Learning about trees as researchers

1. To explore the idea of ‘research’ and who ‘researchers’ are
2. To discuss the ethics of doing research with humans and non-humans

WALT: We are learning to discuss what research is and what researchers do.

These resources were developed and delivered by the Voices of the Future project team in collaboration with teachers from Seymour Park Community Primary School in Old Trafford, Manchester. The resources were adjusted in response to children’s engagement and feedback. They are meant to offer ideas to encourage the idea of the child as a researcher.

This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council
[NE/V021370/1]. Credits are due to Seymour Park Community Primary School and the Voices of the Future project team. The title font was created collaboratively by the children at Seymour Park Primary School.

Different ways to be with trees.

For the first aim, children can discuss the photos in groups or in pairs to identify different types of researchers. It is common for children to think of researchers as scientists in lab coats. While this is certainly a common image of researchers, anyone can be a researcher. This includes teachers, parents, and the children themselves.
It is useful to ask the children to think of examples of when they tried to find out something and what they did to find the answers. This starts the conversation around children as researchers. This lesson aims as nurturing the researcher identity among children so that they become engaged in the follow up lessons that engage them in different research activities about trees.

This leads to discussing the definition of research. The children can talk about why research is important. Research offers new information, new understanding, new tools, new technologies, new ways of improving things and new relationships. Research can be done in many ways. These ways are called research tools, or methods. Teachers can ask the children to brainstorm ideas or activities for doing research: interviewing people, spreading questionnaires, analysing samples in a lab, finding the best way to teach, looking for a healthy recipe, trying to solve a maths problem, etc.


Researchers do not always work alone. Children can discuss the benefits and challenges of researching in groups. After that, the discussion can centre around research as empowerment for children. Rather than being positioned as passive receivers of information about the world around them, children can be active researchers who contribute to new information or understandings. This shift in positionality is a form of empowerment. It is important to develop this concept at this stage to ensure active engagement in follow up tree research activities.

For the second aim, the children are encouraged to reflect on their PSHE learning, especially on lessons related to rights, privacy, online safety and treating others fairly and respectfully. This forms a big part of understanding research ethics which seeks to ensure the prevention of harm, and respect of anonymity and confidentiality.
Teachers can ask: what areas of research ethics do we need to think about when we are researching trees as a group? Key terms to discuss are ‘consent’, ‘privacy’, ‘permission’, ‘data safety’, ‘anonymity’. At the end, children can develop a list of ethics tips for doing research about trees.