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.

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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.

Science at Bedales – A distinctive approach

CERN trip 3

Bedales – that’s the school for people who are into arts and humanities, right? Well, yes and no. It is true that Bedales offers a distinctive education in those areas, with plenty of notable careers made subsequently to prove it. However, Bedales also has a very successful Science Department whose courses are well subscribed, that gets excellent examination results, and whose students go on to pursue further academic study in the sciences and related subjects, and successful careers.

To a certain extent, Bedales’ reputation as a school devoted to the arts and humanities is justified – English, History, Religious Studies and Art are all very popular at A level. However, Mathematics (and Further Mathematics) is often the most popular A Level choice for Bedalians and amongst the current 6.2s (upper sixth) over half the block study at least one of Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Psychology, with an almost even uptake for each.

The study of sciences at A level, then, is an attractive option. For some, this is undertaken with an expectation of further study and a related career. Supported by extensive careers advice, these students will typically study traditional subject combinations – for example, linking Mathematics with Physics, or Biology with Chemistry. The Department has developed a particular expertise, thanks to Cheryl Osborne, in preparing students of natural sciences for further study in Medicine, and to this end has introduced a Sixth Form enrichment course in Medical Ethics. Of the students that have left Bedales for Oxford and Cambridge since 2009, over a third have gone on to study Mathematics or one of the sciences and last year three out of seven places went to the sciences: there is a proven and consistent track record for our Oxbridge applicants. The list below of degree subjects taken up by Bedales leavers over the last three years shows an impressive range and quantity of courses.

However, at Bedales science subjects are also successfully pursued alongside others beyond the traditional combinations – for example, over a third of 6.2 (upper sixth) Science students are also studying either Art or English and most students will choose a third or sometimes fourth A level from the arts, humanities and languages in the interests of subject diversity. At Bedales we take the view that these different areas of study, and their respective orthodoxies and methods, have much to offer in combination. There are powerful precedents for this approach: the late Steve Jobs saw artistic sensibilities as central to Apple’s business and, perhaps more dramatically, Albert Einstein was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. In addition, various researchers have found a positive relationship between participation in arts, crafts and music and success in scientific and technological careers. There are many Old Bedalians who have combined science with arts and humanities subjects, and who have brought to bear both scientific expertise and alternative literacies in service of innovation, and in communicating relevant ideas through policy advice to industry and government, or within companies.

“Art can be a way of capturing the essence of something while filtering out small details – a very useful skill in any kind of research, whether in the humanities or in the sciences.”

Alexei Yavlinsky, computer software engineer and entrepreneur (Bedales 1994-99)

Bedales Approach to the teaching and learning of Science

Bedales’ approach to the teaching and learning of Science is laudably distinctive. We encourage inquisitiveness and independent learning, for example, by making the room for students to exercise, experiment, innovate, reflect and discuss. In 2014, the school introduced a student-inspired initiative – the Dons – giving 6.2 (upper sixth) students the opportunity to represent subjects and mentor younger pupils. Last year, the Chemistry Don successfully promoted the subject to both parents and students, and helped with the science education of lower year groups. This year we have expanded the role of our Dons to organising science events for lower schools and developing and recruiting for scientific societies. Bedales has high expectations of students, and employs tried and trusted principles (such as Assessment for Learning) in seeking to ensure that each student knows where they are with their learning, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there.

The commitment of the Science Department to the school’s educational credo – specifically Aim 2’s ‘doing and making’ – is expressed significantly through a commitment to practical work. In teaching the natural sciences, we believe that students must experience events, substances and changes in order to properly understand them; that such work can help develop an understanding of both the value and problems associated with measurement; and that practical work can be the doorway to a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas that underpin scientific theory. No less importantly, students typically enjoy practical work, and for those who go on to further study the skills they develop in this way are a vital asset.

The Bedales Science Department prides itself on the quality of its staff, and of its collective practice. We draw upon doctoral-level expertise (with two PhDs in the Department), and every subject area is taught by specialists for whom it is their primary discipline. Science is taught in all three Bedales Schools with great attention paid to complementary curricula. The curriculum at our junior schools is an excellent foundation for subsequent study at Bedales, with the relationship strengthened by Science Department staff giving assemblies, talks and demonstrations to younger students.

Science provision at Bedales also benefits from excellent external input. The annual Eckersley Science Lecture is delivered by some of the world’s most prominent scientists. Speaker for the 2014-15 academic year was cosmologist Prof. Tony Readhead of Caltech, with Prof. Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey to speak (on 19 April 2016) on the developing discipline of Quantum Biology. Bedales science students also benefit from links with local universities and guest lectures. Recent events include a ‘Brain Day’ with Dr Guy Sutton, whilst an ‘Infra-Red Spectroscopy Day‘ gave sixth form students hands-on experience of the latest equipment. Field trips include regular visits to the CERN Large Hadron Collider for physicists.

We also encourage our students to take up opportunities beyond the confines of the classroom, and to exercise leadership in the area of science. Bedales Block 3 and 4 students (Years 9-10) compete in the Biology Challenge (Society of Biology), and are regularly awarded gold certificates. Older students represent the school in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Olympiad, and individual students give scientific presentations to external audiences. Bedales science students also help with lessons in our junior schools.

To conclude, Bedales is associated in the popular imagination with excellence in the arts and humanities. Whilst the Science Department may sometimes cede the spotlight to its more overtly glamorous cousins, its pursuit of excellence is treated with equal seriousness, is borne of the same educational ethos, and sees impressive returns. Indeed science at Bedales is rendered all the more distinctive for being pursued in an environment in which the arts and humanities are so important – a point that resonates with the many Old Bedalians who have gone on to become accomplished scientists and innovators.

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science, Bedales

Maths and Science related degree choices: 2013 – 2015

2015
Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Biochemistry, Oxford University (Sommerville)
Biological Anthropology, University of Kent
Chemistry, Oxford University (Worcester)
Chemistry, University of Warwick
Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
Economics, Kingston University
Economics and Economic History, London School of Economics
Environmental Management, Kingston University
Marine Biology, University of Southampton
Mechanical Engineering, University of Exeter
Medicine, Oxford University (New College)
Midwifery, Plymouth University
Natural Sciences, Durham University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies

2014
Automotive and Transport Design, Coventry University
Biological and Medical Sciences, University of Liverpool
Biological Sciences Foundation, Fanshawe College Ontario
Chemistry, University of Bristol
Economics and Finance, University of Exeter
Human, Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge
International Relations and Anthropology, University of Sussex
Medicine, University of Exeter
Nursing, University of Liverpool
Physics, University of Bristol
Physiotherapy, Oxford Brookes University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies
Zoology, University of Glasgow

2013
Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft – Netherlands
Agriculture, Royal Agricultural University Cirencester
Biochemistry, University of Sheffield
Biological Sciences, University of Exeter
Economics, University College London
Economics and Politics, University of Leeds
Materials Science & Engineering, Swansea University
Mathematics, Imperial College London
Mathematics, University of York
Mathematics, Loughborough University
Medicine, University of Cambridge (Murray Edwards)
Natural Sciences, University of Exeter
Physics, Oxford University (Oriel)
Product Design Engineering, Brunel University
Psychology, Newcastle University
Veterinary Nursing, Royal Veterinary College (University of London)

Biology award for Bedales student

Edmund Adams- Nancy Rothwell Award 2

Every year the Society of Biology run a competition aimed to celebrate specimen drawing in schools. The award called the Nancy Rothwell Award is open to pupils in three age categories (7 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 18), and drawings of plant, animal and microscopy specimens are welcome. This year Edmund Adams, currently in Block 4 submitted a drawing of the skeleton of a dog and he was awarded Outstanding. He was awarded his prize; a set of drawing pencils, a commemorative certificate and £25 on the 16 October at the Royal Veterinary College Biology Week event. This is an amazing achievement; Edmund is the first student from Bedales to have entered this competition.

Edmund-Adams-drawing

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology


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.

The Bedales Drone Project

In his 1942 short story Runaround the science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced his “Three Laws of Robotics”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Robots are now an everyday part of our lives and new drone technology can be seen in mountain rescue, the deployment of weaponry and possibly even the delivery of books! As the relationship of mankind to our creations becomes more and more far-reaching and in every way intimate, there is much to reflect on: the technically possible “coulds”; the philosophical “whys” and “whats”; and the ethical “shoulds”.

Much inspired by last year’s Civics talk by Dr Dirk Gorneson from The University of Southampton on the topic of UAV’s (Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles), I was struck by the implications of this technology for the ethical theory we study in the PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics) department at Bedales; such as in Just War Theory (A2 Level), and the Philosophy of Mind and Artificial Intelligence (studied for BAC PRE Creative Response Block 5). There was growing overlap between the theory and the real world issues emerging in the wake of the technology now available in the field of UAV’s.

Conversing with teachers and students alike it was clear that this was an area well worth exploring. So, with a huge thank you to the BPA for funding the initiative, and to Richard Sinclair and Jack Paxman for their consultation, I can proudly announce The Drone Project’s first acquisition – a quad-copter drone.

This, the first of two drones to be acquired, is well equipped to take steady aerial images and can be remotely piloted and can follow search patterns. The second can be programmed to be (to a certain extent) autonomous and will be able to be fitted with sensors which feedback information that can then be acted upon in real time. We already have a Quad Copter expert at the school, Edward Boyd-Wallis, who has designed his own drone as part of his A Level.

Proposals for upcoming projects include:

  • Philosophy – Machine Ethics Project (MEP)
  • Search and Rescue Project – The emphasis of this would be to consider the ethical judgements around prioritisation, resource distribution etc., alongside the practical applications. We hope to make links with existing rescue organisations, such as the RNLI, in order to participate with the wider community.
  • Science project – create an aerial map of the sand quarry in order to study the regeneration of plants (“succession”) year on year.
  • Geography – Block 3 project Orientation project and mapping of the Bedales site.
  • Computing – Artificial Intelligence programming.
  • Just War Theory – As part of the A-level Ethics course.
  • Design – Modification and implementation, 3D printing.
  • Sport – Analysis and documentation of sports events.

An aerial photo of Bedales taken by the drone:

Image taken by the Bedales Drone

By  Benedict Haydn-Davies, Teacher of PRE

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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.

Dr Sheldrake’s Eckersley marks SLT’s 50th

Bedales students were treated to a mesmerising one hour Eckersley lecture from the biologist and author, Dr Rupert Sheldrake. The title of the talk (‘The Science Delusion’) gave some preview that we might not be given a mainstream view of the scientific world. Part of the talk was based around Dr Sheldrake’s recent book which looks at ten dogmas of science and instead of presenting them as ‘truth’, they are posed as questions; and this scepticism certainly made everyone in the audience think. Then from dogmas to dogs, and we were taken through some of the past research that Sheldrake has conducted into parapsychological phenomena, including telepathy in dogs and humans. It was riveting stuff and at the follow-up book-signing there were many lively debates on related themes. This was a very different, but fascinating Eckersley lecture to mark the 50th anniversary of the Simon Lecture Theatre.

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science

Dr Rupert Sheldrake

Portrait sketch by Becky Grubb (Block 5)

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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.