Microplastic in plankton.

Exeter aims to bring marine science to life within the national curriculum

Researchers in Biosciences have been working closely with collaborators to produce a set of exciting free educational resources which aim to bring marine research to life in schools nationwide.

In collaboration with Digital Explore and Snowline Productions, Dr Ceri Lewis and Dr Matt Cole from Biosciences at the University of Exeter have been working to produce a selection of free documentary-style films on the issue of marine microplastics. The films will soon be part of a full set of scientific educational resources which is due to be released in the near future. The initiative aims to link real world science and school pupils, improving ocean literacy through exciting science resources presented on an innovative digital platform.  The resources will include films summarising current lab- and field-based research as well as lessons plans and fact sheets. Furthermore, the programme will include data sets for analysis and real experiments designed for pupils to conduct in school laboratories.  

Microplastics have been detected in the stomach tissue of 216 different marine animals, and are now recognised as an important conservation issue. With 72 % of the earth covered by oceans and an estimated 10 % of all plastics ending up in our oceans, scientists at the University of Exeter are at the forefront of research on a fast-growing environmental threat. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in size; the NERC-funded research aims to assess the potential impact of microplastics on the health of marine animals. As part of this exciting research, the educational resources intend to aid the dissemination of knowledge generated by the University of Exeter and their collaborators. The films cover topics such as the impacts of microplastics on marine animals, lab-based research, field-based research, working scientifically, and science in society.

The Frozen Oceans resources, a previous collaborative effort between researchers at UoE and Digital Explore, is a set of educational resources, based on the Arctic, that has been critically acclaimed and is now used in 514 schools nationwide as part of the GCSE curriculum.  The Marine Microplastics initiative aims to follow in these footsteps and bridge the gap in public knowledge regarding conservation issues of the marine environment. The Marine Microplastics resources will include a comprehensive pack for teachers directly based on NERC-funded science being carried out at the university, focusing particularly on zooplankton. The resources are available free on the internet, and are supported by a teacher training academy run by scientists, which aims to provide teachers with the most up to date knowledge in order to pass this on to their pupils.

Dr Ceri Lewis from Biosciences at the University of Exeter said “It is a really important issue, and it is something we can all easily do something about. We are really keen to get the message out to as many people as possible, and show kids that doing science really is good fun!”

Through an interactive learning experience, the Marine Microplastics initiative will allow students to learn how to do real and inspiring research. The resources help students to understand how to generate and analyse data, and students will have the opportunity to create their own mock press release based on the microplastics research. These resources provide students with a unique opportunity to learn about our oceans and how they can take part in marine conservation.

To access the resources, go to the digital explorer website at http://digitalexplorer.com/resources/bank/?collection=plastic-oceans-14-16

Date: 8 September 2015

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