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
PSTT Fellow, Dr Julia Nash
Children remember more snippets of information and are really engaged when learning about cutting-edge science research.
Aimed at teachers or other adults intersted in introducing cutting-edge science reserach projects to primary age children, PSTT has created more than twenty, free to download, I bet you didn't know... articles which can be linked to most areas of the primary science curriculum.
To find an article that is related to the topic that you are teaching, please use the interactive Overview. This is available as a spreadsheet with four separate pages for Biology, Chemistry (Materials), Physics and Climate Science. On each page, the articles are listed as hyperlinks under individual topics which will take you directly to the article you have chosen.
Here is our latest article:
We have heard a lot about viruses and the harm that they can cause humans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Teachers and children could imagine that viruses are bad for humans but this is not always the case.
I bet you didn't know… Bacteria get viral infections as well describes how bacteriophages (viruses that attack and kill bacteria) could be used as an alternative to antibiotics.
Cutting-edge science research and real-life problems are linked to primary science curriculum topics: microorganisms, disease & medicine.
The accompaying Teacher Guide explains how bacteriophages replicate inside bacterial cells, and suggests two activities which children (ages 7-11) can carry out to learn about the relative sizes of viruses and bacteria.
Why should teachers introduce contemporary scientists' work to primary age children?
- Cutting-edge science research can provide incredible stimulus to primary children's emergent ideas in science.
- Devising science investigations for children that are linked to this cutting-edge science 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, a deeper understanding of science concepts, as well as an appreciation of the impact of science on real life.
- Children's attitudes towards science research processes and scientists is enriched.
- I bet you didn't know... resources could be an early step towards addressing the inequalities that currently exist in those who partipate in science post-16 and those who do not. You can read more about the benefits of introducing scientists' work (historical and contemporary) in the primary curriculum with regard to science capital and social justice in an article published in Science Teacher Education* (2020) - Introducing scientists to primary children: Does this always enhance children's science capital?
*We are grateful to the Association of Science Education (ASE) for making this article open access.
You can read more about the Cutting-edge Science Research in Primary Schools project in the following papers:
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
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
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.
Bacteria get viral infections as well [396.08kB]
Curriculum links: Microorganisms, Disease & Medicine
This article describes how bacteriophages (viruses that attack and kill bacteria) could be used as alternatives to antibiotics.
Some mammals have unusal backbones [197.03kB]
Curriculum links: Skeletons & bones, Vertebrates, Evolution, Forces.
This article describes the unusual spine of the hero shrew and how evolutionary biologists measured the external and internal features of vertebrae of two species of hero shrew and compared these with a typical shrew.
What happens underground when humans stay indoors [615.65kB]
Curriulum links: Sound; Environmental change
This article explains how scientists measure vibrations underground and how this seismic activity has reduced across the world during COVID-19 lockdown measures.
Water can be harvested from the air in very dry climates [435.14kB]
Curriulum links: State of Matter; The Water Cycle.
This article explains how water vapour is captured from desert air and later condenses to form drinkable water.
Blood tests could detect cancers [446.66kB]
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.
Evolution of life in cities [955.28kB]
Curriulum links: Habitats; Adaptation; Evolution.
This article gives examples of animals that have adapted to live successfully in urban areas.
What small magnetic robots can do [369.07kB]
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.
The science of hand-washing [337.46kB]
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.
Toilets in the future may charge your mobile phone! [1.09MB]
Curriculum links: Uses of materials; Separating materials.
This article explains why and how scientists have designed a toilet that flushes without water and plumbing.
What is happening to the bees [1.00MB]
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.
Catching flu might depend on the type of place in which you live [701.79kB]
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.
Dragons could save us from bad bacteria [695.12kB]
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.
Whale song is changing [665.90kB]
Curriculum links: Sound; Environmental Change.
The frequency (pitch) of whale song is decreasing, but why?
Miracle healing could come from the axolotl [797.08kB]
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.
Slug slime might be the answer for medical adhesives [303.02kB]
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.
Computers can measure the happiness of a city [1.13MB]
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.
The Disastrous Effects of Historical Ink [168.35kB]
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.
One of Saturn's moons may be a home for extra-terrestrial life [285.23kB]
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.
How plants know good microbes from bad ones [1.31MB]
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.
Stripes and concealment [1.25MB]
Curriculum links: Habitats; Adaptation.
Scientists made artificial moths to investigate which types of patterned moth were most likely to be taken by birds.
How to clean water using a molecular sieve [251.55kB]
Curriculum links: Separating Mixtures.
Scientists have made a molecular sieve that can remove salt particles from salty water.
How to play planetary hide and seek [240.58kB]
Curriculum links: Space; Our Senses; Magnets.
Scientists (both female) suggest that a 9th planet is hidden in the Kuiper Belt.
How to grow a new skin [247.76kB]
Curriculum links: The Human Body; Staying Healthy.
Scientists have grown genetically modified stem cells into sheets of skin 50-150 cm squared.
How to calculate the age of a shark [245.10kB]
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.
Bacteria get viral infections as well [0.96MB]
How big is a virus?
How can you isolate the bacteriophages? (A separating mixtures activity: creating sieves)
Some mammals have unusal backbones [1.50MB]
How many bones inside your backbone?
Can you make a human spine?
Can you take accurate measurements?
Does increasing the diameter of a structure make it stronger?
What happens underground when humans stay indoors [1.33MB]
Observing over time: How do vibrations travel?
Fair test testing/Pattern-seeking: Can you make a seismometer to detect movement?
Pattern seeking: How do noise levels vary in your environment?
Water can be harvested from the air in very dry climates [1.21MB]
Observing over time: Can we find a material that takes up water and releases it again?
Observing over time: Can we show how water vapour form the air condenses to form liquid water?
Comparative testing: Which materials hold the most water?
Research: Can you think of other ways to reduce the use of fresh water?
Blood tests could detect cancers [658.72kB]
Problem solving: how do cells multiply?
Research: what does DNA look like?
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 you record variation in your class?
Comparative testing: which colours give moths an advantage over white moths?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Miracle healing could come from the axolotl [840.37kB]
Problem solving: Can you make 'complementary' DNA bracelets?
Research: Can you build a DNA molecule?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
Stripes and concealment [3.88MB]
Research: Why are some animals camouflaged?
Pattern seeking: What colours/patterns are best for a moth?
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?
Planetary hide and seek [2.66MB]
Problem solving: Can you find an object without using your eyes using sounds, smells or magnetism?
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?
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?
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 undertaking ‘Studies 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.
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