Last month, PGCE Biology students from the University of Cambridge’s Education Department applied their fresh and enquiring minds to the question of how to create Key Stage 3-5 science resources based on Darwin’s own experiments. Some were issued with extracts from his book Insectivorous Plants (specifically sections on Drosera and Dionaea) and with letters concerning experiments he had carried out on the entrapment and absorption of food.
Other groups chose to focus on seed vitality or viability with extracts from Darwin’s own Experiment Book (also held here in the library), and his letters relating to seed dispersal with correspondents all over the world.
The final selection of materials concerned the weed garden that Darwin established at Down House. Using letters, an extract from On the Origin of Species and pages from his Experiment Book, students set about designing experiments informed by Darwin’s own. The weed garden was an opportunity for Darwin to look at the survival rates of self-sown seeds in a defined patch of ground over the course of several months.
Students came up some fantastic ideas – many of which will be worked up for this website shortly! From designing your own insectivorous plant, to dissecting an owl pellet to look for seeds, then planting them to test for viability. Look out for more details soon. Maybe this kind of design-your-own-Darwin experiment activity could be used with sixth formers?