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Writing Science Shows with Young People

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I’ve been working with secondary pupils to help them to write and perform science shows in a project called Museums2Go. The pupils were based in Apex inclusion units in Braeview Academy Dundee and Dunfermline High School. I was working for the National Museums Scotland and in partnership with Science Made Simple.

The National Museums Scotland have just published a new video with some highlights from the project:

Museum2Go2 from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Project

The pupils trained to become science communicators, they chose the science demonstrations from a menu (put together by Science Made Simple and based on the themes of the new galleries) and finally they wrote their own scripts. They also practiced and performed their science shows at the National Museum of Scotland.

I worked directly with groups of pupils through several school visits and day visits to the museum. My role was to facilitate the choosing of demonstrations, writing the scripts and practicing / performance too.

Challenges

I think the main challenge for the pupils was one of confidence – these pupils had to leave mainstream education for various reasons. I kept telling them that they could achieve something brilliant if they put the work in.

Rewards

The pupils worked hard to write and practice their shows. They came up with brilliant ideas for the stories to link the show together, they had ownership over their shows. There were a few fall outs but that’s all part of working in a creative team and relying on each of the team members to do their bit. They presented to and entertained a live audience in the National Museum of Scotland with a show that they had written – that’s a huge achievement!

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I enjoyed getting to know the pupils throughout the project and seeing them improve in confidence and build ideas as a team together. I also loved working with the National Museums Scotland and Science Made Simple.

Pilot

I was part of a pilot for this project where we trained Holyrood High school pupils to become science presenters. They didn’t write their shows but they did do an awesome job of presenting Alex’s Amazing Adventure at the museum. I wrote about my experience of the working with the pupils here. There’s a lovely video on this stage of the project too:

Stanley Mills

The exciting thing is I’m now about to run science communication workshops for a new age group – this time it’s with primary school pupils at Stanley Mills in Perthshire. I’m excited about sharing science communication skills and tips with younger ones – some as young as age five. I’ve been planning fun ways to get basics across and also to make them laugh by doing things well and then doing things wrong (obviously safely – I mean like talking really fast or folding my arms and looking grumpy) and getting them to tell me how to improve. I’ve planned some fun games to cover the basics of presenting and they’ll all get a chance to do some science presenting too. I’ll be running workshops at Historic Scotland’s Stanley Mills tomorrow and Thursday.

The Museum2Go project is funded by the Robertson Trust. Read more about Museums2Go on the National Museums Scotland website here.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Film, Media, Science, Writing

 

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Travelling in Time and Space

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On Friday a mad lady scientist took her time machine through history to pick up some lady scientists and bring them to the Dundee Women in Science Festival. The resulting ensemble was called the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch. This was the fourth performance since the Illicit Ink spoken word show began a year ago at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

I’ve loved being part of it – sitting in a sewing circle with such wonderful characters. These wonderful characters are wonderful writers too – they each researched a character from history and wrote and performed a piece as that character. I’m mostly quiet during the show while the scientists talk about who they are and why their achievements matter. I play Emma Darwin, she is brought along by accident (The mad lady scientist was going for Charles but he was stuck in the privy). The other scientists dismiss Emma but right at the end I speak to question if any of it matters. I talk about having kids and knowing loss and about the fear of loving someone who has completely different views on the most important things in life. I wanted to get to the heart of what really mattered to Emma:

“I’m not a scientist, does that matter? I am a woman, does that matter?

Read about the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch in the Dundee Courier here.

Lost Among The Stars

And now it’s happening again, a collaboratively written Illicit Ink show. But this time I’m lost in space, not time. Again I say very little until the end. Again there are many different beautifully written characters. Some performed by the writers and some performed by actors. I’ve written and am performing as Tara the astronaut. She’s the one who gets lost. In Space.

Getting Into Character

I found it quite challenging – trying to imagine I’m alone in space and about to die. I listened to astronauts talking about their experiences on Radio 4. I looked at pictures of the earth from space. I had to record a few audio sections ahead as part of a conversation with mission control – but it didn’t smell right (I was slow cooking sausage casserole at the time – space shouldn’t smell of sausage casserole).

But when I read the heartfelt, beautiful monologues written by Tara’s boyfriend Jeffrey (I keep calling him ‘my imaginary boyfriend’ but that sounds a bit odd! His name is Ricky in real life) and the piece by Tara’s sister, who’s kind of half hates her but also loves her too (that’s written by Mel and acted by Roanna) – when I read their work I realised, it isn’t about being lost in space. It’s just about being human. So I managed to write a response to other human’s beautiful words with space as a geographical location. It’s about being real with stars. And I’ve always loved stars. I studied physics, I’m a planetarium presenter, I’ve written space episodes of Nina and the Neurons, I was making rockets on mothers day – I’m still kind of geeky with all things space. Maybe I’m more like Tara than I realise.

Space Wobbles

I’m pretty nervous about my writing and the performance. We had a rehearsal last week and I was totally impressed with everyone’s pieces. There were proper professional actors who were really good. Even the voice of mission control sounds like he’s actually working for NASA! I’m hoping I won’t spoil it with my bit. I’m hoping I won’t pee in my space suit. If I were an astronaut, that would be okay – they wear giant space nappies. The thing is, I will actually be wearing a space suit. But not a giant astronaut nappy. I expressed my fears to show producer Babs, she reassured me that they asked me to do this part because I can write sentimental without being crass. I keep trying to remember what she said.

ANYWAY, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a last address to the world, just before gruesome death. Last time it was for another collaboratively written Illicit Ink show during a zombie Apocalypse. You can read about that and see a video here.

AND this isn’t the first time I’ve written about being lost in space. Here’s a comic, created by me age 11. Okay so it’s about a dog going into space but use your imagination. I needed to go somewhere after giant nappies and zombie apocalypses. Meet Space Dog, yes I know – classic school ending to the story too (sorry!):

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Sadly there is no happy awakening at the end of Apollo 21. And no dogs. There will be space and music and humans. I may or may not make it back to Earth. 

Apollo 21: Lost Among the Stars will be performed on the evening of Wednesday 15th April at The Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Get Tickets from the Edinburgh International Science Festival website here. The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch sold out at the Science Festival Last Year so get your ticket early to avoid disappointment! 

 

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Rockets and Dancing in Dundee

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I’ve been working through in Dundee running science events as part of Dundee Women in Science Festival. On Mother’s Day we ran a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event for under sevens (and Mums!) in the morning. In the afternoon we ran ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop for over sevens / families. Photographer Alan Richardson took some fab pictures at both events. My favourite photos were of the dancing:

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I love the photos that showed the children’s reactions too:

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There’s one of me looking highly uncool with head set and safety goggles:

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And finally the book signing at the end:

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Next up we have the ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop:

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Making and testing rockets for the competition:     WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The competition:

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The happy winner:

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And our grand finale, launching a water rocket in City Square:

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The best way to see the rocket launch is via a video:

Evaluation

The drawing of me launching the rocket (and getting wet) was on the back of one of the evaluation forms. My favourite comment on the forms was from the boy who won the rockets competition. When asked what he liked most about the event his answer was:

Winning flowers for my Mum

Big thanks to everyone at Dundee Women in Science Festival and to everyone who came along to the events.

Video: Ana Ranceva. Images: Alan Richardson

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling

 

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Women and Science Festivals

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I’m excited to be taking part in Dundee’s Women in Science Festival this month. The festival is all about celebrating and supporting women in science, engineering and maths. I’m also off to Dunbar Science Festival this Friday on a similar theme – it’s a science spoken word night to celebrate international women’s day.

I’m doing seven events in total – for schools, families, mothers and other adults too. There’s a science poetry writing workshop and some spoken word and comedy shows. Men are also very welcome!

Here’s a wee summary of what’s coming up with links to get tickets, hope to see you at an event soon!

Wednesday 11th March: Can’t-Dance-Cameron school events

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Hillside Primary School, Hillside Nursery and Gowriehill Primary School in Dundee. Part of Dundee Women in Science Festival.

Friday 13th March: Rally and Broad, Dunbar Science Festival

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Rally & Broad are delighted to be coming to Dunbar Science Festival on Friday 13 March (8:30 – 10:30pm, Dunmuir Hotel, Dunbar)! We’ll be celebrating ‘Women in Science’ alongside Scots singer songwriter Kirsty Law; science writer and performer Emily Dodd, poet Russell Jones and the surreal musical stylings of Zara Gladman. Come with open ears…

More info and tickets here.

Sunday 15th March: Mother’s Day Science Shows (for families – Dad’s also welcome!)

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Can’t-Dance-Cameron tickets and info hereLove You to the Moon Rocket tickets and info here

Sunday 22nd March: Sparking Ideas From Science (writing workshop)

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I ran this workshop last year in the National Library of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Really excited to be running it again using the D’Arcy Thompson collection for inspiration.

 Friday 27th March: The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

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Tickets and info here.

FIND OUT MORE

Find Dundee Women in Science Festival online here and on facebook here. Download a copy of the Dundee Women in Science Festival Programme here. The twitter hashtag for Dundee Women in Science Festival is #womenscifest and you can follow the event organisers on twitter here

Find Dunbar Science Festival online here. Find them on facebook here and on twitter here

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Education, Events, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Timmy The Turbine: Edinburgh International Science Festival

The Edinburgh International Science Festival launched its 2015 programme earlier this week. I’m really excited to say a science story I’ve written will be running every half an hour (for ages three plus) in the City Art Centre. Turn to page 7 of the programme, bottom right hand corner and you’ll see this:

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I wrote about the process of developing and piloting Timmy the Turbine for Vento Ludens here. I’m going to be training the Edinburgh International Science Festival Staff to run Timmy The Turbine soon – looking forward to that!

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Timmy the Turbine runs from the 4th to the 18th April (not Sundays) in The City Art Centre during the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival. If you know any children how enjoy science and stories, please do send them along. 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:

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The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!

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And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell

 
 

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Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2014

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I spent most of November in Abu Dhabi working as a Team Leader in the Abu Dhabi Science Festival. Here’s what that looks like via YouTube:

 

It was my first visit to the United Arab Emirates. I was training local students to be science communicators. Here are some of the wonderful students I worked with from Abu Dhabi University:

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And here are the awesome girls from Paris Sorbonne University. The V sign isn’t offensive in Abu Dhabi, it means peace:

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Power It Up

We were running ‘Power It Up‘, a workshop about electricity generation and nuclear power. We had a cloud chamber, one of the most expensive and wonderful pieces of equipment in the science festival. You don’t get much more magical than trails from cosmic particles. Obviously they’re not magic, they’re science but you know what I mean.

We had to reset 225 mouse traps with 225 ping-pong balls SEVERAL TIMES every day. It was well worth it though – no better (or safer way) to demonstrate a chain reaction. Apologies for the dinosaurs, they weren’t usually there. 

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The Edinburgh Connection

The Abu Dhabi Science Festival has been run by the Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee in partnership with The Edinburgh International Science Festival for the last four years. It includes hundreds of events over three sites.

Working 

Initially it was hard work with twelve-hour days of set-up and training. Here we are testing the equipment:

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As time went on it got easier for us as our students gained confidence – they were soon running the show. We worked more behind the scenes; making sure everyone got breaks, filling up hydrogen balloons and collecting dry ice. I loved encouraging our students. Seeing them grow in confidence as they presented larger chunks of the show was immensely satisfying. They were brilliant.

Exploring

We got a couple of days off too. I went on a desert safari. Here’s me on a camel, despite my posture, it was quite slow:

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Image Credit: Alex House

This is much faster ‘dune bashing’. It’s driving (or mostly sliding) down the dunes – very scary!

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We also went kayaking in the Mangroves:

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The mangroves are home to an amazing tree climbing crab. I’d been to a talk about this fascinating climate-change-reversing-super-creature a few years ago. I was so excited to see the real thing – I almost fell out of my kayak!:

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I visited the beautiful grand central mosque too, it was interesting to find out more about the faith my students shared. We gave them prayer breaks during the day – religion seemed to run smoothly alongside science in Abu Dhabi.

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And I fed a giraffe a carrot in Al Ain Zoo, one of our festival locations:

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Social

I loved the social side of the trip, far more than I expected. I’m a writer so I’m used to time alone – I must admit, I wasn’t sure how I’d find being with people all of the time. It’s quite daunting starting a new job with new people in a new country.

Within a day I’d met a professional acrobat, comedy script editor, park ranger and a community artist. That’s just a random sample of occupations but my point is, it was a great privilege to spend time with so many interesting, creative individuals. I shared my days off with lovely people, I was in a great workshop team, I even had a swimming buddy. I also managed to be on time every single day thanks to booking THREE daily wake up calls from the hotel. I don’t normally get up super early so I was paranoid I’d sleep through my alarm. It was nice to not feel super geeky either – you’re just normal if you like science when you’re with a group of science communicators.

I visited the bar in our hotel almost every night, some nights I just rocked up with a cup of tea but I was there. It was great to see people. One of my favourite nights was a sing-song – traditional Scottish music with a fiddle and guitar. I loved dancing with everyone at ladies nights too – dancing until 3am and not even noticing how late it was. This is one of these nights:

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Image Credit: Sian Rae

Many of the people on the team were from Edinburgh so I’ve had the pleasure with meeting up with some of them back in the UK – long may that continue.

Change is Good
This is definitely the most relaxed I’ve felt in months – I think it must be a combination of sunshine, good company, job satisfaction and being off social media. I came back to Book Week Scotland, for me that was nine events in five days all over the country starting the day after I’d arrived off the plane. I’d expected the volume of performances and logistics of touring to stress me but the relaxed inner Abu-Dhabi feeling continued. The good news is, it’s still with me. It’s made me think – perhaps just checking my phone once a day might actually be a better way to live.

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Image Credit: Sarah Bates

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Education, Events, Science

 

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