Outreach: Team Microbes! Bringing microbiology into primary schools

Issue: Mycobacteria

27 August 2014 article

Are you Team Fungi? Or, Team Bacteria? How about Team Algae? Would you prefer to be a good bug or a bad bug? For three primary school classes in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, these questions were answered when Society staff members Dariel Burdass and Theresa Hudson went to two schools in May to deliver workshops on the wonderful world of microbes.

Learning about microbes

During the workshops, students learned about the different types of microbes: bacteria, protozoa, viruses, fungi and algae. They heard about ‘good’ examples from each group, such as the protozoa Paramecium that ‘eats’ sewage and the bacteria Lactobacillus that is used in the production of yoghurt and cheese; and ‘bad’ examples, such as the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold and the protozoan Plasmodium, which causes malaria. Students were assigned to a ‘team’ of microbes, with representative examples of GIANTmicrobes®, and wore t-shirts to show whether they were ‘good bugs’ or ‘bad bugs’.

‘Hands-on’ science

The students also got to do some hands-on science experiments, blowing up balloons using the power of yeast, and testing the effectiveness of hand washing at reducing the spread of infection, with the help of a UV light and some Glo Germ™ powder. By the end of the half-day session, they could describe lots of different types of microbes and understand that the majority of microbes are very useful in our everyday lives. We also got some great feedback from the students:

‘The experiment was great!!! I learnt so much about microbes and I never knew that bacteria could be good for you!’

‘It was the best science lesson I have ever had!’

‘The experiment was amazing and interesting, I think learning about microbes was amazing. PS the t-shirts were cool.’

Member support

The workshops couldn’t run without the help of Dr John McGrath, from Queen’s University, Belfast, who helps coordinate the visits, liaises with the schools and provides expert answers on the day to the great questions asked by the students. The workshops happen alongside Continuing Professional Development training for teachers and technicians working in local high schools. This training is run by John Schollar from the National Centre for Biotechnology Education, as part of a decade-long investment by the Society to promote and encourage microbiology education in the area. Dr McGrath sees the benefits of this investment with a healthy number of local students going on to study microbiology at Queen’s University.

The workshops give us a great opportunity to talk to Primary School children about the importance of microbes and highlight that they are not just agents of disease. As the workshops cater for Primary 7 pupils, we hope the sessions will have sparked an interest in science that they can take with them into Year 8 and beyond. We also get great feedback from the teachers who no longer have the opportunity to teach much science in the current curriculum; the resources supplied to them by the Society are very much appreciated.
Dr John McGrath, Queen’s University, Belfast

We’d like to thank Dr John McGrath for his continued support with these workshops and the teachers at both schools for welcoming us into their classrooms to help share with the students just how amazing microbes are! We very much look forward to returning next year.


Education and Outreach Officer
[email protected]