Developing outreach activities is a primary concern for the IBMC -Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, with the ambition to engage society in an informed discussion of science matters. Previous activities have shown that early engagement is a main factor in shaping a positive attitude to science. For an institution developing research mainly on the cellular and molecular level, finding attractive activities for a very young public is a challenge. We made use of an otherwise controversial topic -laboratory rats -to create a primary school project that took the well known concept of the classroom pet and gave it a little twist to increase its scientific value. In this project, fourth-grade children use the scientific method to study the behaviour of two female Lister-Hooded rats, as well as design all (non-invasive) experiments to discover more about the way the animals react to new experiences. The rats live in three different classrooms, in large and specially designed habitats, equipped with dark-vision cameras filming the rats 24/7. Each habitat contains one part where the animals live and a separate part where the children can set the rats new challenges every week: mazes, different objects, food or smells, for example. The children use their own questions about the animals’ behaviour as starting point for experiments designed in interaction with the teacher and a science communicator. During the two years of this pilot project, we have observed how the dynamics between science, scientists and schools have contributed to the development of the children’s capacity for reasoning and critical thinking. As the children have gained experience, their questions have become more informed and complex: rather than wanting to “see the animals doing something”, they ask “what the animals do” in a particular situation and “why”. In this way, the 10-year old children are taking the first steps towards becoming citizens engaged in science.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Beyond the "classroom pet"
Laboratory rats as science facilitators

Júlio Borlido-Santos   IBMC-Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular

Nuno Franco   IBMC -Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular

Anna Olsson   IBMC -Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular

Developing outreach activities is a primary concern for the IBMC -Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, with the ambition to engage society in an informed discussion of science matters. Previous activities have shown that early engagement is a main factor in shaping a positive attitude to science. For an institution developing research mainly on the cellular and molecular level, finding attractive activities for a very young public is a challenge. We made use of an otherwise controversial topic -laboratory rats -to create a primary school project that took the well known concept of the classroom pet and gave it a little twist to increase its scientific value. In this project, fourth-grade children use the scientific method to study the behaviour of two female Lister-Hooded rats, as well as design all (non-invasive) experiments to discover more about the way the animals react to new experiences. The rats live in three different classrooms, in large and specially designed habitats, equipped with dark-vision cameras filming the rats 24/7. Each habitat contains one part where the animals live and a separate part where the children can set the rats new challenges every week: mazes, different objects, food or smells, for example. The children use their own questions about the animals’ behaviour as starting point for experiments designed in interaction with the teacher and a science communicator. During the two years of this pilot project, we have observed how the dynamics between science, scientists and schools have contributed to the development of the children’s capacity for reasoning and critical thinking. As the children have gained experience, their questions have become more informed and complex: rather than wanting to “see the animals doing something”, they ask “what the animals do” in a particular situation and “why”. In this way, the 10-year old children are taking the first steps towards becoming citizens engaged in science.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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