Parasite Immuno-epidemiology Group (P.I.G)

Outreach Visit to Schools

Together with Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, we took the Bugs and Bones Treasure Chest out to four Primary 6 classes.

Collage of photos from the activities surrounded by images of animals

Sometimes being a scientist can be rather cool. This cool aura often materialises when we go out to talk to children about what it is actually like to do science for a living.


Every now and then schools have, as part of their curriculum, a “Bring your parent to school” event where parents come into the school and discuss with pupils what it is like in their particular profession. One sunny Monday morning in May was our opportunity to convince the pupils at Heriots that life as a scientist was just that: cool!


To help communicate this to the children we hooked up with Edinburgh Infectious Diseases and took their Bugs and Bones Treasure Chest out to four Primary 6 classes, just over 100 potentially budding scientists! Transporting the chest around town is always a bit of an expedition in itself. A large, custom built black box which contains both the bugs and the bones, will only just fit in a standard black cab. It never fails to amuse to see the look on the taxi drivers face as the chest is wheeled towards the waiting vehicle.


Thankfully when designed thought was given to this conundrum and the box itself is designed to lie on runners along its back whilst keeping the “treasures” safe and sound inside. Set up once we arrive at our destination usually takes half an hour or so. A bit of furniture rearranging takes place and the tables are set up with paired sets of bones or the microscope and flasks of bugs.

2 photos of the classroom, with bones and worksheets on desks, ready for the Bugs and Bones activities


2 photos of the classroom, with bones and worksheets on desks, ready for the Bugs and Bones activities

The children arrived and were lab-coated up by Francisca and Hilary before they proceeded in a very quiet and orderly manner into the classroom. This was the calm quiet before the enthusiastic storm! After an introduction by Francisca and Hilary the children were split up into groups of 6. Each group then visits the various tables with the pupils being encouraged to touch the bones and use the microscope to examine the contents of the flasks.


Photo of the classroom with Hilary holding a thank you card and Janice in the background

The best things about this workshop is that it is so hands on. The pupils get to touch and handle the bones and to use the microscope to examine the contents in the flasks…. Now this is what makes the workshop different from so many other scientific encounters. Reactions to the bugs and parasites ranges from completely gross to cool and fascinating. I think the bones induce slightly less extreme responses. Nonetheless when reassured that nothing in the flasks can harm them the kids seem more than happy to get on with examining the contents! The bones range from the huge polar bear skull and very impressive saber-toothed tiger to the common-or garden kitten, which proved to be very popular indeed. Having a real human skull in our collection allowed Francisca to get a little gruesome and for the kids to let their imagination run wild.


All too soon our time with each class was up. The pupils returned the lab coats and headed off to mid-morning break or lunch.After packing away all of our treasures, to our surprise the teachers returned with completed feedback forms from the children and a lovely hand-made thank you card.


Some of the feedback comments were priceless! When asked to give thumbs and smiles if they enjoyed and liked the workshop one child replied that her cheeks were aching from her smile J. Other comments ranged from one pupil feeling like she was a “student at Edinburgh University” and another “wanting to work in that department when I’m older”.


Related links

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases