited guests. We will invite local schools to send students to the symposia with a view to stimulating interest in the work. Each school will offer an outreach programme to their local schools which might take the form of visits or perhaps hosting workshops similar to the MBP2 workshop which has run successfully at the Langton.
We expect to see a significant increase in the uptake of A-level biology in the participating schools. Furthermore, we will expect to see an increase in the number of students applying to study STEM subjects at University, especially bioscience related courses. Students will have had direct experience of the type of work that their choice of course will involve so they will be much better informed of course content. They will be able to present themselves as confident, scientifically literate candidates both in their UCAS personal statements and at interviews for courses. They will have had the opportunity to speak to university research staff about their work and will therefore be better informed about possible courses available to them. Both of these outputs are directly measurable.
The three key outcomes achieved are:
- school students are given opportunities to work alongside science researchers doing authentic science and they become inspired to continue with the sciences further
- school teachers are given the chance to work on the latest techniques of science alongside science researchers, their continued professional development is transformed as they effectively become part time researchers and they are reinvigorated in their subject
- academic researchers and postgraduate students work alongside school students and teachers enhancing and developing a range of skills