Developing Plant Science Educational Packages for Classrooms
Sci-Seedlets is an educational, plant-science promoting activity led by Dr Rucha Karnik and developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the University of Glasgow and Lancaster University. The overarching aim of this project is to educate people from a young age on plant physiology and plant science research, and, in consequence, to inspire the next generation of Plant Scientists. Sci-Seedlets focuses on developing a variety of tools and resources that are used in the classroom, to transform the traditional plant science curriculum into an engaging and interactive subject.
Sci-Seedlets aims to promote the importance of using molecular plant science to address climate challenges and achieve food security by reducing water-use and improving plant health. Then, by underlining the similarities between plants and humans, the tools developed enhance the pupils’ understanding of plant physiology, activities, and their crucial role in the wider ecosystem, with the ultimate goal to promote awareness and lay the foundations for a more sustainable future.
Sci-Seedlets has been developed to encompass a repertoire of both traditional and cutting-edge STEM-led educational resources conveying complex biological concepts that use both electronic (Figure 1) and paper-based (Figure 2) interactive practical kits, and virtual formats. All Sci-Seedlets tools are designed with a strong consideration of sustainability and a focus on cost efficiency, so that they can be accessible to even the most deprived of educational institutions world-wide. To overcome language barriers and target a wider audience, Sci-Seedlets resources have also been translated into Chinese, Arabic, German, Spanish, and Greek.
Figure 1. Learning through play; young children interacting with the Sci-Seedlets tools during an outreach activity.
Over the past 10 years, the project has integrated cross-disciplinary partnerships and has studied and evaluated public engagement practices with a view to understanding and adapting them to enhance accessibility and improve learning outcomes in children. Even during the COVID pandemic, the team adapted their engagement approaches to mitigate social isolation associated challenges by developing virtual solutions and by using gaming as a means to deliver focused experiences for plant science research. The team have since incorporated these novel resources and have initiated a new programme with the College of Arts & Humanities GameLab academics to promote EDI in science through their new, well-adapted, multifaceted tools in a fun and interactive way. Following the largely positive feedback received during their community engagement and school startup activities, the team now endeavour to widen the uptake of their tools and resources in order to develop a self-sustaining initiative, and build a legacy for plant science.
The team behind Sci-Seedlets is largely focused on impactful outreach; they want not only to communicate their science, but also to inspire a fascination for plant research and encourage more people to pursue studying and getting involved with plant science. Therefore, their tools and resources are carefully tailored to deliver tasters for Plant Science to children, empower educators, and convey the importance of plants and excitement for plant research to the wider community to foster and inspire the next generation of plant scientists.
Over the past few years, the Sci-Seedlets team has conducted several public workshops, participated in a variety of science festivals, conducted school trials, and shared resources with over 20,000 people worldwide. During their outreach activities the team collected knowledge and feedback on both how to conduct effective and impactful outreach, and, on how to tailor their activities to create long-lasting impact on their target audiences.
During the outreach activities, the team found that:
- Childrens’ career decisions can be influenced at the school level, by showcasing the future potential of different career choices;
- A fascination for plant science can be achieved by providing tasters about what plant science research includes;
- Even though the school curriculum supports plant science, there is a strong need to empower teachers to deliver plant science experience in schools. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to address the current gap in the market for relevant resources, by developing the necessary tools and providing the target audience with access to these resources;
- Meaningful outreach can be achieved through creating lasting impressions during knowledge transfer, and by engaging with open minded individuals with an appetite for learning;
- The effective delivery of complex plant science concepts to primary and secondary school children requires carefully designed resources that involve both traditional and innovative formats;
- Young minds can be positively influenced for perceptions of equality and diversity in science, through the use of educational tools and resources that incorporate these considerations into character designs.
The above findings have largely informed and shape the design and delivery methods of the Sci-Seedlets educational resources. In particular, the use of realistic tools gives a sensory insight into the team’s scientific research discoveries and challenges the users to engage in the scientific endeavour through fun, interactive activities.
Figure 2. Learning through drawing; Sci-Seedlets tools used during public engagement, to inspire young minds during fun educational activities.
The Sci-Seedlets project has received support from the Small Business Grants (SMB) fund, the University of Glasgow College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences (MVLS) Public Engagement office and the college Innovation team through TRI-supported BBSRC funding, University of Lancaster SCC and funding from BBSRC, and grants from The Royal Society, as well as funding from the IP & Innovation team. An expert external evaluation commissioned together with the positive feedback received from the outreach activities have proven that Sci-Seedlets has an immense potential to shape and instigate public interest in the importance of plants for the ecosystem and inspire and empower younger generations to pursue plant science. As a team, Dr Karnik and her collaborators have worked with scientists, members of public and artists to create, optimise and deliver their materials. During their journey, they have gained immense experience, built new partnerships, encouraged plant science research, further strengthening their research and creating strong societal impact. A step-change in knowledge exchange, and great societal and environmental benefits are anticipated as they continue to work towards delivering Sci-Seedlets across wider school communities.
The team behind Sci-Seedlets has received a variety of internal and external funding awards. The project has been supported by a variety of development grants and public engagement funding from 2018 until this day. These include Royal Society Public Engagement Awards, MVLS Engagement with Research Funding, NERC impact awards, BBSRC Impact Acceleration Accounts, and the Glasgow Knowledge Exchange fund.