Today at the Education Centre we were happy to welcome a class of 25 A-level students from St. Xavier School. The school does not have any green spaces and for many of them, the outdoors is not where they would think of spending most of their time. Saddy, the educator for the day, assisted by me, is going to introduce the pupils to a day of Practical Ecology. It is an interesting day for them and a challenge for us, as they all have chosen Biology as a topic for their A-levels and they will soon have to decide what to do after school.
Our aim: share our passion for the natural world, inspire some of the pupils, open up their eyes to our natural environment and have them enjoy a day outside.
Our tools: a wonderful well-equipped classroom, a beautiful garden with a small natural pond, 253 hectares of green space in the middle of the city and of course, our enthusiasm and willingness to share! We hope this day will inspire some pupils for their future careers!
Saddy starts with a theoretical but interactive introduction to ecology with games to get familiarized with the main concepts used in ecology, such as biodiversity, stratified sampling, the Simpson’s index, etc. Through more games, the pupils are then showed what a scientific experiment is made of and what the different steps are, as today they are going to do their own scientific experiments. It will indeed be a busy day with a study on Lichen in the morning and a study on the aquatic organisms in the pond in the afternoon, both for which on-field sampling is required followed by the observation and analysis of the results.
We distribute our budding scientists their new kit: a clipboard, a quadrat, a meter, an identification key, a thermometer, hygrometer and pH-metre. Once they have decided what question they are going to study and formulate their hypothesis, we go out in the park to take measurements. The different pairs are going to assess if there is a correlation between the distance from a road and the presence of lichen on trees; therefore, they choose ten trees in a line from the outside of the park to the centre and measure the presence of lichen, along with abiotic factors. After the slow and not most enthusiastic departure from the classroom, we are surprised to see each of them really getting involved in their tasks and putting effort into their measurements. We might get scared by some creepy bugs or not be totally enthusiastic about making our shoes dirty, but some of us do get quite interested!
After a well-deserved lunchbreak, it’s time to attack our study of the biodiversity in the pond. The students will see if they can find more organisms on the bottom of the pond vs at the surface or in the plants vs the open water.
With a net, a tray of water and other abiotic measurement tools, the different groups sample the different areas and they will later compare the results at school (as our time here is limited). We catch a wide variety of small water organisms, which again the group did not expect to see! We then get our trays inside and identify and count the different organisms caught. Again, we see a lot of enthusiasm amongst the pupils, when observing what we have caught under the microscope. The results are written down and now it’s time for the statistical analysis of our morning results! ![The Royal Parks](C:UsersAmandinePicturesSaved PicturesIMG_0441.jpg “Pond dipping”) As it is can sometimes be disappointing in science, when we cannot validate our hypothesis, the group is not particularly excited by our results: we cannot see a correlation between the distance from the road and presence of lichen. We then put this into perspective with the limitations of our study: we didn’t take into account the age and species of the trees, our sampling was not particularly in a straight line… various reasons why we might not have spotted a correlation.
On this final note, we reach the end of our day; the students seem to have enjoyed their day at the Centre and their spontaneous comments on the day are particularly touching. I think we can say we have reached our goals… or at least to a certain extent!
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