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A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation part 3

By Caroline Francis, on 4 August 2020

This post is the third in a series on the Bio-robotics and Animal Movement Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London. This article is written by Zhi-Cheng Wong, an undergraduate student on the BASc (Arts and Sciences) programme. She joined the Bio-Robotics and Animal Movement Schools project team in September 2019. 


As part of my second year BASc (Arts and Sciences) course I was offered the opportunity to take an object-based learning module. I’ve always been keen to visit museums, from a young age, so I immediately decided this would be of interest to me. I was extremely excited about the classes that were going to take place in various museums and exhibitions. The opportunity to join the Bio-Robotics and Animal Movement project has truly been a project that allowed me to put into practice what I learnt in class.

The school students taking part enjoy a day learning and exploring UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, a natural history museum with a diverse collection of animal specimens. The workshop includes a brief introduction to the topic of the day, “Animal Locomotion”, followed by several activities. To have this museum as a learning space is great because the collections are concentrated in a small area.

The museum is home to 68,000 zoological specimen.

The multitude of specimens on display inspire and intrigue the students as they explore the museum. This brings a mix of responses from the students, mostly excitement, though many are surprised by some more unusual-looking animal specimens such as the Portuguese Man o’ War (not a jellyfish, this is a siphonophore closely related to them). In particular, the young kangaroo specimen attracts much attention, many adoring it whilst others finding it rather freakish looking.

Young kangaroo preserved in fluid, from the Grant Museum of Zoology Catalogue.

I mostly help at an activity station where the students are presented with both a real snake’s vertebrae and 3D printed bones, which were printed from scans of this backbone. In my object-based learning module, I learnt the techniques of handling museum objects. This means that I can then advise students as they handle the museum specimens.

African Rock Python skeleton, the Grant Museum of Zoology.

In the workshop students use many skills, such as teamwork: students help one another to understand and explain the mechanisms behind the different types of actions and forces involved when snakes move. The students look at diagrams depicting various methods of snake locomotion and are encouraged to use the 3D printed snake vertebrae to mimic a variety of snake movements. The students examine how the specimen bones fit together, which they then re-create with the 3D printed bones. It’s a great opportunity for students to see how two subjects, zoology and technology, can be linked and show that research depends heavily on interdisciplinary work.

3D printed bones are used in workshops to understand animal skeletons. Photograph by Richard Stonehouse, 2018.

I’ve always enjoyed working with other students and actively learning together. I was quite surprised to learn snakes had so many ways of creating movement, better pay close attention next time I’m at the zoo!

Throughout my school career I actively participated in with working with students from a range of year groups. Joining the Bio-Robotics project was a good opportunity to continue engaging with students in various stages of their schooling and get a glimpse of their thoughts on going to university. I was very glad to hear most of them had considered progressing to university, which definitely wasn’t something I can say I thought about until I started sixth-form. I’m lucky to be involved in this project and help students explore their further education opportunities and bring to light the possibilities for students who may not have thought about university yet.

During the day I have the chance to speak to many students and answer questions about life as a UCL student. Although most students were concerned with the grades they needed, I also told them why I chose UCL and BASc. I think this project helps students, from a younger age, become much more open-minded about successfully entering university and gives them the motivation to work on their passions.

School student’s get to ask all sorts of questions about life at university during the trip. Photograph by Richard Stonehouse, 2018.

Another project I have contributed to sparked my creativity. It was the My London: A Virtual Culture Week at Cardinal Pole Catholic School for all the Key Stage three students, aged 11-14. UCL Culture has worked with the school for the past three years and offered to support the project through providing online activities and I made two of these. The first let students explore UCL with a virtual tour with Q&A’s along the way, which allowed them to find out about different aspects of life at UCL. The second activity inspired the students to think about what life is like as a university student and give them some insight into university life. The activity invited them to consider their own qualities and encouraged them to think about how to build on these to enable them to enjoy life at university.

It’s been a great opportunity to work with tremendously inspiring people on these projects. I feel they help show school students to see that UCL is accessible to young people of all interests and backgrounds, whether you are looking for a focused degree, or something more like the BASc, a platform to explore different disciplines.

You can also read part 1 and 2 of this series.

One Response to “A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation part 3”

  • 1
    Jameela Nagri wrote on 5 August 2020:

    Wonderful article Zhi-Cheng – an insightful look at a subject I would love to learn more about! Looking forward to more articles to read!

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