Is it possible to inspire children with the wonders of immunology? Even with 10 years of research under my belt I was not convinced, although I had a firm grasp of this incredible science. And still I had to attempt to convince a class of excitable six-year-olds.
As part of a teacher-scientist network established to promote science--and improve the image of scientists--in schools, I spent a wonderful 18 months working closely with an infant school in Bristol. It began with a "blind date"-type meeting, organised by the Clifton Scientific Trust, where willing scientists, were paired up with keen teachers. Admittedly I was expecting to liaise with GCSE or A-level students, but my teacher was from an infant school. My initial reaction was "help!!", but since Pam was an ex-microbiologist we managed to develop a common language which we could work from.
My first visit to the school was overwhelming. I developed a game to introduce the class of incredibly enthusiastic (and very small!) children to the concept of infection. They were very receptive and I was amazed by their ability to grasp the theory behind infection and vaccination. I received an onslaught of thank you letters from individual children wishing me good luck with "the science." But perhaps even more valuable was that Pam convinced me that the class was able to retain the scientific knowledge and were now craving more bugs, jabs, and battles within the body.
I visited the school on many more fun occasions and introduced the little ones to different, but very simplified, immunological concepts. I became a governor of the school, but most importantly I managed to convince these very young minds that science is exciting, valued, and that scientists are "normal!"
See the Web site for the Teacher Scientist Network for more information. The network links scientists at the Norwich Research Park with local schools. The links page gives connections to other teacher-scientist programmes in the UK and US.