6.1 Biologists hear from country’s leading scientists

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Biology

In January, a group of 6.1 Biologists travelled to the Apollo Theatre, Victoria, to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of the Science Live: A-Level series.

Firstly we heard from Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore from UCL, who spoke about the complexities of the teenage brain and her team’s cutting edge experiments which reveal how behaviour is affected by the environment and how we relate to each other through this period of our lives. Sarah-Jayne explained that adolescence is a period of great vulnerability, but also one of enormous creativity which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Next was Professor Robert Winston, who was the speaker at Bedales’ Eckersley Lecture in 2013. He spoke about manipulating human reproduction from his work on in vitro fertilization through to regenerative medicine such as stem cell research and epigenetics, which may turn out to be the most important biological development in the years to come. He warned though that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.

Dr Jenny Rohn’s entertaining talk was entitled Revenge of the Microbes. She explained how there are 100 trillion bacterial cells on our bodies and how more and more are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria go through around 500 generations in just a week, which gives them an enormous advantage as they can evolve resistance to antibiotics extremely quickly.

Dr Adam Rutherford’s lecture focused on DNA, which he described as “the saga of how we came to be who we are today”. He told the fascinating story of how the body of Richard III, who was found buried under a car park in Leicester, was identified by DNA analysis and announced that everyone from Western European descent would be related to the British Royal Family if we traced our family trees back through enough generations.

Finally, Dr Ben Goldacre talked about the importance the media should play in correctly reporting scientific research, focussing on the MMR scandal in particular. Although Andrew Wakefield, the author of the MMR report, was blamed by journalist as the only one at fault, Dr Goldacre argued that the media were equally guilty as missing trials, badly designed research and biased dissemination of evidence were reported at the time as important scientific breakthroughs, while evidence showing no link to autism from the MMR vaccine published in peer reviewed academic journals was ignored.

Overall these lectures showed us just a few examples of the enormous range of scientific enquiry that encompasses the subject of biology and how it continues to shape our lives.

Advertisements

Bedales Head of Science speaks at conference

emily seeber speaks at association for science educators national conference - jan 2019

By Emily Seeber, Head of Science

Last Thursday and Friday, I took a trip to the University of Birmingham to take part in the Association for Science Educators National Conference, which is the largest gathering of science educators in Europe.

I was giving two talks at the event. The first was entitled ‘Reinventing the Chemistry Practical’, which gave chemistry teachers tools to allow students to lead their own practical work and end the monotonous recipe-book practicals which dominate the science education landscape (in other schools!)

The second was a workshop on ‘Planning a Progressive Practical Curriculum’, sharing the principles used to design the varied, purposeful and coherent practical curriculum at Bedales.

It was inspiring as ever to speak to other educators about how we can support students so they can take advantage of a rapidly changing technological world. I look forward to sharing more of the great work happening in Bedales Sciences in future.

Read more of Emily’s writing on improving practical work in schools (subscription may be required):

Bedales celebrates Biology Week

By Clover Skerry and Maisy Redmayne, 6.2

Last Friday, Block 3 students participated in the ‘Bio Art Attack’ competition run by the Royal Society of Biology as part of Biology Week which sees events take place all over the world to celebrate biological science.

As part of the activity we went for a walk around site to collect autumn leaves and late flowers. We went back to the lab and used what we collected to create a palisade cell art piece. After this, we used the spare leaves to make landscape and nature scenes, which we also sent off to be judged for Art Attack.

Other Block 3s have been working on models and posters of  plant and animal cells for the competition.

Last week a budding group of sixth form biologists undertook dissections, as a celebration of Biology Week. Everyone seemed to think that chopping up rats and cuttlefish was a fun activity for a Thursday evening. Our specimens were swiftly dismembered and examined giving an invaluable insight into some basic anatomy. I hope that we are able to hold future dissections which will be met with equal enthusiasm.

Psychology – what’s it all about?

Periodically, questions are raised about the rigour and value of some A Levels, of which Pyschology is one. Most recently, Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools’ Council (ISC) was reported in the Daily Mail as saying that girls who should be doing Physics are instead doing Psychology, and urges schools to persuade capable girls to choose the latter. Why? Because he says this will help to get more women into Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) careers and, importantly, onto university courses in subjects such as Engineering and Medicine. It is of note that he at least partly absolves independent schools from his analysis although I am unconvinced by his argument. Psychology was introduced as a subject at least in part to get girls more involved in Science, a task at which it has surely excelled. Although well established in universities, it was not until the 1970s that Psychology A Level was introduced in the classroom. Today more than 50,000 students are entered for the examination each year, making it the fourth most popular A Level nationally – also the case at Bedales. And, yes, it remains popular with girls.

The ongoing mantra is that it simply is not as difficult as Maths and the Physical Sciences, with great play made of its omission by the Russell Group universities from its list of ‘facilitating subjects’ – those identified as having the greatest transferability across university degree subject areas. In fact, the Russell Group identifies Psychology as ‘useful’ in relation to a range of degree subjects, whilst a number of different assessments of the difficulty of A Level subjects place Psychology above some facilitating subjects. Survey findings in 2003 found that the majority of students regarded Psychology as both their most demanding and most interesting subject (McGuinness, 2003). In 2008, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) found that Psychology was comparable in terms of standards with Biology and Sociology (although with a caveat about the difficulty of comparing different subjects).

Psychology employs a research approach and methods – for example, experimental design – that is consistent with those employed in the Natural Sciences. However, Psychology A Level also requires familiarity with the less tightly controlled observational method – also associated with the Social Sciences. Consequently, it is our belief that Psychology provides a unique opportunity to explore different and sometimes conflicting schools of thought with regard to theories of knowledge and scientific method.

That Psychology A Level is a subject that faces usefully both the Natural and Social Sciences is reflected in Psychology provision at university undergraduate level. For example, the University of Cambridge Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Department stresses the ways in which the subject overlaps with and contributes to Anthropology, Archaeology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy and Sociology.

We think there is great value in a subject that may lead students down so many potentially interesting paths. When students know exactly what they want to do beyond school, it makes sense for them to study those subjects that will get them to where they need to be next. The study of Medicine, for example, calls for a major commitment to the Natural Sciences – as a third of fourth subject Psychology might be interesting and valuable, although not essential.

However, for the significant proportion of students who have not yet decided where their future interest lies, Psychology can be a very useful way in which to ensure that the Sciences are represented in their mix of A levels.

By Sarah Flavell, Head of Psychology, Bedales School

More information about the Bedales Psychology curriculum.

 

Sixth form Psychologists and Biologists treated to ‘Brain Day’

Brain Day 2015 1

Last Monday was “Brain Day” and sixth form Psychologists and Biologists were treated to a day of brain lectures and activities, delivered by Dr Guy Sutton, Lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham. This was a terrific opportunity for students to learn and interact with a brain specialist. The morning was all about structure and function of the brain, with a dissection of a sheep’s brain and the afternoon was about mental illness with a detailed talk about schizophrenia. This was a fascinating day that we will certainly repeat in years to come.

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.