Children responded to the challenge of climate change by designing their own animals, in an innovative new project
In 1859 Charles Darwin set out his theory of Evolution by means of natural selection. His groundbreaking idea, that animals change and evolve over time as a result of adapting to a changing environment, has helped to explain the myriad of beautiful species that occur in nature. It has even helped people to shape the evolution of animals, such as with cattle and with different breeds of dogs. With the Earth facing the prospect of significant climate change, it is likely that animals, as well as people will have to adapt to different challenges. Thinking about how modern pets and farm animals looked in the past - and how we have shaped them into what they are today - was the main focus of a recent project which aimed to teach young people about evolution.
Three groups of 14-19 year old students from Wales worked alongside archaeologists, scientists and an artist to learn all about Charles Darwin’s ground breaking theory of evolution through natural selection. They were asked the question ‘what will pets look like in a thousand years time? With climate change and increasing population might we need smaller, cleaner, transportable pets – perhaps a micro-dog the size of a mobile that poops perfumed pellets? As for animals that we eat, with rising sea levels we may need aquatic cattle that can swim and eat seaweed!
The young people used Darwin’sideas to imagine and create the animals of the future. In a one day workshop they explored how animals have evolved from their wild ancestors to be our pets and our food today - from wolfs to whippets and from the giant wild ‘Aurochs’ cattle to the singing ‘Anchor’ cows. They also looked at some of the breeds of dogs, cows and sheep that are special to Wales. They examined the bones of past and present animals, and learned the facts about skeletons and why some animals are such weird and wonderful shapes. The students designed what they thought the animals of tomorrow would look like, and these designs were collected and used to produce museum displays and a website. The drawings were exhibited at the National Museum of Wales from February to April 2010.
The students came from the Welsh medium school Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, as well as from Cardiff ITEC Training Solutions and St Albans. These schools were chosen because the pupils studying in them often face barriers to accessing engagement activities, either due to lacking the resources and the amenities to engage with high quality engagement activities, or because, in the case of the welsh medium secondary school, engagement activities are usually given solely in English.
In addition to offering hands on creative challenges and experience, these three workshops involved ethical debates about our past, present and future relationships with animals, and the responsibilities that we face as agents of biological change.
The project was delivered by students and staff from the Schools of Biosciences and History and Archaeology at Cardiff University. An award winning artist, Paul Evans also worked with learning officers from the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museums of Wales, and the STEM manager based at Techniquest. The leader of the project Dr Jacqui Mulville, is a researcher at Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion. She said:
‘We wanted to explore new ways of engaging with people by bringing together scientific fact with drawing and creative thinking to create an innovative means of inspiring young people, and raising confidence in university students and staff to pursue public engagement.’
‘The best thing about the project was seeing the creativity flow out of the young people involved and the enthusiasm for the project expressed by the teachers. All the postgraduates involved benefited from the skills and confidence gained over the course of the project and the exhibition was a great success.’
The benefits of this project are to be shared with other children throughout schools in Wales, as the National Museum of Wales have produced loan boxes and outreach packs including the skeletons of many animals past and present.
Paul Evans www.origin09.org.
Lead: Dr Jacqui Mulville, School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University