Table of Contents:

  • Intro to ABR
  • Lab Research
  • Teaching in first primary school & results
  • Teaching Science Education student teachers
  • ISTA Magazine
  • European Youth Summit
  • Secondary Schools 
  • T20 Global Solutions Berlin
  • More Primary Schools
  • Expanding
  • CTYI

Hey everyone! I've been working in various ways on the huge global crisis of antibiotic resistance since January 2016, so I figure it's about time I blogged about it! There have been two phases to this project: the lab research I did until May, and the educational campaign I started in August and will be working on for the foreseeable future. First of all, here's some information on antibiotic resistance and why I'm doing this.

Antibiotic Resistance: What is it, and why is it a big deal?

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria adapt and become resistant to antibiotics that were designed to kill or harm them. It's a natural phenomenon caused by evolution (bacteria are really, really good at surviving) but the problem is being exacerbated by our rampant overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

Say your doctor told you to take a specific antibiotic for a week, but you take it for four days and then feel better so you decide to stop taking it. The few (still millions, but relatively few for bacteria) bacteria that have remained alive due to some edge in resistance, will now rapidly multiply so that the entire next generation of those bacteria are resistant. As well as that, a large (though debated) proportion of antibiotics are wasted on farm animals, and "up to half" (according to the CDC) of antibiotics used on humans are used wrongly, e.g. against viruses.

Antibiotic resistance is a big thing, and it's only getting worse. At least 2 million people in the US every year are diagnosed with serious antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 people die from them annually. Antibiotic resistance costs tens of billions of dollars a year in direct medical costs and lost productivity (source). 

My Research

I did some research earlier this year into the use of UVC light (high-frequency electromagnetic radiation) for inactivating bacteria i.e. stopping them reproducing. I looked at three features of bacteria that affect their susceptibility to inactivation by the UVC light: whether they were gram-positive or gram-negative, whether or not they formed endospores and whether or not they produced pigments. You can read up on that research here

Me doing that research

If you don't feel like clicking the link, have some cool graphs I made of my results.

Phase II: Educational Campaign

So, after I did that research (which will hopefully be continued sometime soon in college), I reckoned that a huge part of the issue of antibiotic resistance is a lack of public awareness on how to correctly use antibiotics. I decided to put together an educational campaign for 10-15 year olds about antibiotic resistance and what they can do about it.

Why kids?

A lot of people have been asking me why I'm teaching kids about something complicated like this, and the answer is multifaceted:

1. I believe in empowering kids.
2. Nobody's born knowing this.
3. On this particular topic, the kids know as much as a lot of the adults.
4. I'm hoping they'll grow up knowing and spreading this message on how to be good consumers of antibiotics.

Structure of Campaign

What I'm doing at the moment is going around primary schools teaching 5th and 6th class students. I give the kids a pre-test (attached below), then come back a few days later and give them my presentation on antibiotic resistance, then give them a post-quiz to see how much they've learned. 

I've reached 80 kids in the first round, and the plan is to reach 1000 kids by summer 2017.

The Presentation:

I'm making all this stuff publicly available in case other people want to use it or see it or whatever - do let me know first, though!

The Quiz

I researched and put together the presentation and tests during August, then:

9 September 2016

Introduced the project to 80 kids in my local primary school aged 10-12 years old and gave them all the pre-quiz to assess their baseline level of knowledge about antibiotic resistance.

12 September 2016

Graded and analysed the pre-quizzes (with grading help from the lovely Ben). Here are some initial graphs from that, essentially just showing that in general the kids knew little to nothing about antibiotic resistance before the programme started, as expected. I had to measure it first anyway though, because it wouldn't have been science otherwise.

Basically, what these show:

Almost everyone rated their knowledge of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance A, for "not much/nothing". Most people got the question of what diseases you should use antibiotics for wrong. Most people did say correctly that you should take antibiotics for as long as your doctor tells you to, not just until you feel better. The kids were generally uninformed about the effects of antibiotics too, which is unsurprising given that almost all of them got zero marks out of five for their definitions of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. The final question, which asked them what they personally could do to help stop antibiotic resistance, was mostly left blank and almost everyone got zero marks on that question, with a few 1s and 2s out of 5.

14 September 2016

I went in and gave two out of the three classes I'd tested the presentation (the other one was set for the 15th as I didn't get to them in time). The presentations lasted about 45 minutes each. I presented the information and answered lots and lots of student questions - I liked how engaged the students were and how they asked lots of questions. I then quizzed them again with the same test to see how much they'd learned.

15 September 2016 

I gave the presentation to the last class, 5th class in that school, which finished off Round 1. There were 79 kids in the three classes, tested 66 of them the first time and 75 the next (some were missing the first time). 

18th September 2016

Graded 75 tests and did some analysis on them. Still working on the graphs and all that but I can give you some info on how it went. 

In short: the kids showed a significant improvement in their knowledge of antibiotic resistance and what they could do about it. Overall, the pre-lesson median score was 17.14% and the post-lesson median was 60%, which is a 42.86 percentage-point improvement and also an improvement of 350%. The pre-lesson range was 0% to 49% and the post-lesson range was 14% to 100%. The biggest category of scores in the pre was 10-20%, while in the post it was 65% to 82%. 

I'm still working on the breakdowns, but here's a look at the improvement in Q6, which is the most important question because it asks students what they personally can do to avoid spreading antibiotic resistance e.g. taking antibiotics only for bacterial diseases, not stopping the doses early. The blue is before I taught them and the orange is after - you can see that the pres mostly got zero marks on this question, while the posts did much better and even had 10 people getting full marks on the hardest question.

There were some really cool improvements, too - the first kid I corrected this morning went from 14% in the pre to 97% in the post. So what I'm doing seems to be making a difference! 3 people in the post got 100% and 1 got 97%, while in the pre the highest mark was 49% so that's cool.

People were a lot more confident - compare how the kids rated their knowledge about antibiotics before and after me teaching them.

The confidence wasn't unfounded, thankfully - for the most part, they were a lot more knowledgeable about it now, and the subjective and objective marks lined up pretty well.

Here's another important question, Q4, which asked which type of diseases antibiotics should be used for (caused by viruses, caused by bacteria, caused by fungi, not caused by microbes, all diseases) and it went from majority wrong to majority right.

So, not bad for the first round. I like that the kids seem to have enjoyed it, and starting it in my community was cool. I'm now planning to take this data, put it together nicely in a document and then show that to principals of other schools so I can get permission to teach there too. Niiice tangible results. Yay for educating the next generation on antibiotic resistance, one class at a time!

Masters Students

I visited UCD (University College Dublin, for any non-Irish readers) on the kind permission of Shane Bergin and held a workshop with his Science Education Masters students about teaching kids about antibiotic resistance. It was a cool workshop and mutually beneficial. I learned about some cool pedagogical techniques for getting through to kids from what the student teachers came up with, and I figure since these people are going to be teaching hundreds of students in future it's good to talk to them about this. 

Me in UCD just after the workshop

ISTA Magazine

Thanks to Mags, this project was featured in the Irish Science Teachers' Association Magazine and from that I got some teachers asking me to come to their schools and talk about ABR.

European Youth Summit Budapest

I gave a quick talk to the 70 summit participants about antibiotic resistance. An adult came up to me afterwards and said that they'd had no idea antibiotics didn't work on viruses, so that was pretty illuminating. 

First Secondary School!

On Thursday 18th May, the day after I finished my college exams, I went to Kildare and spoke to three classes of 5th year biology students about antibiotic resistance. For the secondary (as opposed to primary), I really dived in further to the research and really enjoyed sharing the mechanisms of resistance and how antibiotics kill bacteria. It was also nice when people came up afterwards, especially getting to advise one of the students on whether to choose science for college. 

Togher Primary School

On Monday 22nd May, I visited Togher's primary school and talked to 4th, 5th and 6th class. I loved that -- they were really engaged and asked loads of questions. Most importantly, they were good questions, which (a) means the message did get through (b) confirms my belief that students can learn and be interested in this if we just explain it to them rather than telling them what to do. Their principal said she was impressed at how I'd managed to break it down so everyone could understand, which was great because that's something I struggled with until I started doing a lot of speaking -- putting things in plain terms. 

It was awesome seeing how engaged the kids were with it and their many, many questions. As I said and will keep saying, it's brilliant to see people asking questions. In this revamped primary talk, I finished up by talking about how science belongs to all of us and we need to make it more open. 

As I was on my way out, I saw their wall has a banner (pictured) saying their school prioritises health, and by what I saw they really do walk the talk. 

26/06/17 update: 

This is information from the Workshops Blog on -- I've copy pasted it below but I encourage you to check out the website! 

T20 Global Solutions Berlin

I represented Ireland in Germany with this project and worked on the Climate Policy and Finance taskforce to present policy ideas for the G20. 

Walshestown Primary School

Spoke to 5th and 6th class in Walshestown primary school. They asked lots of questions and were really engaged in general, so thanks Walshestown. That's all the schools nearest my local village covered now. 

Blanchardstown Primary School

Held workshops with seven classes in a primary school in Blanchardstown. I especially enjoyed talking to the 4th classes, who asked dozens of questions at the end, and there was one girl who came up to me as I left the school and hugged me and said "I'm so happy, I was so interested! I finally got to learn about bacteria!". I was told the school is disadvantaged and it's great for the students to see a scientist so that was really cool. One interesting thing -- I was given a device that looked like an old Nokia phone to hang around my neck on a lanyard because one of the students has a cochlear implant.


Lablinn is expanding! Teenagers and young adults from around EU are getting involved with blogging for the site, the social media, the event planning team, campaigns, collaborations and also as general ambassadors to throw their name behind open science. There'll be an ambassadors page you can see them on in the next few weeks. 


This summer, I'm working at the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland as a Teaching Assistant for the Biotech course and then the Medicine course,  so I'm going to be helping with cool stuff there,  and giving a lecture to the students during the instructor meeting -- I did Biotech at CTYI as a student myself and it was how I got to work in a lab with antibiotics. 

If you’re a teacher or principal or know one, you can book a workshop hereI’m also booking secondary school workshops for September onwards, and you can book those through the same link.

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