Wellcome Images in the classroom

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By | From the Collections

Rosalyn Taylor tells us about a Wellcome Trust Education Department project to promote the use of our digital images in schools.

Teachers tell us that Wellcome Images is full of beautiful, informative and useful images for their classes. Impressed by its range of both contemporary scientific and historical images, the collection’s high-quality, visually engaging pictures complement the curriculum and hook pupils into the topic they’re learning.

Arabidopsis leaf hairs (trichomes) Credit: Stefan Eberhard. Wellcome Images Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of trichomes, hair-like outgrowths on the surface of an Arabidopsis (rockcress) leaf. Each trichome is unicellular and develops from a single epidermal cell. They can protect against insect damage, water loss and radiation damage. Magnification 200x. Scanning electron micrograph 2013 Published:  -  WI no. B0008896

Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of trichomes, hair-like outgrowths on the surface of an Arabidopsis (rockcress) leaf. Credit: Stefan Eberhard, 2013. WI no. B0008896

That there is an appetite for excellent educational images (and textbook illustrations) does not come as a surprise. A 2013 survey of Big Picture readers, found that 67% of all teachers use images in either most lessons or every lesson. Yet surprisingly, the survey also showed that of those teachers who were previously aware of Wellcome Images only 6% used them regularly.

In response to this finding I’ve been on a mission to develop the image collection as a useful and easy-to-use teaching resource, by building accessible curriculum-linked galleries and making sure that imaginative and creative teachers everywhere are using Wellcome Images in their classroom.

Science, History and Art

Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, felt that the pioneer scientist must have “a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.” In addition to addressing the needs of science teachers looking for images, it was an important part of this project to open up the collection as a cross-disciplinary resource for art and history teachers too.

There are many examples of creative techniques to employ in art projects, ranging from embroidery and carving to oil painting and computer graphics. Students may find inspiration in the fragile forms of trichomes on the surface of a leaf (see image above) or the visceral etchings of scarred human bodies, or – like Jack Cohen, Kareem Hussain and Sam Telling from Forest school in Walthamstow – end up crafting abstract lino prints based on microscopic images of cells:

Lino cut prints

Linocut prints inspired by Wellcome Images. Image credit: Wellcome Trust Education Dept.

Wellcome Images also contains a rich variety of freely available historical sources, including manuscripts, etchings, early photography and advertisements that help put together narratives about the development of surgery, medicine and public health. Students can use the collection to investigate ancient medical beliefs and rituals, the role of war in accelerating the development of surgical techniques, or satirical cartoons by the likes of Rowlandson, Cruikshank and Gillray:

Gilray cartoon of gout patient

An obese gouty man drinking punch with two companions. Coloured etching by J. Gillray, 1799. WI no. L0006235

Working with teachers

To ensure that everything in this project was classroom-friendly I collaborated with a team of local secondary-school teachers: Lyn Baber and Suzanne Veitch from Forest School, Carol Gamble and Arzina Bhanji from Maria Fidelis School, David Gunn from Camden School for Girls and Jessie Burgess from Central Foundation Girls School.

As a result of this partnership we have created a web resource called Wellcome Images for teachers and students where pictures are packaged by subject in relation to the National Curriculum, so that teachers can find relevant images quickly. The subject areas the teachers asked us to focus on included everything from bacteria and viruses to portraiture and the impact of the Industrial Revolution on public health.

Independent research

As well as being an excellent resource for use in the classroom, the teachers also suggested that Wellcome Images is a rich and intriguing collection for students’ independent research projects.

To help young researchers use the collection effectively, you can download The student researcher’s guide to Wellcome Images. The guide has help on how to search the collection, identify trustworthy sources online, correctly reference the images, and where to find further information. Students can also go to the National STEM Centre’s Extended Project support group for even more research project inspiration, guidance and resources.

What next?

All of the images in the galleries are available to download for free for educational purposes from the Wellcome Images website, Flickr and Pinterest.

The feedback teachers have given so far has been very positive. History teacher David Gunn said that “I think the resources are fantastic,” and “will make the site much more accessible to students and teachers.” I hope that this work will encourage many more passionate teachers and curious students to use our fascinating images collection.

We would be very interested to hear from schools that have used the image galleries, or would like to suggest new topics that we could cover. We’d love to hear from students that have used Wellcome Images too! Please contact with your comments.

Author: Rosalyn Taylor is a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust.

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