Across the Continents Project

Communicating ecology to schools in Cambridge and South East Asia

Hello there! My name is Sara, and I work at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. I’ve joined the fieldwork adventures team for an exciting new project, one that is pioneering the use of current and ongoing research in museum public engagement and education.

Museum session
Sara: doing my day job

This blog post will fill you in on the need-to-knows about the project and where we are up to so far. You’ll be able to follow our progress on this blog over the next few months.


The Idea:

Many researchers perform public engagement work in order to share their findings with people who might find it interesting in the wider community.

Researchers from the Department of Zoology have been investigating how the biodiversity of palm oil plantation sites in South East Asia can benefit farmers and local people as well as the environment. The idea is that, during episodes of extreme weather such as during drought or floods, a plantation with a greater diversity of plant and animal species will suffer less and recover faster than those that do not. This should give plantation stakeholders a strong motivation to take care of the plantation environment. In particular, the small fragments of forests in oil palm landscapes should be particularly important for supporting biodiversity but these fragments are particularly vulnerable to disturbance and drought.

Bambeng and Ridho: Studying the predation of beetle larvae by rats and ants

How then, can this ground-breaking research make a difference in the real world? We believe, by teaching the next generation of farmers, stakeholders, influencers, consumers and policy-makers!

This is where I step in! As a museum educator I work with many audiences, including school groups, and produce resources and sessions that fit in with National Curriculums, both in the UK and abroad.


The Task:

When creating anything for others, it is important to perform consultation work with the audience you wish to engage. There is no sense in trying to guess or assume what teachers would need to share these new ideas.

We found our teaching ally in St Luke’s Primary School, Cambridge, who have enthusiastically joined the project as a local partner school and guinea pig. They will keep us on track to creating interesting and useful resources for schools. We will be sharing how we fail, adapt and succeed in producing cross-curricular tools for teachers as the project unfolds.

Biodiversity session at St Luke’s Primary

Of course, we can’t stop there. In order for us to have a direct impact on the areas where rainforest habitats are changing and disappearing, we need to be communicating with local communities in South East Asia (and beyond). This project will therefore also extend to delivering teacher training and creating resources in partnership with schools in Malaysia and Indonesia.


The Project So Far:

We got off to a fabulous start in Cambridge last week, with St Luke’s Chestnut Class (year 4) being the first to take part in our new biodiversity session. This session uses different activities to introduce the term, and highlight the importance of all animals and plants, both in the rainforest and in local Cambridgeshire environments. By creating links between the habitats that pupils will experience in their daily lives, and those they will see as part of the project, we hope to strengthen their understanding of what environmental change can mean to different species.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 11.45.16.png
Ecological Jenga with Chestnut Class

Creating links and communication is a huge part of this project, and a tool that we will endeavour to use throughout. The activities that Chestnut Class have done, and will do over the next few weeks, will also be experienced by their counterparts in Asia! We hope to push learning and interest levels as we put pupils in direct contact with each other through video diaries, photographs and drawings.

By working in partnership with schools in both countries, the resources created as a legacy to this project will be (fingers crossed!) useful on an international level.


Next Time:

Zoology Museum Orangutan ready for the trip

I travel to Sabah in Borneo to begin the next phase of the project and St Luke’s Primary, years 4 & 5, will send my travel companion, a keen entomologist and lover of fruits, the Museum of Zoology Orang-utan on an adventure through creative writing!



Thank you for following our Biodiversity Schools project. To learn more about the Museum of Zoology schools program, sign up to receive our Teacher’s Newsletter by emailing

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