A team of enthusiastic scientists from the John Innes Centre; Edward Hems, Louisa Perry, Ainsley Beaton, Caroline Stone, Liam Chapman, Rebecca Diss, Emma Banks and Andy Truman were joined by writers Jo Guthrie and Richard Lambert, and artist Jacques Nimki for a return trip to Drake Primary School in Thetford, for British Science Week.

The theme of the two-day project was “Bacteria and Antibiotics” and with the help of their “lab books” students completed five science activities: ‘Super Soil’, ‘Amazing Ants’, ‘Colourful Chromatography’, ‘Magnificent Microscopes’ and ‘Beautiful Bacteria’.

In ‘Super Soil’, the children collected soil samples and learned how to extract and plate out soil bacteria and in ‘Beautiful Bacteria’ they were able to see bacterial colonies grown in the lab exhibiting a range of colourful antibiotics.

‘Colourful Chromatography’ used sweets to represent different types of bacteria. The students separated different coloured dyes with paper chromatography to represent the process of detecting and identifying a range of antibiotics made by soil bacteria.

Using zoomy microscopes during a science, art and writing workshop at Drake primary school to look at leaf ctter ants
Getting up-close and personal with leaf cutter ants, using Zoomy microscopes/

Two activities that were a clear hit with the class were ‘Amazing Ants’ and ‘Magnificent Microscopes’. The class had a chance to get up close with Leafcutter ants, which are known to carry antibiotic-producing bacteria on their bodies and use Zoomy™ microscopes to explore a range of samples, including themselves!

I liked science the best because there were lots of things to discover and do.

Sophia, year 5.

Using a selection of images from the science, things they explored with the microscopes and the science activities as inspiration, Richard and Jo helped the students to craft poems.

Many children were surprised to learn that “poems didn’t have to rhyme” and that “they can be about anything”.  They set to the writing task with great gusto!


The Song of the Leafcutter Ant by Amber, year 5

Like scissors snipping through paper,

Or lumberjacks sawing down trees,

These ants cut through leaves.


“Snip, snip, snip”,

“Chomp, chomp, chomp”,

These soldiers work all day.


Their lives with one purpose,

And one purpose only,

To snip, to snip, to snip.


Feather by Sophia, year 5

Through the gleaming sun,

The feather stares,


Its streaks of softness,

Peaks out of the centre,


Whistling through the wind,

Its life hurls,

But courage overcomes,


Braveness is the key.


A dot is the first step in art.

Dexter, year 5.

Both days concluded with the students exploring the language of art, learning about concepts such as form, line, texture and composition.  The class then set to work on a paper-folding activity to build a box that they took outside to collect leaves in.

Then they moved on to make leafcutter ants out of card with moving joints and giant leaves for them to carry.  When finished, the school are going to assemble the ants in a long line across the classroom wall, all carrying their leaves to take back to their nest.  We are looking forward to seeing the photos of that!

With different activities, techniques and mediums being used, students were given the chance to explore their skills and show their creativity.

When asked what he had learnt from his experience during the art session, one student named Ronnie replied, “I learnt that anything is possible if you try”. A statement that is surely any educator’s dream to hear.

Wow! What an amazing day the children had! Every child was engaged in the real life of being an inquisitive scientist, expressive artist and creative writer for the day. The children’s responses and expressions showed it will be a day ingrained, as a very memorable experience, for a long time to come. Thank you!

Mrs Oswick, Year 5 Teacher, Drake Primary School – Thetford

Thanks to Drake Primary School and teachers Mrs Oswick, Miss Greenwood and Miss Ware for hosting us and thanks for workshop funding from John Innes Centre scientists Prof Barrie Wilkinson (BBSRC Grant) and Dr Tung Le (Wellcome Trust Award).