Tag Archives: National Museums of Scotland

Science Communication Training with Secondary Pupils

Science com_03

This Saturday 12 S2 pupils from Holyrood High School perform their first science theatre show at the National Museums of Scotland as part of National Science and Engineering week.

They’re performing ‘Alex’s Amazing Adventure‘ as part of a pilot project ran by Conor Hull, Community Engagement Officer at the National Museums of Scotland. I worked with Conor and the pupils for one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. This was the beginning of the project and the beginning of their training as science communicators.

Here’s a bit about the training session and how it went.

What did we do?

We started with introductions and an ice breaker. Next the students pretended to be primary school pupils as they watched a performance of ‘Alex’s Amazing Adventure’ from Conor. They were looking for what they enjoyed about Conor’s presenting and the show. We discussed this afterwards. Then it was over to me and I covered:

  • Science Shows (What use are they? What do the audience get out of them?)
  • Nerves (and how to deal with fear of the audience, your performace and your material)
  • Safety (entrance and exits, props etc)
  • Good beginnings
  • Working with volunteers and audience interaction
  • Questions (open and closed and how to field them)
  • How to use your voice and body
  • Working with props
  • Expect the Unexpected
  • Top Tips
  • Memorable Endings

We looked at clips of science communicators in action and evaluated their performance in light of what we’d just learned. For example did the presenter ask the volunteer their name and then use it?

The session included lots of group discussion, brainstorming and practical examples. It ended with the pupils performing a very small section of the show which wee filmed and played back to them.

How did it go?

The pupils were selected by teachers for being

  • good at drama
  • good at science
  • pupils that would benefit from the experience

So it was a group with mixed interests and abilities. I loved working with them. Their questions steered every section of the training and I often covered topics ahead of the schedule because of their interest and lively questioning. They asked questions like

  • What do you do if people laugh?
  • What do you do if everyone starts talking?
  • What do you do if the science experiments go wrong?

One pupil said to me “everything you’ve said I would have done the opposite!” I assured her that was brilliant because it meant she was learning loads.

The pupils applied what they learnt straight away too. For example we’d covered if a science experiment doesn’t work you try it again and if it still doesn’t work you explain that science is all about trial and error -some of the greatest discoveries in science come from things not working in the way we expect! You would then explain briefly what would have happened and you move on without laughing or blaming the volunteer for messing it up.

Several of the pupils were expertly unflappable during their performance when an experiment didn’t work. They even talked about trial and error and how what we’d just seen was an example of science in action – amazing for their first ever science theatre performance.

For my first science theatre performance (eight years ago) I had a total blank and froze! I told them that. I wanted to give them examples from my own experience and most of all I wanted to encourage them.


We asked pupils to put dots on a line for their enthusiasm and ability in science and drama before and after the session. All of their responses increased positively.

The teacher accompanying the children was really enthusiastic about the training and she said it should be mandatory for every pupil. She said it wasn’t just science communication, we were learning life skills – how to present yourself, how to treat others and how to empathise, EVEN with your teachers!

The pupils have been practicing with support from their teacher and with help from Conor.

I know they’ll make excellent science communicators this Saturday. You can go and see them at the Museum for free at 12.30. 13.30 and 14.30. More details here.


Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Education, Events, Science


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Tutankhamorangie and the toilets

The National Museums of Scotland made an announcement earlier this week:

Congratulations to Emily Dodd – Glenmorangie have chosen her name for the specially created Night of the Mummy cocktail. Introducing… the Tutankhamorangie! Our judges had a hard time picking a name, so thanks to everyone who entered for your inventive suggestions!

The cocktail ingredients are Glenmorangie Original, ginger ale, flamed orange and golden syrup. They wanted a name with an ancient Egyptian/Museum twist… so what inspired me to come up with Tutankhamorangie?

I’d spent hours recreating his death mask… painstakingly gluing on golden lentil after golden lentil, he had to be beautiful. My Tutankham, I was in primary school and ‘he’ was up in the little toilet at home for many years. I’m excited to have won tickets to the fabulous after hours event at the National Museum ‘Night of the Mummy‘ but something is troubling me. It’s the little toilet. I’ve realised my family had too many toilets and only one of them was normal. The normal one was ‘the bathroom’, generic matching bath, toilet, sink and tiles. A showroom that guests were encouraged into. But what about the others?

The Little Toilet

You walked in to see King Tut’s life size death mask smiling at you from the back wall. If you dared to turn your back on the pharoe then to the left you could enjoy scenes from the world, postcards from friends, but there was one that didn’t fit. It was a cartoon bum that said ‘Kiss my arse’. Why was it there? Who sent it? *

The sink was also on the left and there was a medicine cupboard that was always locked. The right wall was bare tiles apart from a no smoking type sticker that read ‘no farting allowed’. We weren’t allowed to say fart, but this toilet was allowed. It broke the rules and demanded the impossible.

On the back of the door was a poster of ‘Reptiles and Amphibia of the British Iles’. I was fascinated by the slow worm, it said it was not a snake or a worm but a legless lizard. Like a stick insect telling everyone it’s actually a wingless butterfly. And that mishmash of children’s art, postcards, stickers, legless lizard and questions was the little toilet. But the toilets don’t stop there.

The Downstairs Toilet

Our house was upside down, you entered upstairs and went downstairs to bed – it was built into the hill. It was downstairs that Dad converted a bit of hallway into our third toilet, ‘the downstairs toilet’. The bit of hall he used ended with an outside door and this door had a cat flap in it. Once he put an inside door in the downstairs toilet had two doors, three if your count the catflap. Any moment a cat could pop in, quite unnerving if you’re not used to cats or toileting with a small guest. Guests of course, were not encouraged to use this toilet.

Because it was downstairs it needed to pump its content up the hill making it officially the noisiest toilet I’ve ever been to. After flushing the sound was somewhere between a photocopier and an elephant. The pump wasn’t strong enough for a number two and despite the sign on the door and the toilet itself ‘PLEASE POO UPSTAIRS’, guests would disregard the hand written advice. Perhaps by the time they saw the sign it was too late? Perhaps they thought it was just a best practice suggestion?

The pump would go crazy.. a herd of elephants and churning like little rocks in a blender for several minutes, the toilet was in protest and we all knew why…

The Dark Side of the Downstairs Toilet

The pump woke me up, sometimes it churned for no apparent reason. I adjusted to the shadows and realised I needed to go. I was scared. As I entered the toilet the wind whistled outside. I tried not to look at the cat flap, it was a little window I didn’t want to see out of, my imagination had a habit of playing tricks on me. Suddenly the cat flap blew open, the bang made me jump and I had to look and check the bang wasn’t an arm reaching for my leg. I hoped it was my cat but there was no one there.

My great aunty died, I didn’t know her but I inherited her snake draft excluder. It was in my bedroom for one night and my hamster, Toffee died. I decided the snake was cursed. It had killed Auntie Evie one night and my hamster the next. I thought it would kill me if I fell asleep in the same room so I put it…. in the downstairs toilet. I should have put it in the bin or said something but my family had all gone on about how great the snake was. I didn’t want to be ungrateful or disrespectful to the dead. It made night-time toilet trips even more scary, it wanted me to fall asleep so it could continue its cursed purpose, or so I thought…

Thankfully now my ancient Egyptian inspired imagination has won me whisky, Tutankhamorangie!

*UPDATE: Just had a text from my Mum saying ‘Just read the blog about our loos and laughed out loud!’. She also texted me of the rest of the words on the ‘Kiss my arse’ picture… When I’m in a sober mood I worry work and think, when I’m in a wilder mood I gamble, play and drink. But when my moods are over and the world has come to pass, you can bury me upside down and the world can kiss my arse.

Thanks Mum, is good to be reminded of the poetry I was exposed to in childhood!


Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Events, Writing


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