Science communicator, Brona McVittie, explores novel way to engage children in science

The MRC Clinical Sciences Centre has teamed together with Creative Partnerships to explore new approaches to science education. They've supported a project to engage schoolchildren in science using animation. As part of Fabrics of Life initiatives that explore novel approaches to engaging the public in science, Brona has married her creative pursuits and her professional skills to address a research question. What can creative intervention do for science education?

The first animation in the series, Professor Corkbot’s Cat and the White Spider, celebrates Darwin’s bicentenary with an evolutionary tale. A plague of spiders descends on Professor Corkbot's garden, much to the delight of his cat, Riddles and the confusion of the two silly finches, Parvy and Pally. Seemingly from nowhere a white spider appears. The black spiders are gobbled up by Riddles during a heavy snowfall. The white spider lays eggs and more white spiders hatch. They are safe from Riddles only as long as the snow lasts.

Professor Corkbot's Cat and the White Spider from Brona McVittie on Vimeo.

Inspired by an idea from Amanda Fisher (Director, MRC CSC) the film has been used in primary schools to engage children in the principles of evolution put forward by Darwin 150 years ago. After watching the animation, students have a number of questions. Where did the white spider come from? What happened when the white spider made friends with a black spider? Why were the babies white? Why did the cat eat the black spiders?

The narrative is rich with different scientific avenues to explore in discussion, helping students to appreciate the essence of evolution by natural selection. A black and white spider game, the aim of which is to avoid being eaten by Riddles the cat, reinforces an implicit appreciation of evolutionary principles. Children make their own spiders and toss them onto a black and white surface. Spiders lucky enough to be camouflaged against a similar background escape the jaws of Riddles the cat and contribute to the next generation of spiders.

A recent Creative Partnerships grant has led to the second animation in the series, which continues on a biological theme inspired by some of the experiments Darwin did with earthworms. After conducting a series of experiments with worms, Brona created Professor Corkbot and the Lambton Worm with children and teachers from Exton Primary School in Rutland in July 2009.

Watch the film and read more about the project on www.corkbots.com

Professor Corkbot's films are available for educational use across Europe. For assistance or information contact Brona.