Category Archives: Explainers

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Right Royal Adventure

Post written by Explainer Eli

As millions descended upon London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities, a team of valiant Science Museum knights mounted their noble steed (the outreach van) and headed to a far flung region of the Great British Isle (Cumbria). Their quest, to entertain the good folk at the 2012 Whitehaven Jubilee festival using nothing but sensational science!

Science Museum ‘Knights’ – Learning team on the outreach

Over the two days we succeeded in our mission; wowing the crowds with table top science experiments including cordial cornflour slime, courtly carbon dioxide filled bubbles and aristocratic Alka-Seltzer rockets!

We also performed a number of shows; ‘The Bubble Show’ and ‘The Greatest Hits Show’ that would have made our Majesty proud!

The London celebrations may have had a 1000 boat flotilla but Whitehaven’s Harbour was equally as splendid…

Fit for a Queen! – Whitehaven Harbour

Other highlights of the festival included performances by Katherine Jenkins, The Enemy and The Charlatans.

Our dwelling for the duration of the festival was a pleasing palace with tight security (we were given a code that opened a box, which released a key that opened another box, which in turn revealed a key code entry pad for opening the door). The hotel even came complete with a trio of terriers that could rival any corgis and to top it all there was also a patriotic parrot!

Patriot Parrot

On Saturday, after a days hard work, we decided to make the most of our northern adventure and headed for a drive over the very scary Hardknott and Wrynose pass to feast on a splendid Chinese in Windermere.

Chinese Feast

During the drive, the satellite navigation system kept telling us to “Turn around” and at one point we definitely smelt burning tyres! Many of the knights had become too accustomed with city dwelling and had never experienced such crazy roads. There were screams from Outreach Officer José of “Slow down Nate, use the engine!”

Reaching the summit of the mountain, blowing the cobwebs away after a hard day explaining science to the masses, was just what we needed.

Feeling on top of the world!

On Sunday, Explainer Dominique’s impressive ‘Bubble Show’ bought the tent’s work to an elegant end, which was no mean feat as the Red Arrows were performing lots of spectacular stunts outside.

Red Arrow flyby

People of Cumbria we salute you! Thanks for coming to see us; we all had a fantastic time!

Thank you Cumbria! The Knights before returning back to their castle

Thanks to the Samuel Lindow foundation and the National Nuclear Laboratory for inviting us! Hopefully we will be returning next year…

Explainer Fact: For more top science experiments, check out the Science Museum’s website or visit us in South Kensington, London.

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Observations of a new Explainer

Post written by Explainer Sarah

Hello, I’m Sarah, one of the 12 newest Explainers here at the Science Museum.
I’ve been here nearly 3 months now, and it’s true…time does fly when you’re having fun!

I can honestly say that I have spent the majority of the time smiling and laughing!
There’s a real atmosphere of FUN here and the rest of the Explainer team are great. Everyone has been a “newie” at some point and knows what it’s like, so when you’re stuck they welcome questions and are ready to help.

Science Museum Explainers

During our first week, induction week, the 12 of us were put through our paces doing things like presentations, going on a museum treasure hunt (honestly, it was hard work!), playing team-building games and acting out some of the “Sticky Moments” that can happen when faced with the public.

A highlight had to be watching a fellow “newie” pretending to be a very non-compliant 5 year old who was lost (you know who you are!), giving the Explainer the run-around. (This actually happened to me over the Easter holidays! A very upset 5 year old running up and down outside The Garden howling “Daddy, Daddy where’s my Daddy?!”. Fortunately for me, Dad was located quickly, although he was alarmingly relaxed about it all…..unlike his poor boy!).  Although every situation we looked at had us howling with laughter, there was a real sense that we were learning something really valuable.

It was impressive that over the entire week, we were tested, observed, challenged, encouraged and supported, and we felt confident that although we had a lot to learn, we wouldn’t be thrown in at the deep end. By the end of the week we felt exhausted, but armed with our red Explainer T-shirts we were ready to get stuck into the job…Bring it on!

Crushing dry ice

During our first few weeks, let loose in the museum, we shadowed experienced Explainers. My very first task was to help collect and crush dry ice for the Icy-Bodies exhibit on Launchpad. It’s hard to believe how cold that stuff is (a chilly -78°C) but stories of past Explainers accidentally nearly getting frostbite gives you the incentive to don the geeky lab-coat and specs, along with some massive mits, and treat it with the respect it deserves!

Some of the tasks have been scarier than others. Being on Launchpad schools entrance dealing with the organised chaos on a busy, fully booked day is always an eye-opener. It is a real skill being able to compassionately calm the poor harassed teacher who has battled the tube system with 30 over-excited kids (give them a medal for bravery I say!), or the teacher whose coach broke down and is now an hour late with 60 kids.

Often you feel as if you need eight arms, and eyes in the back of your head, however the experienced Explainers are a model of calm (usually!) and are full of sensible advice and tips. As each day passes and you get stuck in, it gets more instinctive.

Every time I walk into the building in the morning I can’t quite believe I work in THE Science Museum. I feel really lucky to work with such a great bunch of people and have the opportunity to help others catch the buzz for learning about science in such an exciting way.

Explainer Fact:  We use over 6 tonnes of dry ice every year!

Swiss Army Octopus - the perfect camping buddy

Visitor Inventions – Animals

They say the UK is a country of animal lovers and judging by what our visitors have drawn, it is most certainly true!  Why use a standard Swiss Army knife when a friendly octopus can help you instead?  Or why should we continue to burn fossil fuels when hamsters are happy to power devices for us?

We give our visitors the tools (colouring pencils and paper) to doodle down any ideas they have whilst in our Launchpad gallery.

Here’s a selection of animal-based inventions drawn up by some of our imaginative visitors. Click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Explainer Fact: The Museum has a large anatomical horse in the Veterinary section on the 5th floor

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Stargazing Live Outreach

Post written by Explainer Kate

In January the Science Museum was asked to take part in the BBC’s Stargazing Live events at Woolwich and Charlton house. Events were held all over the UK to coincide with the second series of the very successful Stargazing Live show. Explainer Dan and I from the Science Museum Learning Team together with some lovely volunteers from STEM, attended the daytime event at Woolwich and the evening event at Charlton House.

On a very sunny day in Woolwich there were lots of free demonstrations, activities and telescopes for the public to look at. Dan and I set up Alka-Seltzer rockets and traced constellations. I also got to look at the sun through a telescope with a specially designed filter which was very exciting.

At Charlton House everybody was hoping for a clear night.  This time we knew that we were not going to be able to set off Alka-Seltzer rockets inside the beautiful Jacobean House, so we also brought a water rocket and arranged the launch pad on the lawn.  Dan had the clever idea of putting glow-in-the-dark sticks inside the water rockets so we could clearly see how high they were travelling up into the air in the dark.

Meanwhile inside the building we set out a huge piece of paper on which people drew constellations, planets and anything else they thought they would find in space. We also had some real NASA space food and the model of the Saturn V rocket for people to look at and we demonstrated how to make film-can constellations.

Unfortunately the night was pretty overcast so it was difficult to get a chance to see much through the telescopes but I did manage to catch a glimpse of Jupiter and some of its moons which was very cool!

Explainer Fact:  Nasa launched a spacecraft called Juno last year to help us learn more about Jupiter.

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School Storytelling Events

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away the Science Museum discovered the secret recipe for telling an awesome story.

The magical ingredients included:

• Pigs x 3
• Hedgehog (awake)
• An Enormous Turnip
• Rubber Chicken

Mixed together with a sprinkle of humour and a dash of razzle dazzle – whilst gently allowing the audience’s excitement to boil over.

Storytellings are charged events performed by Explainers aimed at a Key Stage 1 (aged 5-7) audience.  Each session is full of audience participation and volunteer opportunites.

The 3 Pigs storytelling follows the traditional fairytale (but with a happy ending) and covers the topic of materials.  It reinforces the idea that different materials possess differing properties e.g. strong, heavy, light, rough etc.

3 Pigs Storytelling

The Not So Sleepy Hedgehog is story about light.  It features a hedgehog that is trying to get ready for hibernation but is scared of ‘monsters’ that are only seen in the dark.  This story goes over what a light source is, introduces reflection and how we get a shadow.

Not So Sleepy Hedgehog Storytelling

The Enormous Turnip is an epic tale all about forces and recounts the efforts of an entire family in pulling an enormous turnip from the ground; using a variety of words to describe different actions such as pushing, pulling, turning, lifting and dropping.

Enormous Turnip Storytelling

Storytelling sessions are optional and there are plenty of free activities for schools to enjoy on their visit.  They can of course explore the Museum’s galleries and see objects ranging from Stephenson’s Rocket to the Apollo 10 capsule.

Groups can also book a visit to the Garden, Pattern Pod and Launchpad interactive galleries (depending on their Key Stage).

Whatever school groups plan to do, we always try our best to make sure their visit has a happy ending and we hope they all live happily ever after…

…The End

Explainer Fact: Nearly 7000 pupils visited a storytelling last year!

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Visitor Letters – School children’s feedback forms

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

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (e.g. also big bangs).  This was especially true when we received letters from Hazelbury School.  In fact, the pupils used our feedback forms as a template to write down their views – things that they liked, disliked and what we could do differently.

Below are a selection of feedback forms we received from the children.  Click on any image to enlarge.

The letter below shows our response and appreciation towards the children’s efforts (click to enlarge).

Explainer Fact: If your little ones would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, London, SW7 2DD

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Visitor Inventions – Adult ideas

It’s not just our younger visitors who love drawing their ideas down on paper whilst inside our Launchpad gallery – adults do too!  Especially after a bit of alcohol and some silent discoing during one of our Science Museum Lates, which happen on the last Wednesday of every month except December.

Below are a selection of inventions drawn by some of our larger visitors – click  on any image to see bigger pictures.

Giant LEGO inside the Garden gallery

The Garden Gallery (plus LEGO!)

There’s a keyboard player and a drummer ready to play some uplifting tunes below a giant disco ball.

No, I’m not talking about a 1970s inspired Glee episode. I am of course talking about our Garden interactive gallery!

It may not look like a typical garden – for a start it’s indoors. However, with a bit of imagination and some tenuous links, things are more similar than they first appear.

The giant shimmering disco ball on the ceiling represents our sun; tweeting song birds are replaced by a voice changer, an echo machine and musical instruments; long plastic yellow spaghetti is our flora; the water area is our pond and we have a tree house (without the tree part) as well. Throw in some giant LEGO and a big red skip and there you have it – a garden.

The Garden Gallery - Water area (left), Giant LEGO (far-centre), Treehouse (right)

The Garden Gallery – Water area (left), Giant LEGO (far-centre), Treehouse (right)

Our flora - yellow spaghetti

Our flora – yellow spaghetti

The water area is without a doubt the most popular exhibit within the Garden, although in my opinion it’s all about the giant LEGO. Our visitors can be so creative, building anything from animals to armchairs.

Below shows reconstructed creations that our visitors have built.

Explainer Fact: We have a selection of hand puppets that include a hedgehog, a red squirrel and a strange mutated crow that has separate arms and wings!

Flat Stanley in front of the Apollo 10 capsule

Visitor Letters – Flat Stanley’s adventures at the Science Museum

We love receiving letters from our visitors.

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (e.g. also big bangs). Most letters read like a story from when the kids got off the bus to the galleries they visited and then eventually concluding with what they bought from our Museum shop.

We always try our best to write back as soon as possible. Recently we received a request from a girl called Molly, whose school project was to have a character called ‘Flat Stanley’ being sent to the Science Museum for an adventure (click to enlarge).

Molly's letter telling us about Flat Stanley
It was our task to take photos of ‘Flat Stanley’ around different objects inside the Museum to keep a record of his epic adventure, as shown below:

Explainer Fact: If your little ones would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, London, SW7 2DD

'Holding' projected fish

The Pattern Pod Gallery

What do spirals, duck feet, computer animated fish and a dance room have in common? Yep, you’ve guessed it! They all feature in our Pattern Pod interactive gallery for kids aged 5 to 8.

As the name of the gallery suggests, this gallery is all about patterns. Patterns that you can see, hear and touch. It introduces the idea that there are patterns all around us and that recognising patterns is an important skill (especially in science).

Just like our other interactive galleries, when school groups book a visit, we provide a quick briefing before the kiddies go off and explore. The rules are simple. Don’t leave, don’t run and finally… have FUN!!!! And there’s a lot of fun to be had.

For starters in the centre of the gallery there’s a projection of animated fish that responds to movement. Children enjoy nothing more than to chase and stomp on the fishes. The magic of Disney is also evident when they shout out “Nemo!” to every clownfish that swims by. Some little ones also try and feed the fish with foam tiles from the nearby tessellation exhibit. But with some guidance, you can actually ‘hold’ and (with some dodgy slight of hand) even catch the fish!

Afterwards they can plant a pattern, walk like a dog or even strut their stuff in our psychedelic dance room that tracks your body movements and plays the same 3 tunes over and over again… a pattern as it were.

And finally we have the kaleido-patterns, where visitors can showboat their artistic flair and investigate rotational symmetry.

Whatever you choose to do within the gallery, always remember the very important third rule – have FUN!!!

Explainer Fact: Over 1000 pupils can visit the Pattern Pod with their school groups each week