Category Archives: Educators

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mischievous Mirrors – From the 18th century to the modern day

Explainer Affelia in our Learning team looks at some mischievous mirrors in the Science Museum. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? We all know this famous saying from Snow White, but mirrors are incredibly useful in our day to day lives. We use them in the morning to check our hair, in cars to avoid crashes and some buildings have them in corridors for safety. But there are some other, more mischievous, ways to use them. For example, our Grab the Bling exhibit in Launchpad uses a huge spherical concave mirror (one that bulges inwards) to trick people into thinking they can touch a desirable watch.

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This watch is impossible to grab

In fact, the concave mirror produces something called an inverted real image of the watch. This means that the image of the watch is upside down compared to the real watch and is made by beams of light meeting at a single point in front of the mirror. People would then think that the image is the actual watch and try to snatch it, when in fact our watch is perfectly safe underneath.

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How Grab the Bling works: the spherical concave mirror reflects the light so that the actual watch (in black) looks like it’s easy to steal but in fact the viewer only sees its image (in grey)!

Mirrors are also used in our Seeing Through Walls exhibit which I like to use to pretend that I’m Superman.

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Seeing through walls exhibit inside Launchpad

Looking at the shape of the tubes, it’s clear that light can’t go up or through the wall and so it must go down. The two tubes are connected by a pipe in the raised area of the floor

Four mirrors are carefully placed where the tubes change direction so that the light can be directed around the tube and you and your buddy can see each other!

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How Seeing Through Walls Work. Why do they look farther away than they expected…? (Clue: Think about how long the tube would be if it went through the wall…)

The Science in the 18th Century gallery next door to Launchpad has many interesting devices that use mirrors to work. This gallery is pretty awesome because it’s filled with equipment used by King George III and his science tutor, Stephen Demainbray, to learn about science. Basically, it’s a 250 year old version of Launchpad! One of the equipments in this gallery that uses mirrors to trick people is a polemoscope, or “jealousy glass”.

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Jealous of my polemoscope? Displayed in the Science in the 18th Century gallery

They were used by opera goers to look at other people in the audience in private. They look very similar to opera glasses which were used to see the actors on stage more clearly, but instead a mirror inside is slanted at 45° so that the user can see what’s going on to one side of them. This makes the polemoscope ideal to secretly spy on people!

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How a polemoscope works

So there you have it, it seems that mirrors aren’t only used to see who’s fairest of them all, but also who’s the cheekiest!

Visitor Letters – Pirbright Village School

It’s always a nice surprise receiving letters from our visitors and we try our best to write back as soon as possible.  In fact most of the letters we receive are from Primary Schools who have just visited.

The pupils from Pirbright Village Primary School sent us some lovely letters telling us their favourite parts of the Science Museum.  The pupils loved the Exploring Space gallery, Launchpad and the Space Station IMAX 3D film (click to enlarge letters).

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Willam was stunned by the “phenomenal” Exploring Space gallery after seeing the moon lander. The ‘Do Not Touch’ interactive was electrifying!

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

Opening the doors for Early Birds

Kate Mulcahy in the Learning team blogs on our Early Bird sessions in the Museum.

Museums are my favourite place to visit. I love to see interesting objects from history and to learn new facts, and I love the buzz of other people enjoying the Museum too. But for some of our visitors this isn’t so easy, and it was for this reason the Science Museum launched Early Birds.

A few times a year we open the museum from 08.30 in the morning for Early Birds, a free event for children who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and their families. This gives families a chance to look around our galleries and take part in fun activities before the Museum opens at 10am. We even keep some galleries closed a little longer, just for our Early Birds visitors.

Visitors at Early Birds

Visitors at Early Birds

For people with an autistic spectrum condition, it can be difficult to be in a busy environment or even waiting in a queue. They can be particularly sensitive to light or sound which can make being near some of our interactive exhibits unpleasant. All of these factors can make it difficult for children who are on the autistic spectrum to visit the museum during our usual opening hours.

For Early Birds, we wanted to create an environment where families would feel safe, happy and could still enjoy visiting the museum. This might mean turning off the sound on some of our louder exhibits or simply creating a nice sensory space where families can go and chill out if they want a break. We also created a Visual Story for families to help prepare for what they might see in the museum.

We have already run a few Early Birds sessions (one family has written about their experience here) and the team are busy organising our next session on 30th November and more dates in 2014. If you would like to take part in Early Birds, there are more details here.

Visitor Letters – Spaldwick School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

Recently pupils from Spaldwick School visited the Launchpad gallery and saw the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their outing to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was so impressed that he thanked the pupils of Spaldwick school and answered queries about his co-star in the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!

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Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Lettter - pages 3 & 4

Response Lettter – 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

Your guide to becoming a Bubble-ologist

The Science Museum’s outreach team share some of their tips on creating the best bubbles.

Here in the outreach team it’s our job to travel the country (and sometimes the world) bringing exciting science shows and workshops into classrooms, school halls, fields and town centres.

We are often asked about what our favourite shows are, and everyone in the team has their own particular choice. But, our most popular show by far is most certainly The Bubble Show, last year we performed 149 of them!ronan bubble

So with that in mind we thought we’d share a few of our bubble secrets. Why not try them out this half term?

To make your bubble mix you will need:

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Mostly warm water with a splash of washing-up liquid and some glycerol

We add glycerol (sometimes sold as glycerine) to our mix because it slows down the evaporation of the water. This means the bubbles can last longer and the bubble mix is great for making really big bubbles too. Remember, most of the mix is water, with only a small amount of washing-up liquid and glycerol – experiment with different proportions and see how your bubbles change.

You can buy glycerol from a high- street chemist but if you can’t get hold of any, sugar does the job as well. Just dissolve it in some warm water and add a little to your bubble mix. Sugar will make your bubbles sticky though!

Once you have your lovely bucket of bubble mix you can start to make bubbles using all sorts of things, here are a few ideas..

Why not make your own bubble trumpet?

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Or how about a giant bubble wand using a coat hanger? D090473 D090482

Have a look around the house and see what else you could use to make bubbles. Old tennis racquets are great for making lots of little bubbles all at once, even straws or plastic cups with the bottom cut off are great for blowing bubbles.

Check out this printable guide for making even more bubble-blowing devices, or come and catch a free Bubble Show at the Science Museum!

Did you know…

Bubbles are very colourful, but just before they pop they can appear to turn black. Bubbles will always try to form a sphere shape, this shape requires the least amount of energy as it reduces the surface area.

The world record for the largest free floating bubble was set by Jarom Watts in 2009, his bubble was 13.67m3.

Mission to Mars

Tanya, our Learning Resources Project Developer, blogs on potential missions to Mars and discussing them in the classroom. For more on our Talk Science teachers’ courses, click here.

We are in an interesting period of space travel; news from the past year has been filled with findings from the Curiosity rover and stories of possible manned missions to Mars. For me the release of Mars Explorer Barbie confirmed ‘Mars Mania’ is upon us. There are big questions surrounding the ethics and feasibility of sending humans to Mars, however proposals keep emerging which hope to do so, many of which are private enterprises.

One interesting example is the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which in 2018 plans to perform a Mars flyby, over a period of 501 days, with a married couple as its crew. Another, Mars One, seems to have really captured the public’s imagination.

It may sound like science fiction, but Mars One hopes to establish a colony on Mars by 2023. The plan is to use existing technologies, such as solar power and water recycling, to create a permanent habitat for the astronauts. Over the next ten years they will send rovers, satellites, living units, life support systems and supply units to Mars ready for the arrival of the first settlers in 2023.

Three generations of Mars rovers

Three generations of Mars rovers, including Curiousity far right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Applications for the first round of astronauts closed recently; over 200,000 people, from more than 140 countries applied. Six teams of four will be selected for training, with further opportunities opening every year. The crew will learn medical procedures, how to grow food on Mars, and how to maintain the habitat and rovers. In 2024 a second crew will depart Earth, with four new settlers arriving every two years until 2033, when 20 people should be living on Mars.

This incredibly challenging mission is estimated to cost $6 billion. Interestingly part of the funding will come from a reality TV show which will follow the teams from their recruitment through to their first few years living on Mars. In addition to high costs the team will face Mars’ fiercely hostile environment; high levels of radiation, low gravity, little atmosphere, high impact from the solar winds, and water sources frozen underground. If successful the astronauts will make history, but it won’t be easy and they will never breathe fresh air again.

Picture of mars, taken by the Spirit rover.  Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Picture of mars, taken by the Spirit rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

The mission throws up many interesting questions from both a personal and technological perspective. Maybe try hosting your own debate on the subject, or if you’re a teacher, you could try raising the issues with your students using one of our discussion formats.

Should we send humans to Mars?
How would you feel if a loved one volunteered for a one-way mission to mars?
Do you think that current technologies could sustain life on Mars?

If you want to build your skills for using discussion in the classroom further, we are running the Talk Science teachers’ course in London on 29th November. For details of how to sign up click here.

Chinese Science Theatre Group visits the Museum

Outreach officer Laura talks about the Science Museum’s new education links with China

The Science Museum recently hosted a very special visit from the Science Theatre Group from the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum (DGSTM) in China.

Much like our Explainers here at the museum, the theatre group perform free science shows for visitors at the DGSTM – the main difference being their performers are mostly between the ages of 6 and 12 years!

Kitted out with beautiful costumes and having meticulously learned their scripts in English, the young performers presented a variety of shows to Science Museum visitors. We learned about the fascinating life of the humble ant in the Amazing Ants show, as well as some lessons about marine conservation in Dr Shark and the Café de Coral. Finally two of the adult performers from the DGSTM dispelled some myths about magic in their interactive show The Magic of Science.

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Creatures of the deep

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Learning about the delicate balance of the marine eco-system

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The Magic of Science with ‘magicians’ Newton and Curie

The visit from the lively theatre group came out of a growing partnership between the DGSTM and the Science Museum following a visit to Dongguan from our outreach team in November last year.

Members of the outreach team worked closely with the DGSTM and the British Council and were able to reach over 7000 people over two weeks in China and Hong Kong. The team performed the ever popular Feel the Force show along with the Mission to Mars workshop.

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Investigating magnetism during ‘Feel the Force’

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Outreach officer Shane launching rockets with children at the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum

The Science Museum is working to coordinate regular visits to China so it was a great opportunity to reciprocate the DGSTM’s hospitality in hosting their performances here in London.

The shows went down a treat with museum visitors as well as members of local Chinese community groups who attended the performances. Some members of the audience even had the chance to pose for photos with the performers!

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