Category Archives: Teaching resources

Wonderful Things: Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Since modern man began to leave the continent of Africa nearly 70,000 years ago, practically every inch of the inhabitable earth has been reached by human settlers. Today, we base so much of our identity on our nationality; where we think we come from, and where our ancestors originated.

The far-flung islands of Polynesia were the last places to be populated and current inhabitants are thought to have come from South East Asia. On their long-stretching trade voyages, Malaysian seafarers judged the distance they had travelled using charts, creating early forms of maps such as this one from the Marshall Islands.

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

The sticks recorded ocean swells and the sea shells represent islands strung throughout the North Pacific. The skilled seamen used ‘way-finding’ navigation based on their observations of the sea, sky and monsoon winds.

According to the International Organization for Migration, “No universally accepted definition for ‘migrant’ exists.” However, the term is generally applied to groups of people moving from one area to another in order to settle and improve their way of life.

In man’s earlier days this meant conquering unknown lands and seas that had never been seen before, but in present society, asking ‘How did you get here?’ may be ever more relevant as populations become more and more ethnically diverse for so many reasons.

Imagine your local area experiences a natural disaster like a flood.  Where would you go? Nowadays it is easy for some of us to travel around, but for people in developing countries and indeed for many of our predecessors, it wasn’t as simple as getting into a vehicle or following a map.

Ask someone where they’re from and most will answer without hesitation, with the country of their birth, their upbringing or their parents’ home country. Science can now tell us, using techniques such as DNA testing, how our genes decide who we are but also from whom exactly we have come.

Should the National DNA Database be used to help people find out about their personal ancestry?

What does your nationality mean to you?

 The Sailing chart of the Marshall islands is in the Who Am I gallery, on the first floor in the Wellcome Wing

-Ruby O’ Shea

Hashtag madness!

Are you a tweeter, churning out worthwhile (or not) tidbits of 140-character news? Are you a lurker, reading other people’s shouts (and whispers)?

Either way, you’ll probably know Twitter can be a great way to follow breaking news in education, science,  and all manner of things useful to your teaching. But how to sift through all the tweets and find the ones which mean something to you? Well, try out a few hashtags that make it much easier to find and follow said news!

Got any good hashtags we should be keeping an eye on? Let us know!

Tweeting fingers at the ready, scientists

Happy tweeting everyone!



All over the place and upside down!

Hello all, apologies for the lack of posting lately- we have been all over the place in the last few weeks, with Talk Science courses in Edinburgh, Portsmouth, and Belfast; several courses and teacher events in London; MuseumNext conference in Barcelona (an awful place to have to visit, as you can well imagine) - and tomorrow we leave for ECSITE science communication conference in France, to deliver a workshop about How Science Works and the changing nature of scientific knowledge through time

Bear with us whilst we get our heads on straight… In the meantime, here’s a few interesting and useful links to get stuck into!




  • Subscribe to the Wellcome Trust’s free Big Picture magazine- a fantastic resource for biologists (and a great read for all).


  •  Explore the Science News Review, aka ‘science news for the average citizen’ blog for oddball research and fascinating factoids. Did you know that a pigeon has better self-recognition than a 3-year old human child?

a vain pigeon?


Wonderful Things: Phrenology head

Psychics, psychologists and even friends attempt to read our minds; navigating what we do and how we say it to predict our actions. German-born Franz Joseph Gall took this one step further by suggesting an individual’s actions and disposition could be seen by literally examining the physical construction of their head. Sound like a wild idea?

How bumpy is your brain? Phrenological head, 1825.

Phrenology, from the Greek phren: ‘mind’ and logos: study/discourse’ (a fact for you all), was a complex method which examined the bumps of the skull to attempt to determine an individuals psychological attributes. Practitioners ran their fingertips and palms over the patient’s skull noting any enlargements or indentation, and used callipers to measure the overall size of the head.

So, the theory: Gall believed that the mind possessed a number of different faculties, discrete departments, each specialized and corresponding to a particular task or tendency, and that the cranium responded accordingly to accommodate these differences in size and shape within the brain. Gall had previously examined skulls of pickpockets noting many exhibited bumps slightly above the ear and suggested that these characteristics of stealing or deceiving could be linked to a formation in the brain.

Logically for Gall, these differences across the cranium could be linked to areas of the brain (or mind) which corresponded to particular characteristics and therefore could be used to predict the temperament of the patient. This was similar to Hippocrates’ ideas in Ancient Greece that excessive amounts of blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm caused certain moods, behaviours and emotions.  

Whilst some of Gall’s ideas regarding the brain have been influential in 19th century psychiatry and modern neuroscience, the practice of Phrenology is considered a pseudoscience by many. Gall was unwilling to respect or acknowledge data suggesting the inaccuracy of his technique whilst any anecdote or evidence seeming to confirm his ideas was met with enthusiasm.

Gall’s method of analysis show how new scientific developments require rigorous questioning and interrogation through peer reviews and honest data. However, it also demonstrates that whilst an idea may not be sound overall it can help in new developments.

The Phrenology head can be found in Who Am I? on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing.

-Christopher Whitby

Meet Pregnant Man

Meet Pregnant Man.

We recently made a film that we hope will get people thinking (and that you might consider using in the classroom!).

Watch our Pregnant Man tell his story

First off, let me start by saying that this is not currently possible, and a genetic male of the human species has not yet managed to become pregnant!

Thomas Beatie, the ‘pregnant man’ that you probably heard about a few years ago, is a transgender man (ie a woman undergoing gender reassignment), and actually had female reproductive organs when he became pregnant.

What we ARE saying is, ‘what if…’

  • A little bit about the science behind male pregnancy as depicted in our film. It’s based on ectopic pregnancies in women where a fertilized egg implants outside the womb; the idea is that IVF would be used to fertilize an egg, and the resulting zygote implanted into the man’s abdominal cavity.
  • The placenta would develop and attach to an organ in the abdomen, such as a kidney, to provide it with a good blood supply. The man would need to take loads of oestrogen and progesterone, female hormones that regulate pregnancy. Side effects of the hormones would be growing breasts, shrinking testicles and smoother skin.
  • The baby would have to be delivered by caesarean, and part of the organ supporting the placenta would have to be removed during birth as well. The entire process would be really risky for both the man and the baby- but as with any medical procedure, further research could increase safety and success rates.

So, whilst it’s not a reality now, it could feasibly happen- with enough research into it. Should we do it, just because we can? 

And sure, it sounds really ‘out there’ but then again, so was IVF when it first came out. Now IVF is very much accepted and even paid for on the NHS. In what circumstances would it be acceptable to have children this way?

Would the world be turned on its head if the traditional reproductive role of women were suddenly shared by men? And what would it be like for the child?

So much to consider, so much that could change! Would any of your students be willing to try it?


Science Museum + TES 4eva

Hello all, welcome back after your holidays! (or are you still off, lucky you?) 

Did any of you see the TES, the Times Educational Supplement, last Friday? If you did, then you might have spotted an announcement that has thrilled our little boots off!

An exciting partnership

An exciting partnership!

The Science Museum has become content partners with TES. This means that all our classroom resources, from hands-on practicals to discussion activities, are now available directly on TES Connect

I don’t need to tell you that TES Connect is an inspiring collection of teaching resources across all ages and all areas of the curriculum- do get stuck in and explore the site.  Being linked up with TES means that everything you can find on the Science Museum classroom resource pages is right there on TES Connect for you too, so as we add new resources to our site, they will also be updated on TES. 

Big, huge, chocolatey thanks to everyone in the Science Museum and on the TES team who worked to make this happen-  we hope this will make it a little easier and more fun for you to get your students excited about science!

Keep it simple

Do the simplest questions drive the greatest thinking? Here, Mythbusters’ Adam Savage gives a really cool, inspiring TED talk exploring this very idea.

One of the most important scientific ideas that you can communicate to your students is that science is never a ‘done deal’, more fantastic innovations and incredible technology are endlessly possible. Science is spurred by creativity, and very much based on asking questions- and seeking answers to some of the simplest questions can in fact reveal an entire universe.

Keep asking, little one!

Keep asking, little one!


‘most people think of science as a closed black box- and in fact, it is an open field’

One of the ways we work with teachers and students to model this process of creativity, and questioning that drives scientific exploration, is with our mystery boxes activity.

How do you get your students thinking about what science is and how it works?


Wonderful Things: Gastric Band

We’ve all seen those celebrities who’ve been household names for decades, who appear to be comfortable in their non- size-zero bodies. Then, lo and behold, one day, they appear with new sleek, svelte figures.

 How do they do it? Simple: a bit of prosthetic surgery and hey presto, goodbye spare tyre! I am of course, talking about gastric banding which has been in use since the mid 1980s.

A gastric band helps reduce the amount of food you eat. It simply acts like a belt around the top portion of your stomach, creating a small pouch. It restricts the amount of food that can fit into your stomach, meaning that you feel full after eating a small amount of food, resulting in weight loss.

Gastric band on model stomach

Fancy a tummy squeeze? Gastric band on model stomach

According to The British Obesity Surgery Patient Association, on average, people lose between 50–65% of their excess weight in the two years after placement of a gastric band. Long before they reach that stage, they start to feel the benefits, especially if they also have any of the obesity–related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. They also have a much greater capacity for physical activity and more self–confidence; not like this gentleman in the public health poster below!

Heavy hitting - a public health poster

Heavy hitting - late 20th century public health poster

Having a gastric band is regarded as major surgery as patients undergo a general anesthetic. This presents some very real risks, side-effects and complications. Each operation costs the NHS around £8,000, but only those who fit specific criteria qualify to receive the surgery.

Is gastric banding an easy way to lose weight without having to diet or exercise as much? 

Would knowing someone who has had a gastric band change your perception/opinion of them? 

Is obesity a problem that humans inflict on themselves?

Should the NHS (and taxpayers) pay for gastric band surgery for very obese patients? What about if someone just wants to lose a few pounds? 

The gastric band is in the Who am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.

-Denise Cook


Wonderful Things: Energy-harvesting paving slab

‘Cause the power you’re supplying, is electrifying…

Have you ever looked out the window in the wee hours of the night and seen street lights glowing and absolutely nobody in the street benefitting from them?  These days we hear a lot about our energy consumption and the size of our carbon footprints pretty much everywhere we go.  So, witnessing the waste that goes on right outside my front door whilst I am made to feel guilty for leaving my television on standby makes me feel a bit fed up with the whole issue.

My interest is reinvigorated, though, when I hear of the progress being made by scientists working on the development of new technologies that use  renewable resources to meet our energy needs.

One development, in particular, has caught my attention and is one that could help my local council with the street light problem.  This is the energy harvesting paving slab.

It is a paving slab that generates electricity as you step on it whilst you shop for the latest designs from Top Shop! It works by harnessing the  kinetic energy created by your footstep pressing down on the slab and converting this energy into electricity which can either be used immediately or stored in a battery for later use.

Turning footsteps into power!

Turning footsteps into power! Energy harvesting paving slabs in East London

The slab itself is made from old rubber tyres and the internal components are made from recycled aluminium.  It moves just 5mm when it is stepped upon but this is enough to generate up to 2.1 watts continuously when it is frequently in use.  This power can be used to operate many different appliances, from street lights to information display stands.

The slabs are made by a company called Pavegen and have already won the award for the most innovative product at Ecobuild 2010.  The slabs have already been tested in East London and Pavegen now have plans to install them in train stations, shopping centres and airports, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before we can all start to generate electricity by just going about our daily lives.


So, would you walk the long way home in order to step on these slabs? 

For the moment, these slabs have been tested in London, where there are loads of people but what about more rural places?  Where do you think these paving slabs should be placed here to be most effective?  Hopscotch, anyone?

The energy harvesting paving slab is on display in Atmosphere on the 2nd floor of the Wellcome Wing. 

-Kate Davis

Tweet tweet!

Any of you out there using Twitter? What about to follow education or science tweets?

Science tweets- short and sweet

Science tweets- short and sweet

Here’s a just few great accounts for you to follow…

@sciencemuseum  to find out whats going on in the Museum, new events, competitions, thoughts, friendly chat :)

@lottolab the Science Museum’s resident lab, open neuroscience research going on within our very walls…

@scienceweekUK for loads of science & engineering events, going on right now!

@sciencenewsorg for breaking science news- from physics to medicine.

@wiredscience tweets Wired magazine’s science awesomeness (robot sharks with lasers- yes please).

@nysci the New York Hall of Science twitter account gives an interesting comparison to science learning and museums over here.

oh, and one I couldnt resist: @scitechFB  who tweet, in their words ‘daily brain food of amazerific & fantacular science & technology updates from around the web’. Well, if you put it that way…