November 12, 2018

Helping Teach The Next Generation

Bucks Skills Hub works with STEM Ambassadors based in the local area, joining forces to help them create stronger and more lasting partnerships with Buckinghamshire secondary schools.

Enterprise Coordinator Luisa Clarke and the Enterprise Advisors for Great Marlow School, Simon Corb and Sarah Peace, visited embryologist Danielle Breen at the Thames Valley Fertility clinic in Maidenhead where she is Deputy Laboratory Manager. A tour round her workplace showed the Bucks Skills Hub team first-hand what her job entails and they discussed the different ways she could engage with schools

After reporting back to Great Marlow School, the team put Danielle in touch with science teacher Jen Bawden and together they looked at opportunities for Danielle to come into school to help deliver the reproduction element of the Year 7 biology curriculum.

Working together 

Jen set specific parameters for Danielle’s visit – laying the foundation for its success – asking her to cover the following curriculum objectives:

  • Explain what is meant by fertilisation, implantation and an embryo;
  • Analyse the different ways in which an embryo is protected in the in the uterus;
  • Describe what is meant by a gestation period;
  • Explain why a pregnant woman needs to eat a healthy diet and exercise;
  • Compare the different stages of birth.

They then ear-marked a week for Danielle to come in and take over three of the one-hour timetabled science lessons, spitting the nine-form entry year group into three with 90 students attending each session. (A single large-scale whole-year group assembly lecture was discussed initially, but quickly ruled out because it would not engage students or allow them to take part in smaller group activities. Equally, delivering nine separate classes was simply too time-consuming.)

Great Marlow booked out their new, modern sixth form study area for the sessions to enable students to work together around tables, which was itself a different experience for the youngest year group – and everyone was good to go.

Advantages of careers in the curriculum

As a result, the Year 7s were given a unique and alternative perspective on reproduction. Danielle had prepared a highly engaging, interactive talk, and science teaching staff were on hand each session to assist and facilitate small group work. Her use of real life examples helped to get across concepts students often find difficult to grasp while also adding an extra element to deepen curriculum learning.

Students responded to this input from an unflappable, external professional by moving on rapidly from giggles and squirming to taking the opportunity to ask searching questions.

Students could see through Danielle’s eyes that biology is relevant to the real world, motivating them in their studies. From a staff point of view, this employer-led curriculum learning careers activity formed part of the planned timetable and didn’t take pupils away from lessons. It was also an interesting opportunity for teachers to hear from an external professional who uses their subject practically on a daily basis.

Feedback and evaluation

Looking back on the lessons, science teacher Jen Bawden from Great Marlow School enthused: “Danielle’s session slotted perfectly into the current Year 7 topic of reproduction and educated them about the processes of fertilisation and gestation. The students greatly benefitted from learning about the exciting journey of life, from fertilisation to foetus, from an expert in the field. The sessions were appropriately pitched for the pupils’ age and ability with microscope timelapse videos of cell division and an insight into the day-to-day work in the laboratories. Differentiation was evident in Danielle’s manner with the students and her movement around the room during group tasks. Great Marlow School looks forward to collaborating with Danielle and other STEM Ambassadors in the future to enhance the learning of our students.”

Danielle herself reflected: “I found my time with the Year 7 students at Great Marlow School especially rewarding; to be able to take what I do in the clinical environment and use it to inspire young minds amplified my own passion for science and the job I do. Being able to see the impact of bringing the science to life in the eyes of the students, sparking their interest and showing them how the theory fits the practical excites me for the future scientists of tomorrow. It was also great to see the students asking difficult questions on the topic, that perhaps they would not have thought of before or felt comfortable to ask if they had not been speaking to someone whose job it was.”

Sonya Rutherford, General Manager of Thames Valley Fertility, said: “At Thames Valley Fertility our moto is ‘Giving Life a Helping Hand’ and we believe this expands to education as well as creation. We are delighted when our staff are involved within the community, educating and informing people of all ages and backgrounds about reproduction, fertility and sexual health. “The time our Lab Manager, Danielle Breen, spent at Great Marlow School teaching young students the basis of human reproduction is a great example of the need to educate the young of today, to inspire the scientists of tomorrow and improve awareness of one’s own fertility.”