BSA Science Week 2022

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Welcome to the British Science Week 2022 activity from the NHM’s Explore: Urban Nature programme.

Here you’ll find all the information you need to complete the activity, including how to submit your scientific questions to the Natural History Museum!

Why are we doing this?

Many of us don’t realise that we’re surrounded by nature, every second of every day, no matter where we live. As towns and cities grow, we need to make sure we’re creating spaces where humans and wildlife can thrive together.

We have a big responsibility to look after our world, but to do that we need to understand how it’s changing and how human activity impacts nature. This is where you come in! We’re recruiting you to help us with our biggest challenge yet. 

We need your help!

What do YOU think the most important scientific questions we should be investigating are?

How can you help us solve the puzzle of supporting both people and the planet?

We will take your suggestions and use them to come up with a big research project that everyone can participate in!

How to get started

The best approach is to get outside and follow the guide on page 26 of the British Science Week activity pack. Once you get to the stage in the activity where you’re thinking about what your own scientific questions about urban nature might be, you can use the extra information below on this page.

How to submit your question

When you’re ready to send us your question, make sure your teacher (if you’re doing this with school) or parent/guardian (if you’re doing this with your family) has registered first here. Then you can submit your question to the Natural History Museum scientists here.

What is a scientific question?

We want to know real practical things we can do in our towns and cities to support humans and wildlife, but we can’t just ask the question ‘What’s the best way to support nature?’, that’s way too big and vague to answer – we need to ask a scientific question that we can actually test. Here’s a handy checklist to help you form your own questions:

1. Your question should be based on an observation. 

You’ve just been outside looking closely at nature, what questions did this prompt in your mind? What species did you see and what evidence did you find of humans influencing the environment?

Can you think of a question that would help us understand better how human actions have impacted some of the species you saw, or how we could support urban species?

For example: You might make the observation that your green space has a loud busy road right next to it. You could then ask the question – 'How does noise pollution impact biodiversity in urban areas?'.

2. Your question should lead to at least one hypothesis.

To answer a scientific question, you have to be able to set up specific tests, or hypotheses, that someone could collect evidence for. There might be many different hypotheses you could test that would contribute to answering the same scientific question.

In our example above about noise pollution, some example hypotheses that we could test that would help answer the question might be ‘Parks next to noisy roads have fewer species of mammal living in them than parks in quiet areas’, or ‘Trees growing next to the train station are visited by fewer insects than trees growing in a quiet park’.

3. You must be able to collect evidence to test the hypothesis.

You need to be able to go out and measure something (ie collect evidence).

For example, to test the hypothesis ‘Parks next to noisy roads have fewer species of mammal living in them than parks in quiet areas’ you could visit many parks next to roads and in quiet areas, record the noise levels in them, and then make observations or use automatic cameras to count how many different types of mammal live in each park.

4. The answer should not already be known.

In other words, can you Google it?

This one is very important! Lots of scientists before us have learned many things about the natural world, it’s our job to keep finding out more.

A question like ‘How do plants reproduce?’ has already been answered by scientists before us, but if you ask a question about how your local nature is changing over time in response to human actions it’s quite likely no one will have researched this before.

5. The question should not be biased.

For many scientific questions you might have a prediction about what the answer is likely to be, but you must always frame the question in an unbiased and fair way.

For example, you observe a new car park has been built in your neighborhood you could ask the question ‘What is the impact of new car parks on habitats around them’.

However, the question ‘What bad things have happened to the plants and animals in the green space next to the car park site’ is not scientific as this is biased towards only looking for bad effects of the car park.

  • If you get stuck

    Here are a few activities you could try with friends or classmates to come up with some ideas, your teacher or parent/guardian can help out too by using the activities here.

    Question Ingredients

    This is a fun way to generate lots of ideas for questions quickly. Lots of the results won’t make any sense but some will have the potential to be refined to make great scientific questions!

    Get blank card or paper scraps and try to come up with at least 5 words from each of the following three categories to write down on separate cards:

    • habitat (e.g. stream, under a tree, wood, garden wall)
    • plant, animal or fungi (e.g. daisy, oak tree, squirrel, bee, honey fungus)
    • city nature issue (e.g. pollution, change in land use, building)

    You should end up with at least 15 cards, now mix and match them with one from each category!

    Refine the combinations using the scientific question criteria to turn them into scientific questions about nature in cities and towns. For example stream + oak tree + pollution could form the question ‘Do oak trees protect city streams from pollution?’.

    Question stems

    Try filling in the gaps in these sentences using observations you made in your local green space:

    • Why does _________ never seem to _________ ?
    • How does _________ impact _________ ?
    • How does _________ work?
    • What is most important about _________ ?
    • What is most simple / complex about _________ ?
    • How could you classify _________ into _________ ?
    • (And, why would you classify _________ ?)
    • When _________ , why does _________ ?
    • How would a change in _________ affect _________ ?

    Game of consequences

    You’ll need some friends for this one. It works best withfive players. Going around in a circle, each player adds a word or phrase to build up a question.

    Player A – selects a question starter:

    • Where + has/ was/ will/ would/ could/ did/ does
    • When + might/ does/ can/ do/ are
    • Why + did/ does/ can/ is
    • What + should/ would/ might/ is/ do
    • How + can/ could/ do/ does/ will

    Player B – selects an operative word:

    • an increase in/ a decrease in/ measuring/ a change in

    Player C – selects an urban nature topic:

    • land use/ habitat loss/ native planting / air pollution/ noise pollution/ light pollution/ invasive species/ insecticides / climate change

    Player D – selects an operative word:

    • affect, change, mean for, help protect, damage

    Player E – selects a natural world topic or species:

    • wildlife, plants, trees, flowering times, biodiversity, life in the pond, pollinators, native species, apex predators, ecosystems

    Once you’ve selected your 5 words take a look at the question you’ve formed, does it make sense? If not why not?

    Can altering these words improve or change your question so that it does make sense and fits the scientific question criteria.  

Explore: Urban Nature is
developed in partnership with

Explore: Urban Nature

We’re challenging students across the UK to better understand the nature in our towns and cities. For ages 9-14.

We have teaching resources, regional workshops and teacher CPD.

Funding

We thank all funders to the Urban Nature Project campaign so far, including those who wish to remain anonymous, for their generous support. We recognise the following funders for their exceptional contributions to the campaign:

Explore urban nature funders logos

Activity packs

Download your free activity packs for British Science Week from the BSA website.