Children as Scientists

Dr Scott Walker, Ogden Science Officer at Keele University Sustainability Hub, has been working with the Nantwich Museum Research Group to investigate water quality of the River Weaver. Scott devised a comprehensive water quality project which was undertaken by approximately 100 primary school pupils (Years 5 and 6) from Pear Tree and Wrenbury Schools. Scott explains more:

“On a warm, sunny June day, the children made their way to the riverside at the Willows (or Nantwich Beach); accompanied by teachers and volunteers from the Museum they met with staff and volunteers from Keele University Sustainability Hub and under their supervision, the children collected samples of river water.

The project focused on six chemical tests: nitrate, nitrite, pH, salinity (chloride ions), the general hardness and the carbonate hardness. These tests were performed entirely by the pupils at a temporary laboratory set up within the Museum.

As well as providing valuable insights into the health of the river, this project provided a wonderful opportunity for the pupils to undertake genuine scientific research, using equipment and techniques that they would otherwise not have had the chance to use.

Enabling students to see themselves as scientists by undertaking genuine and meaningful scientific research is a growing trend. It is believed that this will inspire the pupils, encourage them to continue thinking scientifically and engage in further science events and study.

The results of the children’s analysis confirm that the River Weaver in Nantwich is in a reasonably healthy condition, and certainly not a threat to wildlife or humans. As well as improvements to its water quality over recent decades, the riverside we enjoy today has evolved as a result of local initiatives and the invaluable work of volunteers. The Nantwich Riverside project (2007–2010) played an important part in developing the Weaver as a place to enjoy. Footpaths have been developed, and are still being improved, trees and flowers have been planted and invasive plants such as Himalayan Balsam are being tackled. There is even a Community Orchard. The populations of otters and water voles have risen and the area is ever popular for walkers, anglers, cyclists and the occasional canoeist; the river today is a source of pleasure for Nantwich residents and visitors.

The Nantwich Schools’ Water Quality Project has provided a valuable link between the children, science and their local environment. It gives the children an insight into the real-world application of science and how it can affect and influence the world around them. The children learnt to see themselves as scientists and to appreciate the practical implications of science in society.”

The River Weaver Exhibition is being held over the summer at the Nantwich Museum. As well as the schools’ science day, Scott has held several scientific workshops as part of the exhibition that look at the quality of water within the Weaver. He has been able to bring the science to venues (and audiences) that are not always science orientated. A Family Fun Day at the museum encouraged people to visit the Weaver, take a sample and bring it back to the museum for analysis. On the day, around 50 families took part in this.