Category Archives: Educators

A Day In the Life of an Explainer

A guest post by Sarah, one of the Science Museum’s Explainers. 

Hello again…I’m Sarah, one of the Explainers here at the Science Museum and I’m here to tell you about a day in my life as an Explainer. The first thing to say is that there is no such thing as a typical day!

You may have read my previous blog “Observations of a New Explainer” a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve learnt loads of new things and gained lots of new experiences, such as running our brand new Information Age workshop Code Builder (about basic computer programming) and performing the Feel the Force lecture theatre show to primary schools.

One particular highlight has been learning to present the brilliant Rocket Show, an interactive show aimed at Key Stage 3 children about Newton’s Laws of Motion, so I’ve chosen to tell you a bit more about one of the days when I perform this show.

I have to say that one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done since I’ve been here is learning the Rocket Show and presenting it to my very first audience of school kids. Handling a packed show space of 100 plus assorted teenagers, teachers and other visitors is both daunting and thrilling!

I’ve had audiences that have ranged from just a handful of visitors to those packed with very excited and unruly teenagers; enthusiastic holiday-time audiences (my favourite) to shows whereby the kids are so busy texting on their phones or scribbling down notes that they don’t respond!

I’ve learned it’s a real skill to be able to adjust your approach to engage different audiences and give them a memorable and exciting experience…..but that’s what we do!

P1010373 cropped

Explainer Sarah transferring hydrogen gas from a rubber bladder into a Pringles tube

“What goes into preparing for and delivering a Rocket Show?” you ask. Well, imagine I’ve just rushed up 4 floors to the Launchpad Showspace after an hour in the Garden gallery. After collecting some props, I rush back down four floors behind the scenes of the Science Museum to collect the essential ingredient that gives the Rocket Show its wow-factor…..Rocket fuel!

“What ….isn’t that highly dangerous stuff??”, I hear you cry.  Well, potentially yes, but we take safety extremely seriously. The fuel we use is hydrogen gas which is very flammable and is kept in cylinders outside. Rain or shine (quite often rain!) it’s collected in special rubber gas-bladders and carried (carefully) to Launchpad.

Some of the hydrogen gas is used to fill balloons for use in the show, but what happens to the rest? The rest is used for the amazing indoor rocket that demonstrates Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”), where we attempt to launch a Pringles tube into Space…something that gets a response from even the teenagers!

So, together with setting fire to stuff and blowing stuff up, we dress up, ride on chairs with wheels and generally have a rocket-tastic time with the help of plenty of brave volunteers and the brilliance of Sir Isaac Newton.

Intrigued?? Why not visit and see a Rocket show!

Explainer Fact: We fire a thousand Pringle Rockets every year.

Wonderful Things: Memory box

Rosanna Denyer from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

By 2015, 850,000 people in the UK will have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of diseases that cause memory loss, confusion and problems with communication. Dementia is progressive,so the symptoms become worse as time goes on.

Until 1906 it was thought that dementia was an inevitable part of growing old. This changed when Dr Alois Alzheimer,a leading neurologist who researched the brain and the nervous system, gave a lecture about a disease which caused memory loss, hallucinations and problems with communicating and understanding. He was describing what we now know as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Doctors now know that the death of neuron cells in the brain is the main cause of dementia. Neurons need nutrients, oxygen and close contact with other cells in order to survive. Scientists are always looking for possible cures for dementia, a great deal of the research is aimed at treating the symptoms, for example trying to delay memory loss.

However, treatment for memory loss does not lie solely in the hands of scientists. Memory boxes, such as the one on display in the Who Am I? gallery, are used by people with dementia, with their friends and families, to help them retain memories.

Memory Box

Memory Box in the Who Am I? gallery at the Science Museum

Photographs and objects that have special memories connected to them can be kept inside the boxes. The person with dementia can look through the box and be reminded of people, places and events from their lives. They can be used to trigger memories of a past career or love.

In the next 10 years a further one million people in the UK will develop dementia. Whilst scientists research and test treatments, families and communities will continue to develop ways to manage the symptoms. A memory box may seem simple, but it is a method which is accessible, affordable and effective.

The issue of how to treat and manage dementia is experienced by communities all over the world. By 2030, the number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated to reach 65 million.

Some countries are finding unique ways to help people live with the symptoms of dementia. One care home in Amsterdam has created an entire village which is ‘dementia friendly.’ The 152 residents live in the small village of Hogewey which has a restaurant, theatre, beauty salon and village shop.  The village is staffed by healthcare workers and volunteers and gives elderly people with dementia a safe environment in which to enjoy everyday life.

What memories would you want to keep in your memory box?

The memory box can be found in the Who Am I? gallery, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing in the Science Museum.

Visitor Inventions – Future Fashion

As it’s London Fashion Week, we take a look at the future fashion creations from visitors to our Launchpad gallery.

You may be forgiven to think that this season’s must-have fashion are found on the catwalks of London, Paris or Milan (and you may very well be right!). But this hasn’t stopped our wonderfully imaginative visitors from designing their own creations whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Whatever your fashion sense; from inflatable boat dresses to telescopic shoes, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Click to enlarge the images.

 

Roaming Far and Wide – the Science Museum in China

Outreach Officers Ronan Bullock, Aasiya Hassan and Susie Glover report back after their outreach trip to Hong Kong and China.

In March 2014, the Science Museum’s Outreach team was invited for the second time by The British Council in Hong Kong to deliver a series of shows and workshops as part of their Science Alive Festival. The theme of this year’s festival was ‘The Code of Life’ and we disgusted audiences with blood, guts and snot, exploring the science behind the human digestive system, blood and materials. We spent three days with our hosts at the Hong Kong Science Museum and a further nine days visiting twenty two schools across Hong Kong and New Territories. We experienced many different educational settings from government funded local schools to private international schools reached a combined audience of over 7,000!

Proving that no distance is too great for the Outreach team, we then caught a train to Dongguan City in mainland China to deliver events hosted by The Dongguan Science & Technology Museum. Over the course of four days we engaged with audiences at the museum and two local schools, reaching over 3,000 people. This visit continued our relationship with the museum, having hosted a number of free science shows performed by their staff right here in London, in the Science Museum, back in September 2013.

During our busy schedule we found time to sample some of the interesting local cuisines, tour both museums and see some local sites, the highlight of which was taking a cable car to see Hong Kong’s famous giant Tian Tian Buddha.

Building Bridges

Richard Pering, Learning Resources Project Coordinator, shares the latest news from the Building Bridges project.

What has a foam-filled Mr Potato Head got to do with a scarily thin cross-section of a Boeing 747? 11-12 year old students in London and Reading have been exploring this and other unusual questions as part of the Science Museum’s Building Bridges project. The project aims to help students make sense of the science that shapes their lives, by getting them to take part in activities which will develop useful skills for a career in science or any other field.

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

We spent the beginning of the year visiting all 21 schools taking part, and have met some incredibly talented future scientists. We’ve worked with their teachers to help the students recognise their own potential, and look at science in a different way.

By using a hair dryer to make a ping pong ball float in the air, students brought the Museum’s Lockheed Electra to life. Some trickery with super-absorbent hydrogel got everyone considering the uncomfortable reality of an astronaut’s underwear, while whipping a tablecloth out from under a load of crockery brought home just how useful friction (or a lack of it) can be – not least for giant monster trucks.

Students Exploring hydrogel

Students Exploring hydrogel

It was amazing to see students grabbing the opportunity to demonstrate the science behind some of our favourite objects to their classmates, building their confidence and starting some really interesting conversations about the science hidden in everyday life.

Students presenting to their classmates

Students presenting to their classmates

As for Mr Potato Head, suffice to say he didn’t enjoy finding out what it’d feel like if the Boeing’s cabin wasn’t pressurised. His foam insides became his outsides.

To have a go at similar experiments yourself, or with budding scientists you know, take a look at our Kitchen Science activities.

Visitor Letters – Loughborough School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible. Earlier in the year Loughborough School visited the museum to see the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their trip to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was thrilled that so many pupils enjoyed his show that he wrote back thanking the pupils of Loughborough school as well as updating them on his co-star from the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!

LoughboroughA

Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Letter - pages 3 & 4

Response Letter – pages 3 & 4

Explainer Fact: If you would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD

Wonderful Things: VCS3 Synthesiser

Stella Williams from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects

The VCS3 was more or less the first portable commercially available synthesizer, unlike previous machines which were housed in large cabinets and were known to take up entire rooms. It was created in 1969 by EMS (Electronic Music Studios), a company founded by Peter Zinovieff. The team at EMS used a combination of computer programming knowledge, advanced engineering and musical ambition to create a brand new instrument for all to use. The electronics were largely designed by David Cockrell and the machine’s distinctive visual appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary.

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

The VCS3 was notoriously difficult to program but, a year before the appearance of the Minimoog and ARP2600, it brought synthesis within the reach of the public. It sold for £330 and became very popular in a short space of time. By the mid ’70s, the VCS3 (and its little brother, the suitcase-bound model AKS) had become something of a classic and was used by many famous bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, The Who and Roxy Music.

This unique instrument allowed musicians to experiment with a range of new sounds never before available to them. Along with other early synthesisers it came to shape ‘the sound of the future’ in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and with further developments came the drum machines of the ‘80s setting the foundation for electronic dance music. Much of the music we take for granted today would not be possible without the pioneering work of groups like EMS and as long as there are developments in technology, there will always be people applying these innovations to music. Inventor Steve Mann has developed many interesting instruments such as the hydraulophone which uses pressurised water to make sounds, while artist and scientist Ariel Garten uses an electroencephalophone to turn brainwaves into music.

What sort of instrument do you think will make the sound of our future?

The VCS3 Synthesiser can be found in the Oramics to Electronica exhibition, on the second floor of the Science Museum.

Information Age: Testing, testing, 1 2 3

Jack Gelsthorpe and Lauren Souter are both Audience Researchers working on the new Information Age gallery. Here they discuss some of the work they do in prototyping digital media for the exhibition.

In September 2014 an exciting new gallery, Information Age, which celebrates the history of information and communication technologies, is due to open at the Science Museum.

The gallery will include some truly fascinating objects such as the 2LO transmitter, part of the Enfield telephone Exchange and the impressive Rugby Tuning Coil. As well as these large scale objects, the exhibition will house smaller objects such as a Baudot Keyboard, a Crystal Radio Set, and a Morse Tapper.

Information Age will also contain a host of digital technology and interactive displays where visitors will be able to explore the stories behind the objects and the themes of the exhibition in more detail.

This is where we come in.

As Audience Researchers, it is our job to make sure that visitors can use and engage with the digital displays in this gallery whilst also ensuring that they don’t draw attention away from the objects and the stories they tell.

We do this by testing prototypes of the interactive exhibits, games, web resources and apps with visitors both in the museum and through focus groups. There are three stages in the prototyping process. We begin by showing people a ‘mock up’ of a resource so that we can get feedback on our initial ideas. This can be very basic, for example we have been testing for Information Age with storyboards on paper, handmade models (which have sometimes fallen apart during the testing process!) and computers.

A prototype of an interactive model that represents the Baudot Keyboard

A prototype of an interactive model that represents the Baudot Keyboard

We invite visitors to try these prototypes while we observe and make notes and then we interview them afterwards. This helps us to understand what people think about our ideas, whether people find the resources usable and whether the stories we want to tell are being conveyed effectively. We then discuss our findings with the Exhibition team who are then able to further develop their ideas. The resources are tested a second and third time using the same process to ensure that the final experience is interesting, fun and engaging.

As well as testing these resources in a special prototyping room we also test some of the experiences in the museum galleries to see how visitors react to them in a more realistic setting.

Recently we have been prototyping electro-mechanical interactive models of some of the smaller objects that will be on display in Information Age. These exhibits intend to give visitors an insight into what it would have been like to use these objects whilst explaining the scientific processes behind how they work.

A prototype of an interactive model that represents the Double Needle Telegraph.

A prototype of an interactive model that represents the Double Needle Telegraph.

We will be testing different digital experiences until September, so you may see us in the prototyping room or the galleries. If you see us feel free to say hello and ask us any questions.

Experience these interactive models for yourself in the new Information Age gallery, opening Autumn 2014.

Making a Splash!

Katie Burke, who manages the Interactive galleries and Explainer team, talks about the development of the new Splash! app.

One of the things I love about my job within the Learning department is the variety of things I get to work on. When we were approached to help with the development of a new app aimed at our pre-school audience, I was really excited. I’m not particularly techy and I don’t know my RAM from my ROM but that didn’t matter – my role in the project was to make sure the app fitted in with the educational ethos of our children’s interactive galleries in the Museum.

The app was made in partnership with a digital agency called GR/DD. We knew we wanted the app to appeal to our pre-school audience so we looked to our most popular exhibits for this age group for inspiration. The water area in our Garden gallery is a firm favourite of our younger visitors and so it made sense to start there.

Garden water area

The water exhibit in the Garden gallery

GR/DD came up with an idea for an app in which children could experiment with floating, sinking and mixing colours within a bath tub environment. We all loved the idea. For me, bath time as a child holds some really happy memories so I really hoped we could recreate that playful atmosphere with the app.

MotionReactiveWater

Tiliting the screen causes the water to move

Choosing which objects to use in the app was a tricky process! They had to be instantly recognisable to children so that they could make the link between the object and how it behaves when it is put into water. During the development process I’d often show my team of Explainers the draft plans to see if they had any ideas or feedback based on their experience of working within the Garden gallery and it was really useful to get their input.

Early on in the process we all agreed that it was important to include a Parents’ Zone within the app. We wanted to provide some information for parents about how they could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills. In our interactive galleries we encourage learning through play and open questioning. For that reason, the Parents’ Zone includes hints and tips about open questions that parents can ask their children whilst they play the app or later on during real bath time.

PARENTS ZONE

Parents’ Zone – tips on how parents could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills

After months of development we are all so pleased with the final Splash! app. I love how the water on screen moves and flows as the device is tilted and turned, and the sounds that the objects make when they drop into the water. I think the app perfectly captures the fun atmosphere I remember as a child.

It’s aimed at pre-school children but in my experience the adults enjoy playing just as much as the children. In fact, we should probably add a footnote onto the app description which says “for big kids too!”

If this post has whet your appetite to play on Splash! make sure you run the hot tap to the top of the bath to see what happens – it’s my favourite bit!

Discover more about Splash! (priced at 99p) and our other apps here.

Wonderful Things: Peruvian Rubber Ball

Shaun Aitcheson from our Learning Support Team writes about one of his favourite Science Museum objects.

What do you think this is?

What is this?

Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

Whilst this may look like a rock or a big ball of old chewing gum, it’s actually a rubber ball. It was found in the grave of a Peruvian child, and is thought to date from 1590-1610. Rubber balls were invented by the Ancient Mesoamericans who used them in what was probably the first ever ball sport, a game similar to racquetball called the Mesoamerican Ballgame. This game was invented around 1600 BC, but could be even older. In some places, instead of a rubber ball, they would use a human head!

Image Credit: Marjorie Barrick Museum http://barrickmuseum.unlv.edu/families/img/Maya14-small.jpg

Today we think of rubber balls as toys, but this one was most likely used as a funeral offering as a symbolic gesture towards the afterlife or perhaps even evidence of a human sacrifice to the gods.

Although this ball is only around 400 years old, it highlights just how long rubber has been used by humans. Incredibly, humans have been creating rubber for over 3500 years.

The first use of rubber was by the Olmec people (Rubber People) of South America. They would boil natural latex, a milky sap-like substance, which they ‘tapped’ from the rubber tree Hevea Brasiliensis, and mixed with the juice of a ‘morning glory’ vine. This created a very stretchy and extremely waterproof material. The Olmec’s used it to create items such as rubber balls, galoshes and waterproof cloaks.

Rubber wasn’t used greatly in the West until 1770 when an Englishman called Joseph Priestly, noticed that the material was very good at rubbing away pencil marks, hence the name ‘rubber’. Charles Mackintosh began using rubber to create his famous waterproof jackets in 1824. However, they were far from perfect as they melted in hot weather and smelled very bad!

Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock are responsible for producing the rubber we know today. In the 1840s they heated it in combination with sulphur to produce vulcanised rubber, strengthening it greatly. Thanks to the invention of the bicycle and motor car, rubber consumption soared as it was the perfect material for tyres, with its very durable and shock absorbent qualities.

The rubber ball can be found in Challenge of Materials, on the first floor of the Science Museum.