A team of 12 scientists from CEEC dazzled children at Latitude festival 2019 with Nature’s diversity. Final year PhD student Becky Lewis shares the experience.
Every year, Henham park in Suffolk plays host to the ~ 35,000 attendees of Latitude festival, and this year, a group of faculty, PhD students and post-docs from CEEC were lucky enough to be amongst them, spreading some science enthusiasm. Here’s how our weekend went.
The CEEC team at Latitude: Mike Pointer, Nathan McConnell, Martin Taylor, Lewis Spurgin, Becky Lewis, Ellie Fairfield, Ram Vasudeva, Ryan Brock, Kris Sales, Ellen Bell. Not pictured, but involved: Matt Gage & Iain Barr.
For several months before Latitude the group had been designing a “Nature Explorer” challenge, in order to demonstrate the extraordinary diversity we see in nature. Children coming to the tent were given “Nature Explorer Passports” which contained nine tasks to complete in order for them to become fully fledged nature explorers and make themselves a badge. We had three stations, each of which had three tasks listed in the passports.
The first station was named “Crafty Colours” and was designed with the overarching theme of camouflage, mimicry and aposematism (animals using colours to warn that they’re toxic/dangerous). Upon arrival at this station children found a beautiful rainforest Where’s Wally style puzzle in which they had to find all 16 creatures hidden in the rainforest and discuss why some were harder to spot than others (some were really hard!). They then had a riddle to solve to tell apart the venomous coral snake from the nonvenomous scarlet king snake, introducing them to the idea of mimicry. The final challenge for the budding nature explorers at this station was to look at some of the live Corydoras catfish we had brought and identify how many different species were there and why some were easier to see than others.
Ellen and Ellie helping a nature explorer to find a jaguar in the rainforest.
Our second stand, “Skull-duggery” was designed around the UEA’s amazing collection of replica skulls. The children were first challenged to choose a picture of an animal and find its skull. Secondly, they were asked to find all the bird skulls (a tricky challenge even for some parents! Many were tripped up by the turtle, anteater and duck-billed platypus). Finally, they had to look at a skull chosen by us and tell us what sort of food they thought that animal might eat and why. This stand encouraged the children to look at the shape of the skulls and how they were adapted for their environment and diet. For example, many children knew that the wolf skull was the skull of a carnivore, without knowing what animal it was from.
Our third and final stop was “Incredible Insects”. Here, we had two live bumble bee colonies, in which our nature explorers had to try to find the queen. We had also designed some friend or foe cards, each with an insect and some information about that insect. The children then had to decide whether these insects were friends or foes to humans (with some live pest beetles and the bumblebees to illustrate foes and friends respectively). The last challenge for the children at this station was to try to sort insect specimens in resin into their taxonomic groups. This station showed kids that even though insects are often unpopular, they have an astonishing amount of diversity and they can be really important members of the ecosystem.
Finally, after completing all of these challenges, the nature explorers were rewarded with being able to design and make their own nature themed badge. We also gave out some temporary tattoos of invertebrates.
An example of a particularly beautiful badge by Hugo and some of our CEEC volunteers after getting carried away with the temporary tattoos.
We shared our science tent with two other groups. There was a group from the Quadram Institute who built an amazing giant gut, big enough to walk through with light up pathways. Additionally, we shared with “the splat man” who had developed a life-size game of operation. The whole tent had a fantastic atmosphere.
Overall, we feel that the weekend was a huge success, we all enjoyed it hugely and we’ve had some incredible feedback:
“Best learning activity in the kids arena @LatitudeFest goes to @uniofeastanglia #naturesdazzlingdiversity.”
“My little boy went to the science tent at the latitude festival and had THE BEST time ever!”
I think we all had an amazing, fun, exhausting, rewarding time and would be keen to go again. It’s an experience I would strongly recommend.
Becky Lewis is a final year PhD student within CEEC, working on thermal adaptation in Tribolium castaneum, a model pest beetle. Her PhD has focused on how exposure to high temperature affects reproduction and survival in this pest species and whether population size and demographics can help facilitate adaptation. For the next year, Becky will be a lecturer for the Foundation Year Biology modules at UEA. Twitter: @becky_c_lewis