Sunday 25 August 2019

Introducing the Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme

Students identify different plants
during a practical session at the
Gatsby Plant Science Summer School
Image: Joe Higham 
We're delighted to present the first of three guest blogposts about the work of the Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme (GPSEP). 

Over to Emma from the GPSEP team to tell us more: 

"You’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of plant blindness, or ‘the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment’ as it’s been defined. This results in reduced interest in plant conservation and the study of plant biology – which is a big problem, since we know how vitally important plants are for the environment and human health.

"The good news is that there’s a dedicated team working to solve this problem. The Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme (GPSEP) aims to strengthen plant science education in schools, colleges and universities, making a significant difference to the teaching and learning of plant science for students of all ages. Based jointly in the Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge University and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, GPSEP is a national programme across the whole of the UK –  impressive considering they’re a team of just 6 people!

"The programme is split into two sides. Working closely with schools, colleges and universities, the Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) project advocates for presence of relevant and inspiring contemporary plant science in the school curriculum and develops teaching resources to support this. They support teaching from primary through to post-16, working with teachers and technicians, teacher trainers and trainee teachers. They also send out a half-termly newsletter to over 7000 subscribers.

The GPSEP team plus academic
advisor Celia Knight at the
Gatsby Plant Science Summer School
Image courtesy of
Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme
"One recent project SAPS have worked on is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Teaching Biology: Inspiring Students with Plant Science, hosted by online learning platform FutureLearn. This completely free course shows secondary biology teachers how they can use plants to teach practical science and engage their students.

"The Higher Education side of the programme seeks to nurture bright students in post-16 education with an interest in bioscience to become the next generation of leading plant science researchers. One important way they do this is through the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School. This is a unique opportunity for students studying at one of 28 universities across the UK to deepen their knowledge of plant science through talks from leading scientists, careers sessions, eye-opening practicals and thought-provoking discussions with researchers and peers.

SAPS Project Manager Alex Jenkin
gives an engaging talk to school
science teachers & technicians
 at the Association for
Science Education conference
Image: Joe Higham
"The Summer School has been running for 15 years with great success. Former students have gone on to study plant science further and pursue careers in the area. As one student put it, ‘The summer school has changed my perception of plant science in a positive way; having this opportunity has given me the insight I needed to find out where plant science can take me.’ We’d say that’s mission accomplished!

"But all of the above is just touching the surface of what GPSEP do. Across a series of blog posts over the new few months, we’ll be featuring a few of the exciting projects GPSEP are working on to increase awareness of plants, both in SAPs and Higher Education, so watch this space.

"Want to get in touch with the team with ideas, questions or thoughts? They’re always happy to hear from plant enthusiasts – you can find their contact details here".

Thanks to Emma for this introduction to GPSEP's work. It's worth mentioning here that BSBI and the Field Studies Council were so keen to support the excellent GPS Summer School that this year, we put together a useful flyer for participants, setting out resources from both organisations that could help people planing to work with plants. You can view or download a copy here.

Emma will be back next month to tell us a bit more about the MOOC - watch this space! 

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