Exploring Vaccines Project with 8* and Up classes at Cheney

In autumn 2022, students in 8* and 8Up classes at Cheney began an exciting Rumble Museum project delivered in partnership with the University of Oxford, Dr Philippa Matthews, Dr Sally Frampton and local science-based artist Dr Lizzie Burns.

It explored the use of vaccines in the past and present, as well as ideas about the future of vaccines too. It was part of a wider project, Infecting Minds, which was also delivered in two schools in South Africa, and ideas and artwork were shared between all schools involved. The project ran every Monday throughout October, November and December, and included a trip to explore plants and medicine at the Botanical Gardens. Students created artwork, posters and craft items in response to the wide variety of ideas and information about the past, present and future of vaccines.

In our first session, the groups drew self-portraits. They were then invited to express their thoughts about vaccines. After this, the group looked at a range of artefacts from the Covid pandemic, which have become very familiar in our daily lives, and to imagine what archaeologists from the future might make of these items. They included facemasks, lateral flow tests, and posters encouraging people to get vaccinated. Finally, everyone decorated a facemask with their own designs in response to the ideas and thoughts from the session.

In our second session, everyone was asked to write down how they thought vaccines worked. After this, the group looked at images of bacteria and viruses, and had a go at guessing which viruses and bacterial infections children were regularly vaccinated for. Some, like measles and mumps, were familiar to people, whereas others, like diphtheria, were not really recognised by the group. Everyone was then able to have a go at creating a 3D model of a virus or bacteria from the images using a variety of different colours of air drying modelling material.

In our third session, we stepped back into the ancient world to explore how people approached medicine hundreds of years ago. The group looked through some Roman medicine boxes from the Classics Centre, and guessed what the different plants might be and how they might have been used in ancient ideas about illness. The boxes contained rosemary, mint, thyme, bay leaves, willow and cloves. Everyone then chose a plant to draw, and some beautiful botanical drawings were produced.

In our fourth session, the group thought about diseases from the past. The students were aware of illnesses like small pox and the plague. They were asked to think about why we don't have these illnesses around today. The group then heard about the development of the smallpox vaccine, which completely eradicated a disease which used to kill a large number of people. The students drew images of the smallpox virus and commented on posters from early campaigns to encourage vaccination.

In our fifth session, the group stepped out of the past to look into the future of vaccines. They looked at a recent bus campaign in Leeds to encourage people to take antibiotics seriously so that antibiotics continue to be effective for future generations. Everyone then worked together in groups on designing a campaign to encourage vaccination using outlines of buses. The groups created posters to go on the buses and then coloured in the buses in a range of vivid designs.

In our final session, the group explored what vaccines might be like for people in the future. Lots of people find needles a bit frightening, so the group had lots of ideas about how pharmacies in the future might make vaccines more appealing. Some suggested sprays to inhale, sweets or other appealing food. Others thought of drinks or patches on the skin. Everyone then created a label and some clay models of future medicine for glass bottles to show what a pharmacy of the future might stock for people to use.

As part of the project, students also visited the Botanic Gardens, where they were able to explore a range of plants used in medicine, and engage with the beautiful Botanic Gardens collections.

The display cabinet and boards on the first floor of the Brighouse Building showcase some of the creative work produced by students for the Rumble Museum. We are grateful for funding from Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund, Oxford University John Fell Fund, and The Francis Crick Institute, and for collaboration with the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban.