Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Making Medicines for Pets

This blog post is brought to you by Nicky Waller, one of our advisory teachers who works across the North East of England.

Our latest research shows that over 80% of children think that women can be scientists and engineers (only 20% to go), but less than 25% think young people carry out these roles in industry – the myth of the ‘old male scientist persisting’ with some. So, we must all continue to address misconceptions and ignite interest in STEM careers at a young age.

 There are lots of primary schools who are currently doing great work to get their children engaged in STEM careers; using CIEC’s publications for lesson plans and ideas to provide a real life context and offer insights into the varying roles of scientists and engineers.

 CIEC’s Medicines for Pets publication is a great example of this. It focuses on the processes involved in developing and making medicines, within a context closely related to the challenges faced by research scientists and manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry. Activities investigate the extraction and purification of the active ingredient, the formulation of a tablet, the best tablet shape and developing a suitable coating.

Top tip: Giving children specified roles to carry out during a practical activity (such as time keeper, resource manager etc) will help children to remain more socially distanced during the current pandemic.  Free to download role badges can help with this.

 This activity is easy to resource and engaging for children to carry out individually or in pairs whilst facing forwards in the classroom. They are challenged to investigate which tablet shapes would be the easiest for a dog to swallow.  With some previous knowledge of different shapes, children are keen to predict how spherical shapes might be easier to swallow because they are rounded whereas shapes with a number of vertices might be unpleasant to swallow due to corners and sharp edges.

 One approach to testing might be to observe and measure the time taken for different shaped (plasticine) tablets to reach the bottom of a measuring cylinder or pop bottle (use the tallest cylinders or bottles you have) filled with a clear liquid (water and glycerine mix works well, although cellulose paste more closely replicates industrial practice). This represents the journey the tablet takes when swallowed from the mouth and down the oesophagus. 

Top tip:  Attach a thread of cotton or thin string to each clay shape so that it can be pulled back out of the liquid after testing. This will avoid having to pour out the liquid to retrieve the shape, refill the cylinder and top-up the volume after each trial.

As different shapes travel the length of the cylinder, children may decide to video the journey in ‘slow-mo’ so that they can make more careful observations and accurate measurements of time taken. It is also important for the investigation to end with comparisons of different shapes’ performance and what children would try to improve in future testing.

This activity links perfectly with the National Curriculum for England statutory requirement for the Year 5 ‘Forces’ topic in science which states that pupils should be taught to: identify the effects of air resistance, water resistance and friction, that act between moving surfaces.

There are many opportunities for children to work scientifically, such as planning different types of activities, taking measurements, recording data and reporting findings.

Full safety guidance is provided in the detailed teacher notes which can be found with the free resource Medicines for Pets

 Additional COVID-secure advice can be found in the document CLEAPSS Practical Activities in a Bubble which urges schools to return to delivering a broad, balanced and full curriculum, especially for practical subjects like science, D&T, and art. This means getting back to doing hands-on activities, investigations and enquiries. Remember that using equipment is allowed because it’s essential for delivering the curriculum and to support learning in practical subjects.

 The CLEAPSS COVID-19 risk assessment safety ladder (image below) represents the government’s suggested safety measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. The statements (the rungs) are not an ‘all or nothing’ check list; apply as many as you can. Implementing any of the options, even partially, will benefit you and your children. The more safety measures you can put in place, the further up the ladder you get. The advice is to aim to get as far up the ladder as you can without compromising learning.


Probing class discussions will help children to make links between this ‘table top’ classroom activity and the real world including a wider range of jobs linked to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Now is a particularly good time for children to realise the importance of research into medicines and how ‘the race is on’ to develop vaccines with human trials currently taking place all around the world. These sorts of links help to raise children’s
science capital as they see how the science that they do in school has real life applications and is relevant to their lives both now and in the future.

To coincide with this, we have published a new IndusTRY AT HOME follow-on activity for you share with families.  Here, children investigate to find out which material makes the best coating for a tablet to delay its rate of dissolving so that it may travel to the dog’s stomach because it begins to fizz.

Why don’t you put a link on your school website?


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