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“Dirt Day” at Dundas Central Elementary – Bringing Biology from the Lab to the Classroom

It was an eventful two days for grade 3 to 5 students at Dundas Central Elementary School last Friday, as scientists from McMaster University brought biology from the lab to the classroom.

Professor and researcher Dr. Dawn Bowdish and graduate students from the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR) led the event, in collaboration with Dundas Central’s grade 4 and 5 teacher, Mr. Robert Bell.

The action-packed “Dirt Day” series began with students looking closely at soil samples that they collected in Mr. Bell’s science class to learn about growing microbes from soil to find antibiotics. They followed the session with “microbial finger-painting”, to learn how the bacteria that live in and around us can grow on the ideal conditions of their agar canvases.  On the second day, students engaged in several rounds of “bacteria bingo”, where they proudly recalled identifiable characteristics of the bacteria they had studied the day prior. The event concluded with the reveal of the student’s much-awaited “organism artwork”, stirring an uproar of laughter and amazement over the incredible abilities of their tiny, invisible cohabitants.

“The purpose of these types of initiatives is to foster an interest in science, especially at such a pivotal age when children tend to consciously or subconsciously decide whether they like or dislike the subject” explained Mr. Bell, who has seen first-hand how exposure to these types of hands-on learning experiences at a young age can foster a lifelong interest in science.

The experience was not only educational for the children, but for the parent volunteers as well. “The parents were just as excited to learn about the science as the children were” stated McMaster graduate student Haley Zubyk, who helped coordinate the event.

“Getting kids interested in microbiology is definitely important, especially given the current growing prevalence of antimicrobial resistance” stated PhD candidate Matt Surette, who studies drug-resistant infection research under McMaster IIDR Director Dr. Gerry Wright. “These kids could be our future leaders.”

The interest of the children was displayed wholeheartedly during the event through their eagerness to participate and ask important questions. “How is bacteria made?” asked Nelson – just 9 years old but with the curiosity of a true scientist.