A Biochemical Society funded outreach activity at Bridgwater Science Festival.
Guest post by Tarnjit Khera (University of Bristol, UK)
Blood is messy and children like mess so what better way to teach children about the components of blood than letting them make it themselves? During the activity we discussed the role of each ingredient as it was added to a cup. Dried cranberries played the role of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, marshmallows were the bigger infection-fighting white blood cells and sugar glitter was used to depict platelets, which help scabs form. For the serum diluted milk containing food colouring was used. Each component was added in the ratio found in real human blood. Nearly all of the children knew blood is red, it keeps us alive and circulates around our bodies. The amount of information I gave in snippets was determined by the age of the child and the knowledge they already had therefore making the activity suitable for all. By about 9 years old, most children knew iron is present in blood and by about 12 years old, most children had heard of white blood cells and their role. So they were told about the different types of white blood cells and what happens during autoimmune disease.
My research focuses on how and why white blood cells are involved in uveitis, in particular the role macrophages play. Therefore white blood cells (aka marshmallows) were discussed in more detail. The children were also given a chance to make a mammalian cell by sticking organelles cut out of foam sheets onto a paper plate. We concentrated on role of the nucleus, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi body. With the older children I discussed how cells talk to each other using ‘signalling molecules’ which they make and the ‘receptors’ that receive them.
As I am based in the Ophthalmology research laboratories in the Medical Sciences Building, University of Bristol, the structure of the eye was also covered. I gave the children the opportunity to make an eye. We used paper bowls to make the retina and front of the eye. A hole was cut out of one of the paper plate to depict the pupil and the iris coloured in. They then drew on the blood vessels in the retina on the other paper plate and stuck pipe cleaners on the back showing where the optic nerve connects the eye to the brain. All of the children took the eyes home with them but I disposed of the blood unless they had eaten it already! Colouring sheets – one showing the organelles in an eukaryotic cell and one showing the structure of the eye – were given out, as was a wordsearch and a crossword puzzle.
The kids loved it and even the parents attention was held! A big thank you to the Biochemical Society of funding the event and Karen Onions, Anna Franz, Hoang Anh Le and Nobue Itasaki for helping out too.