Hello,

My name is Nicholas Alford and I am lucky enough to have what I consider to be the best job in the world.  I am Head of Biology at St Cyres School in Penarth, South Wales.  In my job I get to teach young people about life.  How all the amazing variation that we see around us has been fashioned by the incredible forces that are natural and sexual selection with 3.5 billion years to play with.  I get to help students into amazing careers such as healthcare, research and education.  As well as teaching the younger ones about what is going on in their bodies and in the living world around them.  This amazing prize from the Wellcome Trust is a dream for a biology teacher – a field trip to the Galapagos.

I am continually amazed by the power of evolution.  When the opportunity came up to win a trip to the Galapagos Islands I immediately sent an email to all the lower 6th biologists asking them to form teams to make a film to show the science behind the Wellcome Trust’s excellent “Survival Rivals” kits which we had been using for the last year.  I was very surprised when only one team replied that they would like to take part: Rebecca Hill, Eleri Morgan, Jessica and Charlotte Woodfield.

We started with a brainstorming session and decided to use the “X bacteria” kit that we had been using with the upper 6th.  We organised a timetable to complete the experiment after school and asked our technician Janet Troth to prepare the agar plates and to subculture the bacteria ready for use.

The girls quickly learnt the aseptic techniques and despite Charlotte nearly setting her hair on fire with a Bunsen burner the protocol was very easy to follow.  The filming of the experiment took place over 3 evenings after school.

We then brainstormed again about how to show the process of conjugation in a way that could be understood by a lay audience and the girls came up with the idea of using the animation that they painstakingly made on the twins’ kitchen table.

The girls then took the 2 hours of footage that we had recorded and managed to edit it down to the two and a half minutes that the brief allowed us.  Using some Benny (Becky?!!) Hill type speeded up sequences certainly helped!

Then we thought about what we wanted to say in the script and produced a first draft.   However it was a bit dry and read like a list of facts about Darwin’s life.  So we came up with the idea of a dialogue between Darwin and the girls and rewrote the script.

Recording the script was probably the most fun part of the experience for me.  We were struggling to meet the deadline and had to finish it in one after school session.  We played the edited film and wrote down the times that the key events occurred on the  whiteboard.  We then read through the script and did the same with the key phrases.  Over a period of several hours we gradually got the script to fit the timings of the film and rehearsed our speaking roles.

We were happy to try our first take and plugged in the microphone – it didn’t work!  We couldn’t get a replacement that evening and were worried about missing the deadline.  Eleri then said that her camera could record sound files so we squeezed around it.  Several takes later with fits of giggles (mainly Jess) spoiling many takes we managed to get to the end of the script.  Everyone looked to Sue Benjamin who had the stopwatch.  “Two minutes thirty”  It was in the bag.

The girls worked their ICT magic again and managed to join the audio and the visual elements together.  The next day – the day of the deadline, we had the finished article.  The premiere was held at morning break in the lab.  Once I saw the finished article I knew the girls had to be in with a chance.  We tried to upload it in school and couldn’t.  The girls managed to get through to Amy Turner on the phone and she suggested they go home and use a different web browser to upload it.

We got through a lot of fingernails waiting to hear if we had made it to the final and then for the results of the final.  I was checking my pigeon hole in school up to ten times a day as we waited for the announcement.  The rest is history and explains why I am sitting on a plane over the Atlantic writing this.

The main thing I am looking forward to is getting up really close to the fauna of the islands.  Not having the time to evolve fear of humans is truly unique, despite the decimation of the tortoise and other species in less enlightened times.  I am also looking forward to evening discussions about our experiences, and getting used to blogging etc. which is all very alien at the moment.

In about seven hours we land in Quito and after a couple of nights fly onto the islands via Guayadaquil.  We are heavily loaded up with technology to record everything from laptops to underwater video cameras to capture the magic of the marine wildlife as well as the more famous residents.  I can’t wait to get in the water with our snorkels and am also hoping to find somewhere that can hire me a surfboard to paddle into some of the amazing waves that I have been researching on the internet.

Have arrived and can upload this onto the blog from our hotel in Quito.

More to follow when we take some photos on a tour of the city tomorrow afternoon and a photography workshop with Jonathan Green in the morning.  Very tired now.  Its 7:30pm local time and 1:30am body clock time…

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