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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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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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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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Super Science Sleepover

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with two groups of teenagers to help them to write and perform science shows. Tomorrow the pupils perform their shows to family audiences at the National Museum of Scotland and you’re invited to join them. Details below:

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The pupils are from Apex Inclusion Units at Braeview Academy, Dundee and at Dunfermline High School. They’ve been working hard on the scripts during workshops at school and at the museum here in Edinburgh. I can’t wait to see their final performances.

Pilot

I first got involved in the Museum2Go project during the pilot last year, I wrote about it on my blog here. Read more on the National Museums Scotland website here. Or watch this video, it really captures the heart of the project:

Museum2Go: Alex’s Amazing Adventure from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Museum2Go project was funded by The Robertson Trust. I have been working on this project with Science Made Simple in partnership with the National Museums Scotland

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Education, Events, Film, Science, Writing

 

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Stem Cell Writing Competition

Alright stem cell buddy!?

Hi-five stem cell hen, where are you heading today?

Me, och, I was thinking heart… it’s been on my heart for a while

I dinnae ken but I’ve been dreaming of toe nails, wee ones at that. So I guess that’s where I’m bound

Good luck wee toenail..

Take heart hen!

And that happens. No really. Every little stem cell in your body has the full instruction manual for every bit of you. What’s more they all somehow perfectly decide between them to go and do and be every bit of you.

A wee ridiculous miracle in every cell. Your body is bursting with tiny miracles. I like to think they have the same accent as you, they are regional miracles.

So that’s how I would describe stem cells but I reckon you could do a much better job (YES I hear you cry). Well (drum roll) there’s only a competition for that!

Euro Stem Cell are running their first non fiction writing competition with three categories:

  • Imaginative science writing
  • Non-fiction poetry
  • Graphic non-fiction

You can read more about it on their website but don’t delay. The deadline is 30th June. Just to let you know I’m on the judging panel – I’m not quite sure how I managed that since folks like Rodger Highfield and Ken MacLeod are on there but heyho, I’m judging the non fiction poetry.

Creative Nonfiction For Science

If you were wondering what creative nonfiction writing is, I hear it’s the fastest growing new genre of writing. So soon enough I’m sure you will hear a lot more about it. I was co-facilitating a training course on ‘Nonfiction for Science – Imaginative Approaches to Science Writing’ at the Roslin Institute earlier this year. Here we are on the coffee break, that’s Barbara Melville on the left and me on the right (it had to be done!)

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One of my favourite parts of the course was meeting everyone. I set people the task of creating a pie-ku to introduce themselves and say why they’re on the course (it’s like a haiku but the syllables are 3,1,4)

e.g.

Emily

Loves

Science and Art

And after each person performed their pi-ku they went on to explain a bit about their current research and science communication experience. One woman was making glowing chickens. As she explained her work I casually said something like

“wow, so I guess for your public engagement you can just turn up with a chicken and turn our the lights?”

The answer was “No the chickens are far too valuable and precious to take out of the lab”

And someone else added “The embryos are quite portable though?”

Yep! I was running a training course with a bunch of geniuses. Another person was creating a synthetic carbon capture system. As we were chatting about applications I realised this would solve all climate change problems..

“Yes, if it worked it would be amazing!” she said enthusiastically.

So yeah, it was a fun day with twenty amazing academics. I loved working with the group and with my co-facillitator and course creator Barbara Melville. Barbara is an expert in creative writing for nonfiction and she’s the Writer in Residence at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Check out the Euro Stem Cell Competition online. The competition hashtag is #stemcellcomp (find EuroStemCell on Twitter), You can also find EurostemCell on Facebook.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Education, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Blast Off at Solas Festival

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Nine years ago I wrote a rockets show and workshop and took in on tour around Wales and England. That’s me back then – blasting off an alza seltzer rocket from a film canister at Hatherop Primary School. It was part of an MSc in communicating science, my dissertation title was ‘developing and evaluation space themed education materials for primary schools’. So I got to do space in schools. I loved it!

Now I’m taking rockets to the Solas Festival in Scotland. We’ll be blasting off in the big barn (Venus 1) at 2.30pm on Saturday 22nd June. Here’s what the programme says:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… BLAST OFF! Join us for an interactive family science show and workshop. Predict, experiment and discover the science behind forces as we launch rockets up into the air. Make your own straw rocket and enter it into our family rockets competition. We’ll finish up outside with one big blast off!

For the workshop section every family will make their own wee rocket and we’ll all have a chance to fire them through a hoop during our rockets competition.

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The show ends outside with the water rockets – they go really high so we need to be outside for that. I’ve been ordering rockets from all over the place and they’ve started arriving in the post – rocket deliveries are really the best kind of deliveries to get!

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Storytelling and Spoken Word

I’ll also be storytelling in a yurt (Lyra) at 12.00 on the Saturday and I’ll be doing a bit of spoken word for teenagers and grown ups in the yurt (Orian) at 4.30pm too so if you’re heading to the festival please do come and say hello.

This is what I look like now by the way (I won’t be wearing that green T shirt but I do still have it!):

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Top Tips for Solas

I’m excited about seeing one of my favourite shows ‘The Man Who Planted Trees‘. This will be the eighth time I’ve seen it. I know, I’m a groupie. In fact I like it so much I once interviewed the dog from it, he is very funny! Listen to the interview on audioboo here.

I’m also looking forward to seeing poets Liz Lochhead and Harry Baker. The music looks great too, I’m especially looking forward to seeing fab Edinburgh folk band Kite and the Crane again. There’s also a Zombie Science show that I feel I must see!

Oh and coming back to the space theme – can’t wait to see the show ‘Let’s talk about Space‘!

Find out more about the Solas Festival online.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling

 

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Firefly Magazine

There was a big white envelope waiting on the doormat. Inside was my copy of the exciting new children’s magazine Firefly:

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It’s a seasonal magazine which includes outdoor activities, puzzles, comics, wildlife, books, craft and cooking. The magazine is aimed at children 5 to 10 years or as the cover says “it’s for families who are wild at heart”.

Flicking through the pages you’ll notice Firefly is visually stunning. I think what makes it special is the contributions from many different illustrators and writers. I was commissioned to write a 2 page nature feature for the magazine and I chose to write about otters:

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Why Otters? 

Otters are an animal most children won’t have seen but would like to spot. They’ve got character, they do funny things like pooping on the tops of rocks or tufts of grass so everyone can see where they’ve been. Urban otters are getting much more common so even if you live in a city you won’t be too far from an otter. They’re inclusive but not too common to be ordinary. I’ve tried to spot otters myself a few times so otter spotting is something close to my heart.

The Writing Process

First I found out as much as I could about otters online, in books and by asking people. I interviewed an otter expert (Chris Cathrine from Caledonian Conservation) and I spent time choosing the best bits from everything I learned. The hardest thing I think is condensing all of that research. Which bits stay and which bits go?

I wrote sections in bite sized chunks and gradually and ruthlessly chopped out sections until I was only left with the best. I want to make children laugh or tell them something so weird and wonderful that they would want to tell their friends or family about it. That way they’re much more likely to remember it.

If I used a complicated word I made sure I explained what it meant. I used to write the Dino’s Dynamos Kids Club magazine for Dynamic Earth so that really helped with knowing how to write and plan to communicate science to children. I had a good editor back then so I got told which bits worked and which didn’t. Later I edited the magazine when new writers started writing it so I think that whole process helped me to be objective and to really weed out every word that isn’t necessary.

I included Chris Cathrine’s answer to “What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen an otter do?” because I knew children would love finding out something like that from an otter expert. I thought about the illustrations we would need to go with the text and made notes and found examples in books so I could send these to the illustrator who was working on my section (Cat O’ Neil).

I spent lots more time rewriting and cutting to get down to the word limit I’d been set.

Help, I can’t think of an otter joke!

I was desperately trying to come up with a good otter joke but hadn’t managed it. I went along to the Edinburgh Literary Salon for a much needed break from writing. It’s a monthly get together for writers and anyone involved in books and publishing. My friend Alan McIntosh was there (I interviewed him on this blog here) and knowing how quick-witted he is I explained I was trying to come up with a good otter joke. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:

Alan: Tell me about them, where do they live, what are the names for things?

Me: Their homes are holts, their poos are spraints, they eat fish…

Alan: What do you get if you tread on an otter poo?

Me (smile)

Alan: A spraint ankle!

It was perfect, exactly what I was looking for. Any joke about poo is a big hit with children but they also love to learn a new word that they can show off with by using it in a joke. Funny and educational. When you laugh you learn more so massive thanks to Alan for that one!

Finishing

When I finally submitted my feature it included a page of extra ideas, things like a dot to d’otter (otter dot to dot) or having a hidden spraint (otter poo) somewhere in the magazine for children to find. Firefly Editor Hannah Foley liked my ideas. She decided to add an extra page called ‘Otter Fun’ to include the puzzles and extra ideas so now I’ve ended up writing a three page spread on otters. My text went to copy editor Genevieve Herr and she was happy with it, she made some minor changes and that was me done.

It really is amazing to see the magazine in print. I just need to order a copy for my nephews and nieces!

Order your copy of Firefly Magazine on the Firefly website here

 
 

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