Tag Archives: education

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.

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.

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.

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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Steampunk in the Science Museum

Our summer spectacular, The Energy Show, is staged in a steampunk world which blends the past and the future. Much inspiration for the show was taken from the Science Museum’s collection, especially the machines of The Energy Hall. Ben Russell, Curator of Mechanical Engineering, talks here about some of our ‘steampunk’ objects in the Museum. 

Beam engine by Benjamin Hick, 1840. Inv 1935-513

Beam engine by Benjamin Hick, 1840. Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Modern technology values function over anything else. Things are stripped down and smooth in appearance. Steampunk is a welcome kickback against this minimalist modern world we live in, reasserting the importance of form against function – and we can find this delicate balancing act played out in our collections.

Take this beam engine, for example. It’s a model of a full-size engine built in 1840 by Benjamin Hick of Bolton for a Leeds flax mill. It was an immense building, possibly the largest single room in the world. To animate the machines inside, Hick’s engine was certainly powerful, but in building it he gave full reign to his imagination. The result was  an Egyptian engine: It has columns with papyrus-headed capitals, a mighty entablature inspired by a temple overlooking the River Nile, and the ‘chronometric’ governor to control the engine’s speed takes the form of a scarab beetle.

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Later Victorian design became rather bulbous, even grotesque, in appearance. But Hick’s engine is a sinuous masterpiece of epic design and brute strength. It reminds us not only of our creative debt to bewhiskered, roaring, big-jawed machine-makers like Hick, but also the significance of amazing nineteenth century machines, not just as a means to the end of production, but as symbolising national affluence and virility. In our present situation, it’s a lesson worth remembering: if you mean business, build machines that shout it out to the world.

Cooke and Wheatstone two-needle telegraph, 1851, Inv 1884-95

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

A recurring theme in Steampunk is the application of nineteenth-century design ideas to modern digital technology: laptops, PCs, even memory sticks can be made antique with brass gearwheels, dials and mahogany cases.

Colliding state of the art technology with the Gothic isn’t just a recent thing, though. In 1837, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented the world’s first successful telegraph system. It was mainly used on Britain’s evolving railway system, conveying messages via wires running alongside the tracks. A slightly lesser-known use of this pioneering system was to convey messages and reports across London, from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to clubs in St James’s.

The Electric Telegraph Company was formed in 1846 and this instrument was installed at the Houses of Parliament in 1851. As a ‘black box’ of purely functional appearance, it would have jarred badly against the Gothic Revival style adopted in the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster. So, the telegraph was fitted with its admirable Gothic casing, complete with pointed arch, finial, and delicately-realised columns. It must surely have lent a feeling of permanence and robustness to the room that it graced, reflecting the standing of Parliament – and also pre-empting one of the major pillars of steampunk.

Model of the side-lever engines of the Paddle Ship ‘Dee’, 1832. Inv 1900-41

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

The problem with modern technology is that so much of it is intangible, digital, virtual, ephemeral. This point of view certainly underpins many Steampunk projects.

It wasn’t always like this, of course: introducing steam power to ships during the nineteenth was the cutting edge of serious heavy metal technology, and was a highly demanding field to design machines for: engines couldn’t be too heavy, they had to have a low centre of gravity, they couldn’t take up too much space.

These prerequisites offered valuable motivation to innovate in engineering design styles. Rather than big, heavy, monolithic construction and great slab-sided machines, engineers evolved lighter cast-iron structures, with lots of space, openings, and details which could be embellished without adding too much weight. Gothic engines? Check.

This model was built in 1832 for the Paddle Ship ‘Dee’ by the London company Maudslay, Sons and Field. Maudslay was a prolific model-maker, trying out new ideas before committing to them full-size, and this model is one of the finest surviving. The delicate cast iron Gothic tracery of its framing would not look out of place in a cathedral – a very tangible record of the creative impulses afforded to engineering, and perhaps inspiration for those Steampunkers looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Take a look at our own Steampunk set Science Museum Live: The Energy Show which runs until 31 August. Book tickets and find more information here.

Building Bridges project comes of age

Building Bridges, an exciting new Science Museum Learning project began last year. Here, the team share a few highlights from the project so far.

Building Bridges is a three year project aimed at year seven (11-12 year old) students, helping them to make sense of the science that shapes their lives. 

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Building Bridges is doing this by focusing on three outcomes: helping students develop new ideas about why science is important to them/society at large; giving students the ability to communicate these and other ideas clearly; and an increased enthusiasm for science. So far, the project has been working with 16 schools, engaging up to 35 students at each school.

Each group takes part in three key activities over the year: an outreach visit into their school, a school visit to the Science Museum and a family event held at the Museum. The outreach visits were lots of fun for everyone: students got involved in the gloriously disgusting It Takes Guts show and took part in the “Science Communication” session. This gave them the opportunity to think about the stories behind the objects, and also learn science demos to present back to their friends.

Lucy presents 'It Takes Guts'

Lucy presents ‘It Takes Guts’

In May, we welcomed students to the museum for a fun filled VIP day where schools were treated to their own exclusive events and a visit to Launchpad. They also met real scientists during a science journalism session, discussing subjects including the painkiller quality of chillies, and resuscitation. Finally, the students explored the Making the Modern World gallery, searching for objects to help a very important guest…

The Queen awaits her subjects

The Queen awaits her subjects

Last weekend, we said goodbye to our first year of students with a fun filled family weekend at the Museum. The students brought their families to the museum and enjoyed an entire gallery of activities especially for them, including meeting with research scientists and the Imperial College Reach out Lab.

Year one of Building Bridges has been amazingly busy and a lot of fun. We can’t wait for year two!

Introducing Enterprising Science

Micol Molinari, Project coordinator for the Talk Science project writes about the launch of Enterprising Science, the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

Today is a big day for us. It is the official launch of Enterprising Science, a five year partnership between the Science Museum, King’s College London and BP, bringing together expertise and research in informal science learning.

This new project builds on our Talk Science programme. Since 2007 we have worked with over 2,600 secondary school teachers across the UK to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) teaching and learning. The main aim of Talk Science was to give young people the confidence to find their own voice and have a say in the way science impacts on and shapes their lives. The core our work was with science teachers, because of their important role and ability to make a difference in young people’s lives.

So what did we do for Talk Science? We delivered a 1 day teacher CPD course, in over 30 cities across the UK. We developed physical & digital resources to support teachers in the classroom; ran student and teacher events, delivered communication skills training for scientists working with young audiences and held seminars for other museum educators on informal science learning.

This year we began working with King’s College London to develop, test and share new tools and techniques to engage more secondary schools students with science. The tools and techniques are all grounded in research from Kings College London’s five year ASPIRES study of children’s science and career aspirations, combined with our experience from five years of the Talk Science project. Our partnership with Kings is really exciting: it makes Enterprising Science the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

As part of Enterprising Science, we will be working closely with small groups of partner teachers, to collaboratively develop and trial new tools and techniques for engaging students with science both inside and outside the classroom. These new resources will be shared through our work with schools across the UK and online.

But it is not just about science in the classroom. In fact, research shows that one of the strongest indicators of whether a young person will choose a career in science is the type of support they get outside of school from their families. We will be working with teachers, young people and their families to help create a supportive learning environment for students. By raising the value that young people place on science, we hope to help students develop a genuine interest in science and understand how it is relevant to their lives.

We are excited to see where this project will take all of us. Here’s to the next 5 years!
Micol & the Enterprising Science team.

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

will.i.am, The Prince’s Trust and Science Museum launch education initiative

Musician and philanthropist will.i.am has launched an initiative to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths for disaffected and underachieving children.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman announced The Prince’s Trust workshops, which will be run in partnership with the Science Museum in schools across the country, at the museum with Ian Blatchford, Director of the Museum, and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of the Prince’s Trust.

Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)
Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)

“Inspiring young people through science and technology is a powerful tool,” said will.i.am, who has donated £500,000 to the Trust, including his fee as a judge on BBC talent show, The Voice, and funds the i.am.angel foundation in his native Los Angeles.

“These workshops are an amazing way to engage disadvantaged youngsters who don’t have this sort of access to technology and science otherwise.” Speaking to reporters at the launch of the workshops he said: “As well as telling them to play sports, let’s encourage them to do science or mathematics.

“When I say, ‘Hey kids, you guys should want to be scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians…’ I say that because I too am going to school to learn computer science,“ he added. “I’m taking a computer science course, because I’m passionate about where the world’s going, curious about it and I want to contribute.”

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

The new partnership will see Science Museum outreach staff visiting Prince’s Trust xl clubs in schools across the country to deliver workshops after normal lessons that are aimed at inspiring and engaging 13-19 year olds who are struggling at school. The overall aim is to help 3,000 to 4,000 young people this year.

The launch of the workshops comes ahead of a Prince’s Trust report to be released today revealing a lack of digital skills among the younger generation. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, shows a quarter of unemployed young people (24%) “dread” filling in online job applications and one in ten (11%) admit they avoid using computers.

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

The Science Museum is the most popular free school-trip destination in the UK and runs the most popular outreach programme for children in the country, reaching 110,000 children per annum. More children take part in events and activities at the Science Museum than any other in the country.

Toby Parkin, Outreach and Resources Manager, from the Science Museum said: “We know the importance of making science exciting and accessible to everyone. Our initiative with The Prince’s Trust aims to encourage youngsters who may not have considered science and technology as a possible career path. The workshops will span the country across 2013 and see many more young people experimenting with technology and science.”

The Science Museum is the home of human ingenuity in this sector: it has been pioneering interactive science interpretation for over 80 years and was the first in Europe to set up a sleepover programme, the first to tour science and technology exhibitions to shopping centres and is the home of the world’s only science comedy troupe.

Roger Highfield is Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum

Lord Heseltine answers questions from the audience. Image credit: John Russell

Lord Heseltine on Science and Industrial Strategy

Boffins, crazy ideas and blue sky research might not sound like the building blocks of an industrial policy. However, one of the most seasoned figures in modern politics argued this week that science is not just a cultural activity but plays a central role in driving the nation’s economy. Lord Heseltine, the former deputy Prime Minister, delivered this message to a 300-strong audience attending the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) Annual Lecture.

Speaking in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre, Lord Heseltine, who described the Museum as “very impressive”, called for science to help drive economic growth in the UK (the full speech can be read here) as well as discussing research, industrial strategy and the ability of technology to inspiring young people.

Lord Heseltine gives the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) Annual Lecture. Image credit: John Russell

Drawing on the development of IMAX technology, which has seen decades of advances in technology to improve the public’s cinematic experience, Lord Heseltine noted that if just one student went “to school tomorrow with a renewed enthusiasm for their science lessons, then the pioneers of IMAX technology would surely have done a worthwhile job.”

Lord Heseltine last delivered the CaSE Annual Lecture in 1989, when the organisation was called Save British Science, just a fortnight after the fall of the Berlin Wall. That event, and the political harmony that followed, drove economic collaboration across Europe, helping create today’s global economy.

How to keep up with other nations in the global economy is central to Lord Heseltine’s recently published report: No stone unturned in pursuit of growth. Lord Heseltine called for the government to “place educational improvement, the raising of basic standards and the complete intolerance of sink schools” at the heart of the growth agenda – a key theme of his report.

In his speech, Lord Heseltine was optimistic about the future of science education, noting that “science has never been so accessible or exciting,” and encouraging members of the audience to visit schools and meet students, “Every child remembers the brilliant adult who sparked a flame of ambition in their head, who changed the course of their life forever.”

Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineer’s is a vital part of the Museum’s mission. Engaging with 400,000 school children a year, the Museum’s Learning team work with thousands of science teachers across the country to help them develop innovative tools and techniques to deliver outstanding science lessons.

Lord Heseltine answers questions from the audience. Image credit: John Russell

The speech concluded with a look at industrial strategy, “It is about government working hand-in-hand with business to help our industrial base get ahead,” before a Q&A discussion with audience members. The Q&A touched on the benefits of blue skies research; with Lord Heseltine commenting that research must not only be done for its own sake, but also for the pursuit of growth.

Lord Heseltine’s comments here at the Museum come in the wake of a recent speech at the Royal Society by the Chancellor, who emphasised the central role of science in driving a modern, dynamic economy.