How to cook up perfect poo

1st February 2013 at 00:00
A science project is helping to raise awareness of diabetes in deprived areas. Jackie Cosh reports

"You have five minutes to make the perfect poo." Not surprisingly this group of P5 and 6 children are on-task and focused, working in groups of four to come up with a hurried version of the poo requested.

Wind the clock back an hour and the children are at the start of their poo journey. Having analysed science communicator Mark Traynor's sandwich, they know all about the different food groups and nutrients our bodies need. Mark and his colleague Charlene Brown introduce the pupils from Cranhill Primary in Glasgow to their special friend, Mick - a science dummy used to teach children about the different parts of the digestive system.

As part of its education programme, Diabetes UK Scotland is working with Edinburgh International Science Festival, visiting schools. This workshop - Eat for it! - takes the children through how the digestive system works and how the body processes these nutrients.

The sight of Mick with his intestines on display appeals to the children's sense of humour, as does the idea of feeding him breakfast. There are plenty shouts of "yuck" but the pupils are certainly engaged and interested. They learn about the oesophagus and about peristalsis and work through each process in the digestive system.

In their groups they are each given a bowl of Mick's stomach contents and, after learning about pH values and acidity, they are set the task - first, measuring the acidity, and then making it more acidic. Latisha Lawrie, 9, mistakenly adds some pancreatic salts, and has to counter this with some stomach acid. A pH strip confirms that she eventually gets it right.

"This workshop is about understanding a healthy diet. We want to get children understanding from a young age that what they eat will have an impact," Stephen Fyfe from Diabetes UK Scotland explains.

The children work through the digestive process with messy tasks conducted whenever possible. Sponges are used to represent villus as they take out all the nutrients. When Charlene brings out the large intestine (her granny's tights) she cuts a hole at the bottom, and shows the class what is left once the body has taken everything it needs out.

When Chef Gino de Pompio (Mark Traynor in disguise) arrives from Italy, the children are in hysterics, and are delighted when they are handed poo recipe cards and sent back to their tables to be poo artists.

Deputy headteacher Jane McLaren is pleased with how the session has gone. "I thought it was great," she says. "I thought the children really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. They love getting all these mucky, horrible disgusting things. It was age-appropriate and it was fun and engaging and I felt that the people presenting it were well prepared and very enthusiastic about what they were delivering."

The session also tied in with what they are covering in science in class. "This is an area we cover in science, so that is perfect," Mrs McLaren says.

"We haven't covered the human body but I intended to do it, so that part will already be covered through the sessions. They have also covered a bit about digestive systems in previous years."

Edinburgh International Science Festival research has found that one contact with children is not enough to encourage behaviour change, even if resources are left with teachers to do follow-up work. So Diabetes UK Scotland devised a series of four workshops, of which Eat for it! is one.

"We are specifically targeting schools in deprived areas, as they are at 2.5 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes," Mr Fyfe explains.

"The programme is also a great way of giving an understanding to type 1 diabetes that many schools have been unable to do in the past. It is linked to Curriculum for Excellence and brings in healthy eating, science and exercise. They won't remember all of it, but they will get an idea about healthy eating."

Edinburgh International Science Festival 2013 - Get Ready for the Future, 23 March-7 April. The programme is available at


The Live for it! workshops consist of:

- Eat for it! The science of digestion. Children get to follow their lunch right through the digestive system. They experiment with stomach acid, create a small intestine and make a poo sample.

- Go for it! How our bodies use glucose for energy. In this workshop they learn how we burn up our food. They produce their own glucose and find out how diabetes is diagnosed.

- Cook for it! Make healthy choices. Here they try new foods and create own healthy snacks in a hands-on cookery workshop. The pupils learn how to use food labelling to help eat a balanced diet.

- Live for it! challenge

Using their knowledge from the workshops, the children work as a team to pit their wits against the others and be crowned healthiest in the school.

Each workshop builds on the previous ones, consolidating knowledge with fun activities, so by the time pupils do the final Live for it! challenge, their recall of information is high, and positive lifestyle changes have already been made. Cluster schools are being worked with, so that the children can be revisited at secondary school to see what their recall is. The plan is to go back to see the same children in a year or two to see what their recollection of the materials is, and whether they are still making healthy lifestyle choices.

To book a Live for it! session, go to

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