I bet you didn't know...

Introducing cutting-edge science research projects to primary children is an exciting way to stimulate children and teachers and provides a rich context for learning


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PSTT Fellow, Dr Julia Nash

Children remember more snippets of information and are really engaged when learning about cutting-edge science research.

I bet you didn't know... Blood tests could detect cancers describes how scientists are designing new methods for early diagnosis of cancer to improve patients’ chance of survival. Many children will know someone who has had a cancer. This article explains what cancer is (abnormal cell growth), where cancer might occur, and how doctors can identify cancers, in language that primary children can understand and suggests questions for teachers and children to consider in the classroom. It links cutting-edge science research and real-life problems to the primary science curriculum: The Human Body and Health and Disease.

Two investigations (suitable for socially distanced learning) are described in the accompanying teacher guide for children aged 7-11 years:

  • Problem solving: How do cells multiply?
  • Research: What does DNA look like?

WHY

Cutting-edge science research can provide incredible stimulus to primary children's emergent ideas in science. Devising science investigations that are linked to this cutting-edge science research helps to contextualise the research.

Teachers who have used these articles with primary age children have found there has been a positive impact on children's learning through increased engagement with practical science activities, more independent questioning and a deeper understanding of science concepts, as well as an appreciation of the impact of science on real life. Linking with cutting-edge science at an early age is, we believe, an exciting way to stimulate children and their teachers and provides a rich context for learning.

You can read more about this project in the following papers:

pdf

Primary Science (Special Issue: PSEC 2019) January 2020, 8-11 [587.77kB]

Cutting-edge science in primary schools: support for classroom practitioners and the development of teacher guides

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pdf

Journal of Emergent Science, Summer 2019 (17) 40-44 [1.03MB]

Cutting-edge science research and its impact on primary school children's scientific enquiry

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HOW

Cutting-edge science research can be linked to the primary science curriculum.

Fellows of the PSTT's Primary Science Teacher College, who have backgrounds in science research and experience teaching in primary classrooms, are using their expertise to gather recent research papers (published within the last two years in peer-reviewed journals) and to write articles which explain cutting-edge science research in language that primary children can understand. These 'I bet you didn't know...' articles explain what scientists have done and what they have discovered, suggest questions for children and teachers to consider in the classroom and describe activities that children can do to mirror the research. We will publish a new 'I bet you didn't know...' article describing cutting-edge science research every month on this web-page.

All of the 'I bet you didn't know...' articles can be freely downloaded and are listed in chronological order (most recent first), below the ARTICLES tab.

Some 'I bet you didn't know...' articles have been published in the PSTT Why & How Newsletter which you can access here.

A Teacher Guide PowerPoint accompanies each article to provide:

  • suggestions of how the learning might fit into your science curriculum
  • guidance on appropriate age groups
  • quick activities that could be used as a starter to engage children in a related science lesson, as an extension at the end of a lesson, or even as an assembly
  • longer investigations that could occupy a whole science lesson
  • symbols indicating the enquiry approaches and enquiry skills used in the activities
  • questions to stimulate further learning
  • maths links that could be made to develop maths skills
  • writing links that would could be made to develop writing in different genres

You can download all the Teacher Guides, listed in chronolgical order (most recent first), below the TEACHER GUIDE tab.

ARTICLES

pdf

Blood tests could detect cancers [446.66kB]

June 2020

Curriulum links: The Human Body; Health and Disease.

This article explains what cancer is and describes how scientists are designing new methods for early diagnosis of cancer to improve patients' chances of survival.

DOWNLOAD

pdf

Evolution of life in cities [955.28kB]

June 2020

Curriulum links: Habitats; Adaptation; Evolution.

This article gives examples of animals that have adapted to live successfully in urban areas.

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pdf

What small magnetic robots can do [369.07kB]

May 2020

Curriculum links: Forces (magnets & friction); Irreversible change.

This article explains how scientists have created sub-millimetre soft magnetic robots that can travel through small vessels inside the body.

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pdf

The science of hand-washing [337.46kB]

May 2020

Curriculum links: Uses of materials.

This article explains how soap molecules lift dirt away from the skin and includes a simple activity which primary children can do at school or at home.

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pdf

Toilets in the future may charge your mobile phone! [1.09MB]

May 2020

Curriculum links: Uses of materials; Separating materials.

This article explains why and how scientists have designed a toilet that flushes without water and plumbing.

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pdf

What is happening to the bees [1.00MB]

April 2020

Curriculum links: Food Chains; Habitats; Classification; Causal Relationships.

Why are populations of bees in decline? Some scientists suggest that pesticides may cause reduced honey bee populations. This article looks at the importance of bees as pollinators and describes the difference between coincidental correlations and causal relationships.

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pdf

Catching flu might depend on the type of place in which you live [701.79kB]

March 2020

Curriculum links: Staying Healthy; Microbes (viruses).

How quickly will a virus spread? Scientists have suggested that the timing and scale of flu epidemics could be linked to the climate and the types of cities in which people live.

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pdf

Dragons could save us from bad bacteria [695.12kB]

March 2020

Curriculum links: Staying Healthy; Microbes (bacteria).

With reduced efficacy of antibiotics, how will humans fight 'superbugs' in the future? Researchers have discovered a small protein in the blood of the Komodo dragon that has antimicrobial properties.

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pdf

Whale song is changing [665.90kB]

February 2020

Curriculum links: Sound; Environmental Change.

The frequency (pitch) of whale song is decreasing, but why?

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pdf

Miracle healing could come from the axolotl [797.08kB]

January 2020

Curriculum links: Amphibians; Life Cycles; DNA.

Would you like to regenerate a new arm or leg? Find out why scientists are interested in the axolotl and its DNA.

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pdf

Slug slime might be the answer for medical adhesives [303.02kB]

December 2019

Curriculum links: Uses of Materials.

Biological adhesives must be flexible, non-toxic, able to stick to wet surfaces and human tissue. Scientists have been studying slug mucus which adheres very strongly to wet surfaces.

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pdf

Computers can measure the happiness of a city [1.13MB]

November 2019

Curriculum links: Gases; Air Pollution; Climate Change; Pattern Seeking.

How does pollution affect your happiness? Chinese researchers have used social media to measure how air pollution affects the happiness of their population.

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pdf

The Disastrous Effects of Historical Ink [168.35kB]

October 2019

Curriculum links: Separating mixtures; Irreversible Change.

Why do historical documents degrade? Researchers found that the acidity of iron gall inks and the thickness of the paper affect the degradation of old documents.

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pdf

One of Saturn's moons may be a home for extra-terrestrial life [285.23kB]

September 2019

Curriculum links: Space; Habitats.

Could there be life on Enceladus? Images beamed back to Earth from space probe Cassini have shown that one of Saturn's moons has gigantic plumes of hydrogen gas spurting through cracks in the surface ice.

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pdf

How plants know good microbes from bad ones [1.31MB]

June 2019

Curriculum links: Plant microbes; Chemical Signalling; Electricity.

Plants decide whether root bacteria are beneficial or not by comparing shapes, sizes, chemical signals and electrical signals.

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pdf

Stripes and concealment [1.22MB]

February 2019

Curriculum links: Habitats; Adaptation.

Scientists made artificial moths to investigate which types of patterned moth were most likely to be taken by birds.

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pdf

How to clean water using a molecular sieve [251.55kB]

October 2018

Curriculum links: Separating Mixtures.

Scientists have made a molecular sieve that can remove salt particles from salty water.

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pdf

How to play planetary hide and seek [240.58kB]

June 2018

Curriculum links: Space; Our Senses; Magnets.

Scientists (both female) suggest that a 9th planet is hidden in the Kuiper Belt.

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pdf

How to grow a new skin [247.76kB]

February 2018

Curriculum links: The Human Body; Staying Healthy.

Scientists have grown genetically modified stem cells into sheets of skin 50-150 cm squared.

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pdf

How to calculate the age of a shark [245.10kB]

October 2017

Curriculum links: Growing Older; Calibration Curves.

Scientists have generated a calibration curve (length versus age) for sharks born post-1950 and using this to estimate the ages of pre-1950s sharks.

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TEACHER GUIDES

pptx

Blood tests could detect cancers [658.72kB]

Problem solving: how do cells multiply?

Research: what does DNA look like?

DOWNLOAD

pptx

Evolution of life in cities [2.35MB]

Pattern seeking: survey of local habitats.

Problem solving: how do animals and plants adapt to live in urban habitats?

Pattern seeking/Grouping and classification: can yopu record variation in your class?

Comparative testing: which colours give moths an advantage over white moths?

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pptx

What small magnetic robots can do [5.07MB]

Identifying, grouping and classifying (ages 4-7): Which materials would be best for a magnetic robot?

Comparative/fair testing (ages 7-11): Guide a magnetic robot through rings and tubes and investigate how the thickness of card or the surface affects the ability of the magnet to control the robot.

Comparative/fair testing (ages 7-11): Which materials can be made magnetic? Which magnetic metals can survive best in a wet environment?

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pptx

Toilets in the future may charge your mobile phone! [1.30MB]

  • Research: What is it like to live without flushing toilets?

    Research: Create flow diagrams to show how toilets work.

    Comparative testing: What is the best material to scrape the toilet bowl clean?

    Problem solving: Can you make an Archimedes screw to lift a solid object?

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    pptx

    What is happening to the bees [929.11kB]

    Problem solving: Where do apples come from?

    Sorting & classifying: Can you sort these bees?

    Pattern seeking: Can you identify a direct relationship between two variables?

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    pptx

    Catching flu might depend on the type of place in which you live [908.68kB]

    Comparative testing: How can viruses spread from one person to another?

    Comparative testing: How can hand washing limit the spread of viruses?

    Problem solving: Can you design a city where virus spread is reduced?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Dragons could save us from bad bacteria [1.24MB]

    Observation over time: How can bacteria can spread?

    Research: What do bacteria look like?

    Problem solving: How can reduce the spread of infection in hospitals and schools?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Whale song is changing [18.60MB]

    Pattern seeking: How can you change the pitch (frequency) of a sound wave?

    Pattern seeking: How do noise levels vary in your environment?

    Pattern seeking: Which frequency sounds travel furthest?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Miracle healing could come from the axolotl [840.37kB]

    Problem solving: Can you make 'complementary' DNA bracelets?

    Research: Can you build a DNA molecule?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Slug slime might be the answer for medical adhesives [5.62MB]

    Fair testing: Which common adhesives are the strongest?

    Problem solving: Can you make glue from different ingredients?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Computers can measure the happiness of a city [1.50MB]

    Pattern seeking: How can we find out what makes our class happiest?

    Pattern seeking / Observation over time: Three activities to find out more about air and air pollution.

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    The Disastrous Effects of Historical Ink [1.32MB]

    Comparative / fair testing: Which type of pen is best?

    Observing over time / Sorting & classifying: Can you make a pH indicator and test for acidity?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    One of Saturn's moons may be a home for extra-terrestrial life [7.24MB]

    Comparative / fair testing: Can you recreate the geysers found on Enceladus? How high can your geyser reach?

    Problem solving: Can you calculate the 'rate' of running water?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    How plants know good microbes from bad ones [3.60MB]

    Problem solving: How can 'bad' microbes attach to bad ones?

    Comparative testing: How does the plant work out whether to let the microbes stay? An investigation to test electrical conductivity.

    Observing over time: How does the plant work out whether to let the microbes stay? An investigation of pH using red cabbage indicator.

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Stripes and concealment [3.88MB]

    Research: Why are some animals camouflaged?

    Pattern seeking: What colours/patterns are best for a moth?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    How to clean water using a molecular sieve [2.54MB]

    Pattern seeking / Problem solving: How does a sieve work?

    Problem solving: Can you make a model to explain how researchers are cleaning water?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    Planetary hide and seek [2.66MB]

    Problem solving: Can you find an object without using your eyes using sounds, smells or magnetism?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    I bet you didn't know... how to grow a new skin

    Research: Make a model showing all the layers in your skin.

    Research: What does a cell look like?

    Problem solving: How much skin do you have?

    DOWNLOAD

    pptx

    How to calculate the age of a shark [2.17MB]

    Pattern seeking: Would height be a good measure of children's ago in your class or in the whole school?

    DOWNLOAD

    PSTT AUTHORS

    Meet the Fellows of the Primary Science Teaching College who are writing 'I bet you didn't know...' articles. Before starting a career in teaching, all of them obtained a PhD in a science-related subject and have experience of science research.

    Dr Craig EARLY, ChemIST

    Craig attended Loughborough University, studying Medicinal & Pharmaceutical Chemistry, before embarking on his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. Following a short spell in Bournemouth as a Sales Executive, Craig moved into teaching, following a successful completion of the PGCE at the University of East Anglia. His first teaching job involved improving science teaching at a large 3 form entry primary school, taking the school through numerous awards, and being recognised as a “hub of science excellence” within the area during his 8 years there. He was awarded the Primary Science Teacher of the Year in 2015.

    Craig has written numerous primary science materials for websites such as the BBC and Teachit Primary, as well as writing the supporting documents for 137 primary resources on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s “Learn Chemistry” platform, and articles for Association of Science Education publications.

    Currently, Craig is the Head of an Academy at a school in Lincolnshire which is part of an 8 school Multi-Academy Trust. He leads the Science vision and implementation across the 7 primaries, and is involved in delivering training for ITT students, as well as being an SLE in Science Education for the Teaching School Alliance.

    Craig continues to promote the importance of science teaching and learning within the primary sector, and has presented at numerous conferences, as well as delivering CPD through the STEM Learning network. He currently sits on the strategic vision group for the Science Learning Partnership in Lincolnshire, as well as being an elected member of the Education Division Council within the Royal Society of Chemistry.

    Dr Rebecca Ellis, BioLOGIST/Engineer

    After achieving a 1st class BSc (Hons) studying Biology at Bristol University, Rebecca had her first taste of research working at the Natural History Museum, London for the Parasitic Worms Department. She then moved to Cranfield University and began her four year Engineering Doctorate (EngD) on the 'Development of a Novel Medium to Improve the Performance of Biological Aerated Filters (BAFs)'.

    Generally used as a secondary sewage treatment process, BAFs provide a high rate, compact solution through maintaining a concentrated biomass in the form of a biofilm. The medium to support the biofilm also removes suspended solids by depth filtration and so regular backwashing is required. With industrial sponsorship from English China Clays International, Rebecca worked for 6 months 'in house' at St. Austell where she could engage with the clay foaming process directly and use Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy to observe biofilm growth.

    After leaving research, she gained a PGCE from Bath University. She has taught for 18 years at a junior school in Warwickshire and has two children.

    Dr Julia Nash, Biochemist

    Julia worked in science research for over 13 years. After completing her first degree in Pathobiology with subsidiary Chemistry at the University of Reading, she moved to the University of Kent to study for a PhD in biochemistry. Here she spent 3 years undertakingStudies of the Assembly of Mammalian Neurofilaments’. Neurofilaments are proteins that link together to form filaments in neuronal cells which maintain structural integrity and function. Julia’s work suggests a model for the structure and make up of these neurofilaments.

    In 2003 Julia joined the Chemorepulsion Lab, first based at University College London, as a research assistant. The lab then moved to The United Medical and Dental Schools Physiology Department at St Thomas’s London and finally to the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (Guy’s Campus, King’s College London). For over ten years, she worked on neuronal development in the brain as well as isolating and identifying proteins responsible for neurotoxicity in the brain.

    After leaving research, Julia gained her PGCE from Canterbury Christ Church University and has since taught for 12 years in Surrey. She has recently becoming a PSQM Hub leader and Specialist Leader in Education for the Tandridge Teaching Alliance.

    Dr Katharine Pemberton, Marine Biologist

    Before teaching, Katharine worked as a researcher in aquatic science. She gained her first degree in Marine Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and then began her PhD research at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

    During her PhD, Katharine investigated different ways of measuring and estimating primary production in the marine environment. An understanding of primary production is really important to help scientists make predictions about levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to help understand climate change. The research showed that different measurement methods gave different estimates of primary production, which, when extrapolated to global scales, could lead to huge variations in climate change predictions.

    After her PhD, Katharine took a post-doctoral research post in Canada. The aim of the project was to link in situ estimates of photosynthesis to water quality in the Laurentian Great Lake. The research showed that rates of photosynthesis could indicate the presence of particular species of phytoplankton. The presence of certain species of phytoplankton have a negative impact on water quality.

    Having visited schools as a researcher, Katharine discovered how rewarding teaching could be. After having children, she moved back to the UK with her husband and retrained as a primary teacher. She has been teaching at Modbury Primary School in Devon for the last five years.

    Professor Dudley Shallcross, Atmospheric chemist

    Dudley Shallcross is CEO of the Primary Science Teaching Trust. He has won several awards for his research in science (atmospheric chemistry) and contributions to science education and science engagement at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. He became Director of the Primary Science Teaching Trust in 2010 and established the Trust's College of excellent primary science teachers that aims to draw together the best primary science practitioners in the UK.

    Having seen how outstanding primary school teachers were able to bring real-life science contexts to the classroom, he started the series of ‘I bet you didn’t know…’ articles to introduce teachers and pupils to cutting-edge research. He brought together the PSTT Fellows in this group to continue this work.

    Dr Alison Trew, Biochemist

    Alison was a science researcher for nine years. After completing her first degree in Biochemistry at the University of Birmingham, she moved to the University of Leeds to study for a PhD. Here she spent 4 years researching ‘The source, transport and concentration of vitamin C in the healthy and diseased human stomach’, measuring levels of vitamin C in patients’ saliva, blood, gastric juice, stomach wall and even the colon. Alison’s work showed that high vitamin C intake could reduce the risk of gastric cancer.

    Alison worked as a postdoctoral research assistant in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne where she investigated the loss of genetic material in different types of skin lesions including warts. She then joined a team at the University of Nottingham in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology where she developed a procedure to culture 'trophoblast cells', specialised cells of the placenta that play an important role in embryo implantation in the uterus. It was hoped that this would enable scientists to investigate causes of complications of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia. Alison returned to Leeds University and worked with a team trying to identify processes involved in producing protein plaques in the brain which are thought to cause Alzheimer’s Disease.

    After leaving research and having a family, Alison trained to teach. She has taught in primary schools in Devon for nine years and now works with teachers and trainees in the South West and is developing resources for the PSTT website.

    Dr Paul Tyler, Biochemist

    Paul completed a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and then moved to work for a small pharmaceutical company in Hertford, purifying and studying Paclitaxel from yew trees to use as a cancer treatment.

    He then moved back to Leicester to join PanTherix, a startup biotech company pioneering structure-based antibiotic design. Paul specialized in enzyme purification and classification, crystallisation and structure determination.

    Structure-based drug design is an attempt to move away from the scatter-gun approach of finding new antibiotics that big pharmaceutical companies have traditionally used. Enzyme targets are identified that are only found in bacteria, not humans. They are cloned and over expressed in E.coli . From there the target enzyme is purified and slowly crystallised. X-rays are used to determine the 3D structure of the enzyme. It is then possible to study how the enzyme binds to its substrates and find drug candidates that could mimic the substrate and stop the enzyme working, killing the bacteria.

    During his time with PanTherix the company relocated to Glasgow and Paul continued to work on potential antibiotics with a variety of bacterial enzyme targets. Paul also became fascinated with Prions and was able to assist with some research into their structure with a group at the University of Glasgow. Paul completed his PhD shortly before PanTherix were bought out by AstraZeneca. Settled in Glasgow he changed career and spent 3 years working for Scottish Rugby before completing his PGDE in Primary Education.

    Paul has been teaching for 11 years and leading science in his school for 7 years. He is part of a Local Authority science group helping promote and improve science across 26 primary schools. He is an active member of the ASE and a member of the BIG STEM Communicators Network; Paul regularly writes for TES and ASE publications and speaks at STEM conferences across the UK. He has written resources for the PSTT and consulted on several STEM projects worldwide.


    Safety Notice and Disclaimer


    PSTT advises teachers to refer to either the CLEAPSS website or SSERC website for up to date health and safety information when planning practical activities for children.

    PSTT is not liable for the actions or activities of any reader or anyone else who uses the information in these resource pages or the associated classroom materials. PSTT assumes no liability with regard to injuries or damage to property that may occur as a result of using the information contained in these resources. PSTT recommends that a full risk assessment is carried out before undertaking in the classroom any of the practical investigations contained in the resources.

    All materials are ©Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) and are freely available to download and share for educational purposes. Whilst educators are free to adapt the resources to suit their own needs, acknowledgement of copyright on all original materials must be included. Rights to images included in the resource have been purchased for PSTT use only – as such, these images may only be used as part of this resource and may not copied into or used in other materials.

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