Scientists used popular computer software Skype and a tablet to setup a two-way virtual science lesson with Year 6 class at Marner Primary School.
ZSL Projects – The Thames Juvenile Fish Project and Rivers to Classroom project were involved, with the former looking at monitoring the juvenile fish population living in the Thames - funded by Tideway, the company building London’s new super sewer.
The latter focusing on schools’ outreach funded by Disney Conservation Fund, as part of ZSL’s wider project to conservation the European eel and increase children’s awareness of the wildlife in the Thames.
Anne Hafford, Year 6 Lead Teacher at Marner Primary School said: “I can honestly say it was a truly amazing experience. I was sent some lovely informative pages about the scientists, their interests and passions beforehand, so I could prep some questions with the children.
“Right on schedule, at midday, the skype call came through and we were face to face with Charlotte Coales and Joe Pecorelli from ZSL, who were beaming - very personable and introducing themselves to us. They took the lead and described what they were doing to protect and conserve the fish in the Thames and why it was so important.
“Children came up to the mic. and asked their questions, but then a conversation started to develop and there were a lot of laughs and the visible joy of learning - one boy probed Joe to admit that surely furry animals must be much more fun to work with - but Joe managed to convince us otherwise with his magical photos of glass eels and an x-ray of their million boned skeletons.
“Joe and Charlotte showed us some real living fish (a baby flounder) which reminded one little girl of 'plaice' from the chip shop, and when Joe told us that Sturgeon are at risk of extinction because of their tasty caviar, his interviewee, Mohammed, told Joe that it was rich people who are wiping out the population!
“Beyond the science, the children became fascinated with the idea that scientific jobs could lead you to become the next David Attenborough or working to save the planet, and that there was a plethora of jobs beyond a doctor or a dentist. It opened their eyes to a whole new world.
“We spent our afternoon talking about all the things that we had learnt from our half hour Skype, but most of all we thought of all the possibilities in life - different jobs, different places and life on earth. We were in a state of awe! It was a brilliant experience and I would love to do it again and soon. Highly recommended.”
The sessions offer many benefits to teachers, such as reduced time required to write lesson plans, risk assessments and travel arrangements to field centres when trying to deliver environmental education.
With one click of a button (and possibly a few pre-emptive test calls later) - children and teachers can interact virtually, generating a great addition to classroom teaching, and a way of informing and inspiring the next generation of conservation scientists.
Ken Obbard, Thames Project Manager said: “Nowadays you’ve got to think of new ways of engaging children into STEM careers and visual technology is one way to showcase the natural world at low cost.
“Many children don’t have access to the outdoors or parents have little time or capacity to take them out into nature. So, it was great to reach out and engage as many children as we did at 90 – they were all so enthusiastic.
“A lot of children asked about plastics, pollution and wildlife in the Thames. It’s heartening to hear that children as young as 11 are showing both an interest and understanding of how their actions can impact wildlife. If everybody thought like these 11-year olds – my work would be done”.
The surveys undertaken will provide a baseline to measure the health of important fish populations such as Seabass and the Endangered Smelt as well as how they use the Thames. Putney being one of the three sites along with Greenwich and Blackfriars where surveys are being carried out with Citizen Scientists.
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