Murder mystery to DNA: researchers bring science to life in schools

There’s been a murder in the medical school, a year eight class is told. A respected professor at the University of Southampton has been shot dead in the lab and the students of Hounsdown School must work out who did it. They can interrogate researchers, take fingerprints, collect DNA samples, and study bullets shot from a gun to catch the culprit.

This fictitious crime scene has been set up as a way to involve pupils in hands-on research. The class learns about forensics, while researchers collect data from the students about their attitudes towards science.

At a time of rising populism and questions by some about the role of experts, it’s important to show young people the value of research. Schools can team up with universities to involve pupils, both as test subjects and as active participants. But what makes these partnerships successful for schools? And what can pupils gain from the experience?

One benefit is that it can make science fun. At Hounsdown, based in Hampshire, students also participate in LifeLab, a “hospital classroom”. Pupils take part in hands-on sessions looking at health; measuring their blood pressure or heart rate, for example. The findings contribute to research into non-communicable diseases.

“The children really enjoy working with scientists,” says Gemma Hortop, a teacher at the school. “People tend to stereotype them as wearing lab coats and having frizzy hair like Einstein. So it’s good for them just to see science in the real world.” Projects like this also open young people’s eyes to research as a potential career choice, she says. “It’s made them re-think science and enthused them to see it beyond the classroom.” Read more