Category Archives: discussion techniques

A Futurecade Review

My name is Essence H. and I am 14 years old. Today I am writing a review on Futurecade digital games as part of my work experience at the Science Museum.

After playing all 4 games, I concluded that the one I enjoyed the most was ‘Robo Lobster’ which is about robots destroying sea mines so humans don’t have to. I enjoyed this game the most because I found it quite easy to get into and a fun game to play. I also find the idea of robots taking over the jobs of humans quite interesting as these games are based on real scientific research happening today. Although I enjoyed ‘Robo lobster’ the most, if you actually link all these games to real life and consider the idea of them being actual scientific research, then they are all interesting in their own way.

Robo-Lobster is about using robots to destroy sea mines

Robo-Lobster is about using robots to destroy sea mines

In my opinion, starting a lesson off by playing Futurecade could be a good idea because it can act as an icebreaker or introduction into the topic, as it would be something new. Or it would be a good idea to have Futurecade at the end to conclude the lesson- because students would already have prior knowledge of the topic which they would have learnt that lesson, to link in with the games so the understanding and interest level may be higher.

Another point is, especially reaching KS4 like I have in year 10, learning can become slightly stagnant and it’s quite easy to lose interest and focus in a lesson. The idea of learning through games is something different and more fun than a whole lesson of your teacher explaining something verbally.

To any teachers interested in using Futurecade to help teach a topic, I would definitely say go with it! I think it’s a good idea particularly with KS3 students to help them examine the ethical and moral implications of using and applying science.  I would say a reasonable timescale to let the children spend on Futurecade would be about 10-15 minutes and include it in maybe 2 lessons (not more than that because once you’ve played them a few times the interest level of the games drops slightly). If they wish to play the games for longer, they can always access it for themselves at home which can lead to further independent study.

In conclusion I approve of Futurecade and definitely think we should include lots more games to help link in across the school’s curriculum!

Thanks for your time Essence – hopefully you’ll fly the Futurecade banner back in school! Futurecade has been shortlisted for a BETT award in the ‘secondary digital content’ category, which we’re thrilled about. If you’re using Futurecade in the classroom make sure you check out our support notes which are packed with background science, lesson ideas and facilitation questions for discussion.

Let us know how you use them!

Droppin’ science

Happy New Year to one and all- hope your holidays were relaxing, or if they weren’t, then at least still food-and-fun-filled.

Kicking off the new year in style, we will be at the ASE conference in Reading from tomorrow- stop by the Science Museum stand and say hello!

And how about this Hip-Hop Experiment for getting students to talk science: GZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, has teamed up with Columbia Uni Professor Chris Emdin to teach young people science through rap, in a project launched in 10 New York City schools. They believe that the challenge of coming up with rhymes about science, and standing up to deliver them to their peers, can help engage hard-to-reach students in a way they can feel proud of.

Droppin science: students in Harlem take turns delivering raps in class. Dr Emdin,left, joins in.

‘We should find new ways to capture the interest of a new generation’ says Dr Emdin. And how right he is! We agree wholeheartedly, and have been living by this philosophy for a long time- which is why we promote the use of powerful questions in discussions (e.g. how could Justin Bieber reduce his world tour’s carbon footprint?) and more recently, digital games in the classroom, to give students a way into talking science by showing them that it’s absolutely relevant to their lives and interests.

Emdin says the skills required for success in science are much like those of a good rapper: ‘curiosity, keen observation, an ability to use metaphor and draw connections.’  Might I add, science and music are both creative fields, and without imagination, there isn’t much moving beyond what ideas already exist!

Feel like giving the science rap a shot? Why not, why not. After teaching a lesson, set your students the task of coming up with some rhymes for homework, instead of a report or essay. If you do try it, we’d love to hear how it went!

Pain is (not) a game

Just launched: Pain Less, the museum’s newest contemporary science exhibition! Check out the team’s blog to read all about the development of the exhibition and the incredible stories  featured.

What’s interesting about this exhibition is how the current state and future of pain relief is explored through the stories of  remarkable people. Pain is a really personal thing, and the sensation of it can be subjective, so there really isnt a one-size-fits-all approach, and telling personal stories makes it really revealing.

Extracting snake venom at the opening of Pain Less

Extracting snake venom at the opening of Pain Less

One of the elements of the exhibition, a digital game called Ouch, was actually co-created for the gallery by a group of year 9 students. If you can’t get to the museum, you & your students can now play online. Aside from being a lot of  fun, the game highlights the role of the brain in sensing pain, and outlines a few of the different options for pain relief  today (did you know that spider venom might be the next big thing?)

Try getting your students to play the game as a stimulus activity for a discussion around drug trials, or the future of medicine. Or let us know how you would use it in the classroom!

‘Facts’ aren’t always facts

Good morning everyone and happy post-halfterm Monday.

Doing a little reading over the weekend, I was amazed at this article on How Stuff Works. There were several items in there that really surprised me! Like how everyone says the Great Wall of China is visible from space- well, it’s NOT. And how old windowpanes look so uneven because glass behaves like a slow-moving liquid over hundreds of years. Apparently nonsense.

The Great Wall of China

It's Great, but it's not visible from space... image

I thought it was interesting because it points out a misconceptions that a lot of people share, and spread, confident that the information is genuine and interesting. It’s exactly the same with your students: they may have heard, read or been told something inaccurate and have it stored away as ‘fact’. Classroom discussions around scientific issues can sometimes bring these inaccuracies to the surface, and this gives you a chance to correct them, sensitively.

If your students are piping up about an issue, you definitely want to encourage their contribution, but perhaps if the ‘facts’ arent straight you can start with ‘a lot of people think this too’ and find out where they got the information, because chances are, their peers might also share that same idea (especially if the info comes from somewhere on the internet!). This then gives you the chance to provide the correct information, and point out that some sources are just more reliable than others, so your students should use a critical eye when evaluating where their ‘facts’ come from!

Good luck :)


Money-saving drones?

Robot drones, similar to the ones used in war zones in the Middle East, could  be used for crime fighting in the UK.

At least that’s what the police is calling for, as they launch the National Police Air Service today. Senior officer Alex Marshall thinks they are much cheaper than helicopters, can stay up longer and do things that you couldnt have people doing in the air!  “But is it acceptable to the citizens of Britain to have them in the air? The public needs to find it acceptable and it needs to be within the law.”

Police use remote-controlled drones to control anti-social behaviour

Police use remote-controlled drones to control anti-social behaviour

Indeed. This is an important debate; if we are happy to have military robots fighting our wars abroad, does that mean we want them to police our cities here? What are the benefits to us as citizens, and what is at stake? Will it make us safer, or just save a few (million) quid on the costs of running police air support? And of course, what about the humans behind the remote controlled robots- are they more likely to put people in danger because they are are detached from the ‘action’, are they to be held responsible if their robot accidentally hurts someone?

Lesson idea- to get your students talking about these questions, start them off playing the Robo-lobster game in Futurecade, & in small groups, have them discuss the questions they are shown in their results screen. Use our teacher notes for a little background science and further stimulus questions. Then why not hold a marketplace debate that includes different angles, eg the police force, regular citizens, civil rights activists and an aerospace engineering company. Finish up with a human barometer to guage your students’ personal feelings about seeing unmanned security drones in our skies, and get them to explain where they stand!

If you try this out, why not tell us about it? We’d love to hear from you :)

Jokes business

Using humour in your teaching can help you engage your students- that’s nothing new. But what about LITERALLY using humour?

Check out my favourite (frankly, awful) selection of science jokes below…

 -Biology is the only science in which multiplication is the same thing as division.

-Did you hear about the famous microbiologist who traveled in thirty different countries and learned to speak six languages? He was a man of many cultures.

-Q: What is the fastest way to determine the sex of a chromosome?
A: Pull down its genes!

-When a year 3 pupil was asked to cite Newton’s first law, she said, “Bodies in motion remain in motion, and bodies at rest stay in bed unless their mothers call them to get up.”

-What did the male stamen say to the female pistil?
I like your “style”

-Two atoms were walking across a road when one of them said, “I think I lost an electron!” “Really!” the other replied, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I ‘m absolutely positive!”


OK, I might have you shaking your head- but you probably had a little chuckle too! If your students get the joke, it’s likely they understand the science behind it. If they don’t, its a good way to  see where they might need to brush up a little.

A quick google search will bring up loads of science jokes and humour. You can experiment using jokes as discussion starters, or even end a lesson with one to consolidate what you’ve covered. Or perhaps you just want to make your students laugh (or groan)!

Happy LOLs :)

Still life with science

Powerful images can be great stimuli to use in the classroom- they can hook in students, generate opinions and help give them some knowledge to bring to a discussion. Some great galleries to find strong scientific pictures are Wellcome images, Science photo library and  galleries like Popsci’s most amazing science images.

Prettier than it really is: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Prettier than it should be: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

On a different level, you could even get your students to seek out science in the world around them and take their own pictures to use in the classroom – which could be a nice way to engage them with a topic and get them thinking and talking science outside the classroom.  With mobile phone cameras being so good now, your students will already have the tools they need at their fingertips.

If you do try this out, your students can even enter their images into the Young Scientists Journal photography competition- it’s open to anyone aged 18 and under. The categories are energy, camouflage, science behind the Olympics and the result of science. Find out more here!

Happy snapping :)

Countdown to Futurecade!

There is much excitement in Talk Science team this week- Futurecade launches this Thursday!

Futurecade launches this week!

Can science save humanity?

Futurecade is a suite of online games based on current and developing research in the fields of robotics, space junk, geo-engineering and synthetic biology.  Most importantly, Futurecade’s four games Bacto-Lab, Robo-Lobster, Cloud Control and Space Junker, are designed to be fun to play- so are an immediate hook to get your students engaged- and they use questions to provoke thought around the way technology might impact our future.

We’ve also worked with scientists to create background science notes and questions for each game, which we hope you’ll find useful to support you using the games in the classroom.

We haven’t been able to stop playing the games (it’s all ‘testing’ of course!) and we really hope you’ll try using Futurecade with your students, as a great hook or stimulus for a discussion around the themes of the games, to explore the applications and implications of science with your students, and help teach How Science Works.

Three… two… one… See you Thursday!

Wonderful Things: M1 core

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the object below looks a bit boring. It is, in fact, an actual piece of the M1, cored by the Transport Research Laboratory. Everyone knows the M1 as the backbone of Britain, but who likes it? Very few I suspect. Although, where would we be without motorways? Probably not stuck in a traffic jam “somewhere on the M1” I’d say!

M1 Core

M1 core - I wonder if drilling this core sample has left a hole in the road somewhere along the motorway?

The M1 was the first full-length motorway to open between Watford and Rugby in 1959 and was later extended to London and Yorkshire. It is fair to say that the opening of the M1 revolutionised motor travel in the UK, becoming a national lifeline linking the North and the South. When built, it was expected to carry 13,000 vehicles a day, but now carries over 88,000! This causes no end of congestion, misery and above all: a negative impact on the environment.

So, what can be done to make our motorways handle this increasing volume of traffic? Many think that it is not the motorways themselves that are the problem, but the sheer amount of vehicles that use them. Others think that we do need to adapt Britain’s motorways to meet today’s demands of travelling and logistics, but how? What is the future of Britain’s motorways? 

The government has committed to a six year, £6billion investment programme to improve strategic roads. However, the AA argues that there should be no need for new major motorways across green fields. So what’s the answer? Well, some say that using the hard shoulder at busy periods will increase the desired capacity. Also, introducing ‘pay lanes’ would diminish the need to destroy countryside in order to build new roads or widen existing ones. The AA says that motorway widening would represent good value for money by reducing congestion and may be more sustainable than temporary fixes like using the hard shoulder. 

Would you give up your school grounds to make way for a motorway?

Imagine you had £6 billion to invest- what technology would you use to manage traffic?

Would increasing the usage of Britain’s railways and building new lines (such as the High Speed 2) be more environmentally friendly than building new roads?

Should people who drive without passengers be forced to carpool or take trains?

If you want to think more about our relationship with travel, transport and modernity, take a look at our Stories from the Stores blog written by the museum’s curatorial team. The Curator of Transport, David Rooney has blogged about the M1 segment too.

The M1 core is in the Making the Modern World gallery, ground floor.

-Denise Cook

Fueling a biofuels discussion?

Planning a discussion about biofuels?

Veggie power?

Veggie power! Will biofuels save the world?

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has a set of teaching resources you can use if you are getting your students to explore the topic.

They have actually split the material up into 2 lessons’ worth: one where your students familiarise themselves with various forms of biofuel, and the second which involves a role-play exercise about the impacts of biofuel production on countries around the world.

The resources contain a wealth of content such as case studies, important questions, and background science, plus helpful scaffold material for presenters, all of which you may find useful even if you don’t follow the lesson plans to the letter or don’t have time to dedicate 2 lessons to the topic.

So take a look at what is available, as you can really adapt the material to your needs.

If you are looking for a way to add a bit of ‘spice’ to the discussion, throw in some Talk Science techniques- for example, you may like to use our powerful question generator to help you come up with some great hook questions that make the topic of biofuels directly relevant to your students, or begin and conclude the discussion with a vote or a human barometer exercise to encourage your students to voice their own opinions in the debate.

Good luck!