University of St Andrews: a summer of outreach

June presented two excellent opportunities to share our passion for science with young students from the Fife area.

The first of these was Science Camp, a two day residential camp held at the University of St Andrews where 10/11 year olds undertake a series of scientific activities. CBESS joined in, carting buckets of sand and mud from the local Eden estuary and setting up the School of Biology labs with lab coats, sieves, sifting trays, microscopes and identification keys. The students got a chance to be a mud scientist, finding and identifying the various species that live within the mud. We had live displays of crabs, mud worms, mussels, mud shrimps, lugworms, cockles and clams, while CBESS Consortium Leader, Prof David Paterson, demonstrated the wonders of seaweed under a compound microscope.

A few days later, a much less messy session was run for the First Chances project. Secondary schools from around Fife select students who they feel can be aided in raising their aspirations and attainment. These students attend a residential summer school at the University of St Andrews where they learn about teamwork, critical thinking and are exposed to several topic ideas that then form the basis of a project report that they complete over the following year. To get the students thinking about the importance of ecosystem services and sustainable development, we ran a ‘Mystery Island’ activity. The students were asked to imagine they had been ‘dumped’ on an island in the middle of the ocean, on which they have to live on for 10 years, with no contact from outside, and leave in a state that other people can carry on living in.

Working in groups, the students were encouraged to think about all the potential challenges they would need to face in such a situation, such as space limitations, growing and storing food, clothes and dwellings, energy, drinking water, waste and so on. Ecosystem service prompt cards (for water purification, pollination, health and relaxation, fuel, control of erosion, habitats, food etc.) helped them to think about what nature provides and these services could be maintained while still using the islands resources.

Both outreach activities were a great success and emphasised the importance of engaging with schools and sharing the CBESS message as widely as possible. Hopefully there are now a few more students thinking about the importance of their coastlines!