Tag Archives: Explainers

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.

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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.

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.

Visitor Letters – Parkhill School

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 (also big bangs).

The pupils from Parkhill School visited the Launchpad and saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  One pupil said she learnt so much that her science grade increased a level! (click to enlarge letters)

Parkhill 1

Enjoyed bridge building and thought that listening to music through your teeth is ‘freaky’ inside Launchpad

Parkhill 2

Radhika enjoyed the electrical circuits and wanted to see more ‘mindblowing shows’

Parkhill 3

Krupa was ‘shocked’ by how much she learnt and has now gone up a level in Science

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

Visitor Drawings – What’s your favourite science joke?

What’s your favourite science joke? Does it involve chemical symbols or scientific equipment? These are just some ‘Funnies’ that of our comedic visitors have come up with whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Click on any image for larger pictures.

Learning Apprenticeships

Guest post by Apprentices Jorden, Vicki & Toni

Hello everyone!  We are the bubbly young apprentices who work in the Learning department (mainly with the Explainers) at the Science Museum. We are here to gain vocational skills and experience in a working environment.  This will prepare us for work in the future and provides us with a Level 2 NVQ in Cultural Heritage and Venue Operations qualification, which is widely recognised by employers.

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Apprentices left to right: Jorden, Vicki & Toni

Jorden, 17 “I chose to do an apprenticeship because I didn’t like working in a classroom environment; in college I’d get bored really quickly, even in the subjects I was really interested in. But working at the Science Museum is the complete opposite, I’ve learnt so many skills and I really enjoy helping the visitors; the best part is interacting with the children and encouraging them to have fun while they learn something new. The environment is full of surprises and there are a range of different tasks to keep me busy, so no two days are the same. The Learning team is really friendly and the Explainers in particular have a strong team, they’re really enthusiastic about helping each other out and everyone does their part to make sure the day runs smoothly.

Apprentice Jorden refilling Launchpad exhibits

When I complete my apprenticeship, I’d really like to work with the Outreach team going round to schools and bringing some of the excitement from the Museum into the classrooms.”

Vickie, 17 “I decided to do the apprenticeship because I love doing anything to do with the Science Museum. I feel proud to say that I work at the Museum and I love what I do. The environment at the Museum is so friendly and you learn so much without even realising. The Explainer department is so exciting and inviting; you can make friends with everyone and not feel left out. When I complete this apprenticeship I would love to stay on as an Explainer and start to do shows. I love entertaining people and showing them really cool things, such as explosions in one of our Launchpad shows!

Apprentice Vicki setting up a Launchpad show

I would advise everyone to come to the Science Museum. You wouldn’t believe your eyes if you saw some on the amazing things we have to offer. My highlight so far has been seeing Will Smith in the IMAX cinema!”

Toni, 18 “I chose to go for this apprenticeship because I always came to the Science Museum when I was a little girl. So when I saw the ad on the apprenticeship website, I got excited and quickly applied. I was over the moon when I found out I got the job! When I first started I was scared of the Explainers, however, as time went on I realised they aren’t scary and I began to have conversations with them.

Apprentice Toni handing over lost property to security

I have recently performed demos to the Explainers at a meeting. One of these demos included using plastic cups and an air-zuka (the air-zuka looks like a plastic tube and handle with a plastic bag on the end). I had to pull back the bag and let go, shooting air out in a spiral vortex which knocked down the cups, in my case it knocked down 3 cups out of the 7. Performing the demos was one of the scariest things I have ever done because I was performing demos to the performers and it took a lot of practice and support to build up the courage to perform them. But once I started performing them to the Explainers, I started to feel calmer and they began to laugh because of the humour I had added. At the end of the demos, all the Explainers gave me compliments and said I did well. I now feel like part of the team and enjoy working with them. I have also learned some Makaton during my time at the Museum, which is a language to help communicate with those with special needs. After my apprenticeship, I want to apply to work as a full-time Explainer.”

Apprentice Fact:  If you combined the ages of all 3 apprentices together, it’s less than the age of the oldest Science Museum Explainer.

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Bubbles at Sunday Brunch

Guest post by our Explainer Developer Dan

One of the great things about working as an Explainer at the Science Museum is the wide range of work we get the opportunity to do. So as well as working with the public in our interactive galleries and performing science shows on a daily basis, sometimes we get to do something a little bit different. A few Sundays ago, David and I had the opportunity to do one of these different things, in this case, 6 minutes of live television.

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, a morning magazine show, invited us along to do a segment about bubbles. This was a great opportunity for the Museum to promote our Bubbles show which we perform throughout the year at weekends and we were about to perform a lot more over the half term. We, of course, leapt at the chance.

David and I at the studio before going on air

What was really nice for us was the level of input we had over what we did, which was pretty much free range. After a few phone calls and emails with the production team at Princess Productions and working alongside our press office, we sent through what we thought would fill 6 minutes. It included a brief introduction to why bubbles have a role in science and science communication (Name-checking Thomas Young and Charles Vernon Boys), an experiment for viewers to try at home, some experiments they wouldn’t be able to do at home and our popular finale, the human bubble; A bubble so big, you can fit a human inside it. The week of the show, we discovered that the human we would be using would be Kelly Jones, lead singer of the Stereophonics along with one of the presenters, Simon Rimmer.

Left to right: Me, presenters Simon Rimmer & Tim Lovejoy, David on the end

It was an early start on Sunday morning, the show starts at 9:30, but for rehearsals and set up we arrived before 8. After setting up and meeting the presenters for a “Block” rehearsal, where the camera crew can work out where they need to be and what they will be filming, we basically had to wait until our slot at about 11:00. We watched the show while the nerves built up, I think David was probably more relaxed than me, but I kept thinking about all the things I could say or do wrong in front of the 700,000 strong TV audience!

The segment itself went really well, David had the trickiest bit as he needed to get a paperclip to sit on the surface tension of a small bowl of water. We had prepared some already in case it went wrong, but, ever the professional, David did it on the first attempt. The demo worked really well and we followed it with some carbon dioxide filled bubbles, but had to skip our intended helium filled bubbles as we were running short on time, what with it being live, so moved straight on to the big finale.

As soon as the item finished, the presenters and main crew had to run off to the next area of the studio to continue the show, but the extra crew, along with families of the crew and guests, made a beeline for our table and had a good play with our experiments. We gave them carbon dioxide bubbles to hold and put them in the human bubble until everyone was satisfied, then we headed back to the museum.

Simon Rimmer holding a carbon dioxide bubble

We had lots of great feedback from the crew, our colleagues and the public via the Twitter feeds for both the Museum and Sunday Brunch. All in all a great experience, interesting, exciting and just a little bit different.

Explainer Fact:  Our bubble mix recipe is 95% warm water, 3% washing up liquid and 2% glycerol.  To learn a bit more about bubbles click here.

Google Chrome Web Lab in the Science Museum

Web Lab: See the magic of the web brought to life

Hello there! John and Saam here. We’re two of the crack team of facilitators at the Google Chrome Web Lab, here in the Science Museum.

What’s Web Lab, we hear you ask? It’s a new, interactive exhibition based at the Science Museum about the Internet and the World Wide Web. However, visitors from across the world can also – rather amazingly – visit the exhibition and take part in all of our experiments online at chromeweblab.com

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One of the special things about Web Lab is that it explores the connection between virtual users (on the website) and physical users (in the gallery) – forming a global community. We do that through a series of five unique, web-based experiments.

Google Chrome Web Lab in the Science Museum

There’s the Data Tracer image search, the Universal Orchestra, the Teleporter live stream, the Lab Tag explorer, and arguably the favourite for many visitors, the Sketchbot, that can draw your face in sand!

The experiments are all FUN but they also help you understand how things work on the web. For example, the sketchbots show how the web uses computer languages and protocols to tell machines what to do. The Orchestra, on the other hand, demonstrates the use of ‘web sockets’ to enable two-way communication and real-time interaction over the web, and the Teleporter teaches you about how web technologies use compression to send large amounts of data quickly over vast distances.

Data Tracker, one of 5 Google Chrome experiments in Web Lab

We’ll tell you more about all the experiments in future blogs, but if you’re eager to find out more information right now, visit Web Lab or pop into the Museum, and we’ll be happy to run through the experiments with you in person!

Fun fact to impress your friends: what’s the difference between the internet and the World Wide Web? The Internet is the global network of computers all talking to each other. The Web, on the other hand, is the system of hypertext documents, such as this web page that sits on the Internet, which you can explore with your browser.

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Visitor Letters – Flash! Bang! Wallop!

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 (also big bangs).

The pupils from South Park School recently saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  From the letters that we received, they appeared to have a blast!  They particularly enjoyed the fact that their show presenter claims to be “Barbie’s boyfriend”.

Click on any image to enlarge.

This is what Explainer Sam has to say about his special relationship:

Barbie and I are still going strong and love working together on the Flash! Bang! Wallop! show.  She knows she is in safe hands and what could be a better way to spend your time with your partner than to be shot out of a cannon!  I am really glad that our natural chemistry comes across in the show.  Many people have likened us to Jason and Kylie, Richard and Judy – not to mention Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh.  I hope that as well as learning science, the people who enjoyed our show have learnt another lesson.  Love comes in many sizes.

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

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!

'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