Category Archives: Explainers

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

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

Lottolab at the Science Museum

Post Written by Explainer Dominique

Think a science lab is full of glass beakers and Bunsen burners? You obviously haven’t been to Lottolab!

Lottolab is the world’s first public perception research space set up by Beau Lotto and his team here at the Science Museum. Through their research, they seek to deepen both our scientific and philosophical understanding of human perception. Helping them is a team of young budding scientists from the ‘i, Scientist’ project.

The ‘i, Scientist’ project is a series of workshops that encourages school children to change the way they think about science and themselves. As an Explainer, I’ve been assisting with the project - showing the children and the Lottolab team around the Museum and generally helping out.

Pupils working on the 'I, Scientist' project

The project takes children aged 5-18 from different schools and gets them to work together to ask questions, design real experiments and analyse data before coming to their own conclusions. It’s been great to see the children develop their understanding and appreciation of science.

iScientist blindfold game

A student scientist gives guidance to a test participant, who is attempting to follow a path using sound alone. In the background, other students carefully gather data on the accuracy and speed of the participant as part of their experiment.

One of the schools – Anson Primary made this ‘trailer’ for their experiments.

The ‘I, Scientist’ project is currently in its 2nd year with the aim of extending the programme to many more schools around the country. Check out some of the work done in last years ‘I, Scientist’ project in this film.

Come along and experience the weird and wonderful Lottolab for yourselves.

Explainer Fact: The experiment developed in the 1st year of ‘I, Scientist’ involved finding your way around a path whilst blindfolded.

The hamster powered vegetable garden

Visitor Inventions

Hamster-powered vegetable gardens, multi-tasking hats with limbs and rubber-producing clouds. Our visitors are a creative lot.

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

Some creations are pure genius. Others, lets face it, are a bit weird. However, there is definitely a common theme. Most of the inventions we get from the kiddies are either about food or homework/housework robots. Basically anything that makes their lives easier.

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

Explainer Fact: We get through 100,000 paper trace cards every year (used ones get recycled).

School groups inside Launchpad

Launchpad is our main interactive gallery that focuses on the topic of physics.  Visitors of all ages enjoy seeing how hot they really are in front of our thermal imaging camera and are amazed to hear music through their teeth – to name just a few exhibits!

Visitors in front of the thermal imaging camera

Visitors in front of the thermal imaging camera

Once the summer holidays are over, the flood of families are soon replaced by school groups.  To stop the big kiddies frightening the little ones we have different Key Stage (KS) days during term-time.

On KS1 (5-7) and KS2 days (7-11), everyone is enthusiastic with large beady eyes gleaming at the wonderments of science. On KS3 days (11-14) the attitudes are totally different – and that’s just the staff…

We have shows about bubbles, explosions and err, structures (it’s a good show folks, honest!) in our show space for those at primary school age and a show all about rocket science for the children in double digits.

There are obvious differences between interacting with 6 year olds and teenagers that I won’t go into detail here but there are many, perhaps surprising, similarities as well.

Kids playing with the Big machine

Kids playing with the Big machine

For a start, all age groups run inside the gallery despite you strictly telling them not to before they enter. They all ask you where the toilets are (but don’t we all?) and they all love the Big Machine, which involves moving grain around with simple machines such as pulleys.

The slang used amongst the schooling public is also consistent.  I have simply lost count of the number of times I’ve heard primary and secondary school children use the phrase ‘oh my days!’ and ‘it’s sick!’ and even combine them both together to form the ‘Oh my DAYS!, It’s SICK!’ super combo.  Whatever happened to the days, well in my days anyway, when it was cool to just say ‘cool’?

Explainer Fact: Over 2600 science shows were performed in the Launchpad show space last year.

Stormtrooper threatening an Explainer

Science Museum at West End Live

An Imperial Stormtrooper stands outside the Science Museum stall – science fiction or science fact?

That sets the scene for this year’s West End Live in Trafalgar Square, a free entertainment extravaganza featuring the best that Theatreland has to offer, and of course the Science Museum learning team was there! (The Stormtrooper came from the Forbidden planet stall next to ours by the way).

There we were armed with our Alka-Seltzer rockets, cornflour slime and carbon dioxide bubbles to protect ourselves from dark forces and of course to educate and entertain the masses in the backdrop to West End productions.

One of our tables focused on the topic of forces and motion. The Alka-Seltzer rockets experiment introduces the idea of pressure and the ‘egg trick’ helps demonstrate gravity and friction.

Another table demonstrated the property of different materials. The cornflour slime is an example of a non-newtonian fluid, which can behave like a liquid and a solid depending on the amount of force applied. We also trapped gaseous carbon dioxide, which we sublimed from solid carbon dioxide (dry ice), in bubbles and engulfed adults in our large bubble ring. Just because we can.

There were plenty of acts on show on the main stage, so we enjoyed performances by the cast of Billy Elliot and Chicago, just to name a few. The weather (us Brits are obsessed with the weather) was so predictably unpredictable. One moment there was a torrential downpour. The next, as if by magic, Bob the Builder came on stage and brought with him some loving sunshine. Can he fix? YES he can!

The Science Museum learning team will be present at two further festivals this summer: LolliBop (Regent’s Park) 5th – 7th August and at Jolly Day Out (Hampton Court Palace) 26th – 28th August.