three schools named in national science competition for randomised trials

Monday, 20 May 2024

University of Galway
Students from Duleek Girls National School in Co Meath were awarded first place in the 2024 START Competition for their question: “Does 10 minutes of daily ambulatory activity have an effect on the speed and mood of 10-year-olds?” Photos - Credit: Aengus McMahon.

Three primary schools have been awarded a 2024 START Competition Trophy by University of Galway for using randomised trial methodology to answer a question related to their environment or lifestyle. 

The Schools Teaching Awareness of Randomised Trials (START) is an annual competition encouraging children throughout Ireland to learn about healthcare decisions and how health and well-being can be improved by learning about randomised trials. Sometimes called clinical trials, randomised trials are a type of research study often used to find out if a new medicine or treatment works.

The three schools awarded for their research projects are:

  • Holy Family Senior National School, Swords, Co Dublin came in the third place with the randomised trial: “Does being on a device affect your sleep?”

The young trialists randomly divided participants into groups, some on devices before bed, and others who were not. Their trial involved the support of parents who had to check how quickly their child fell asleep. Their results indicate that having a device before bed negatively affects children’s sleep.

  • Coolmeen National School, Kilrush, Co Clare claimed second place for their trial: “Do children learn more when working in groups or doing independent work?”

The students randomised their fellow schoolmates into two groups with a spinner wheel. Using a standard test for both groups, one group completed the test independently and the other group in teams of two. The children concluded that working as a team or independently resulted in similar test scores, showcasing the importance of varied learning approaches.

  • Duleek Girls National School in Co Meath went home with the award for first place after the girls investigated the question: “Does 10 minutes of daily ambulatory activity have an effect on the speed and mood of 10-year-olds?

Activities like jogging, walking, and sprinting were tested, and the children’s emotions were recorded. This school concluded that among all tested activities, walking was the most efficient way to improve speed and mood. The school children were commended for their activities, including for writing letters to President Michael D. Higgins, Minister for Education Norma Foley T.D. and former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. about the importance of ambulatory activity.

Professor Declan Devane, Scientific Director of the HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network at University of Galway, said: “We started this competition for two reasons. Firstly, we wanted to raise awareness of the importance of randomised trials with children. Secondly, we wanted to harness the creativity and imagination of children in the design, conduct, analysis, and reporting of trials. The high standard and variety of applications we receive each year demonstrate that the START Competition has indeed raised the awareness of randomised trials and capitalised on children’s innate ability to explain difficult concepts clearly and in a fun way.”

Dr Sandra Galvin National Programme Manager of the HRB – Trials Methodology Research Network, said: “Since the competition’s inception in 2016, the questions that the children come up with every year amaze the team. Typically, they focus on an aspect of their own lives in the classroom, working together to create the trial, while also having a lot of fun. The curiosity and creativity of their bright young minds means they usually challenge our concepts and get us to think more creatively.”

The START Competition website provides tools needed to allow children and teachers to create their own randomised clinical trial in the classroom. It also addresses key aspects of the current school curriculum in several subjects including Mathematics, Science, SPHE and ICT.

The three shortlisted schools were selected by four judges: Iseult Mangan, former primary school principal Cloghans Hill National School, Ballina, Co Mayo, (2017 START winner) and teacher; Aisling Murray, St Joseph’s National School, Kinvara, Co Galway and teacher of the 2018 START Competition winning class; Professor Shaun Treweek, Professor of Health Services Research, University of Aberdeen, UK; and Sarah Chapman, former Knowledge Broker at Cochrane UK.

Iseult Mangan said: ”Participating in the START competition sees classes adopt a fun project-based approach which aligns to key aspects of the curriculum. It allows a class to collaborate and work as team encompassing so many different individual talents from design thinking and organisation to maths and creative display. The three shortlisted schools showcased their understanding and execution of clinical trials in really creative ways with teamwork and fun was evident in each of them.”

Professor Shaun Treweek said: “The START competition challenges children to design, do and describe a randomised trial. Every year children from across Ireland smash that challenge in spades, and do so with enthusiasm, breathtaking creativity, and laughter.  The competition is a glorious inspiration to everyone– children, teachers, and researchers alike.”

The competition is supported by the Health Research Board, through the HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and is part of the celebration of International Clinical Trials Day across five collaborating university partners: University of Galway, University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and the University of Limerick.

For more information about the START competition and how it transforms classrooms across Ireland into hubs of scientific exploration, please visit Stay updated with us on X @STARTSchools and Facebook at STARTCompetition.


Keywords: Press.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office , NUI Galway
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