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OMH-PICT0003web.jpgThe Old Malthouse

The Old Malthouse, formerly a boarding prep school situated on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, has recently merged into the Cothill Educational Trust (CET). The CET is the Trust body of which Mowden Hall and Château de Sauveterre are members. There are now six schools within the Trust.

The Old Malthouse will be used to develop a pioneering programme in scientific education for young children. Children from Mowden Hall and the other Trust schools will take part in week-long intensive courses and will be trained in the scientific preparation of tree specimens for DNA sequencing by research scientists from the Natural History Museum.

As an initial project, the pupils will collect and photograph samples from trees on their home sites, record their GPS coordinates, habitat and other environmental information and identify their common and scientific names. Once at the Old Malthouse they will be taught how to prepare their specimen for the extraction of its DNA under the careful guidance of the resident scientist. The results will be sent to the New York Botanical Garden Tree - BOL website. Every sample will be identified by the individual who has worked on it. In this way, each child will have made their own unique contribution to the Barcode of Life.

The field, laboratory and computer work will be underlined and surrounded by an emphasis on the wide ranging implications of DNA. DNA bar coding (building databases of short, specimen-linked DNA sequences to be used for the identification of species) has emerged in the last five years as a compelling new tool for the study of the diversity of life on earth. This will be illuminated through discussion groups and talks. Each child will leave the OMH not only with a clear understanding of the techniques associated with DNA sampling, but crucially of its implications for so many aspects of their lives. They will also have gained a deeper insight into the structures of life and absorbed a sense of guardianship for the natural world that they are investigating.

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The Old Malthouse, while being equipped as a purpose built science education centre with corresponding computer technology, will retain the leisure facilities so enjoyed by generations of prep school children. The swimming pool, the natural rock pool at nearby Dancing Ledge that is replenished every day by the incoming tide, the tennis courts, the cricket pitches and the grounds will be maintained for the 'off-duty' enjoyment of all. The accommodation will owe little to ancient memories of school field trips, being designed to provide thoroughly modern comforts at the end of long days of scientific discovery!

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