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Taking science education across the world

Our future depends on exploring all the frontiers of science, on innovative technologies based on these explorations and on the development of scientific literacy in all peoples through science education.

A real cabinet of curiosities!

The first cabinets of curiosities in the eighteenth century were not cabinets at all. They were rooms full of cabinets and in East Yorkshire there is a country house that still has its original cabinets of curiosities – rooms packed with curious items from the realms of science. Although many country houses had cabinets of curiosities the cabinets here are the only ones to survive in their country house setting.

The country house is called Burton Constable and is well worth a visit.

Burton Constable Hall

Burton Constable Hall

Find out more about Burton Constable Hall at

The cabinets of curiosities were built up by William Constable (1721 – 1791)

The curiosities are set out in two rooms.

Two Rooms Of Curiosities

Two Rooms Of Curiosities

Large items such as this machine for generating static electricity are set out on tables

Electric Machine

Electric Machine

while smaller items such as these biological specimens are set out in well lit cabinets

Biological Specimens

Biological Specimens

I was surprised to see that William also displayed the apparatus he used in experiments.



His geological specimens were kept in what seemed to be a converted writing desk where the specimens could be taken out and examined on the “desk” top.

Geological Specimens

Geological Specimens

Like all scientists of his day William kept up to date with developments by reading the latest published books and writing and receiving letters from other scientists just as we use emails today. Even in a quiet corner of his rooms he still found a place for more curiosities such as the nose of a saw fish propped up against the wall.



A visit to William’s cabinets of curiosities may inspire you to set up some at home at home or at school. The Curiosity Box series at may help to get you started.

Mini beasts – a beautiful science activity?

In recent blogs I have been considering the science people remember from their school days and also suggesting that science does not need to be perceived as hard but can be beautiful. In the blog on beauty I used a simple description of beauty as something which can generate pleasure and satisfaction.
I saw this in action when I visited my local primary school to help with their study of mini beasts.

The lesson began by looking at the film What animal is it? which is free to view at

This sets mini beasts in context in the animal kingdom.

The children then explored the school grounds to make a mini beast survey. In the survey the mini beasts were identified and counted.

Identifying and counting the minibeasts

After twenty minutes the children returned to the classroom and discussed the data they had collected.
I pointed out that they had made their survey during the day and asked them how they could find out about the mini beasts that might be active at night?

Followers of Spring Watch suggested setting up cameras but others suggested a much cheaper alternative of setting up traps and I showed them how to make a pit fall trap.

The pit fall trap

These were set up all over the school grounds.

Creating pitfall traps

The following morning the traps were emptied and the mini beasts were identified and counted and added to the data collected the previous day.

The children then wrote up their investigation using the free downloadable Experiment Report sheets from my website at (scroll down to The Experiment Report sheet and receive it in a zip file).

An experiment report sheet

An experiment report sheet

They completed their mini beast study by using to make bar graphs and pie charts.

Mini beast bar chart

Mini beast bar chart

You can see by their reports and graphs that the children had found the science activity pleasant and it gave them satisfaction to spend time writing it up and making the graphs and charts. Perhaps science is beautiful after all.

The school has agreed for their work to be displayed in the Science Exhibition Gallery at

If you and your children have done a science activity that is an example of the beauty of science like this one please send it in to for display in the Science Exhibition Gallery for every one to see.

Using the books and films together

In my last blog I talked about visual aids that I had used as a teacher many years ago and how I was bringing them up to date with films with notes.

In fact, the films I have made are to go with my books in the Ways into Science series and the notes, called Stop and Chat, are to extend your children’s interaction with the topic and with you.
Find out more about them at

To use the book, film and resources simply follow these few steps.

1. Download the zip file and print off the Stop and Chat sheet. (The zip file also contains a quiz, answer sheet and experiment report sheet that you might like to use with the book).

2. Sit at the computer with your child with their book, and your Stop and Chat sheet and click on the film.

3. You may like to run through the film with your child without the Stop and Chat sheet so both of you can see how the topic is presented.

4. Play the film again but this time stop it at the times shown on the sheet and use the notes to ask your child about the topic or perform an activity. The stop and chat sheet has times at which you should stop the film and just … chat. Try it.

5. You may find that the notes suggest activities which you can do with your children and they can write them up on the report sheet downloaded from the zip file to keep a record of their developing science knowledge in a science file.

Please have a go and let me know how you got on by writing to

Visual Aids Then and Now

When I began teaching over forty-five years ago visual aids for science were in their infancy. Some of the laboratories I did my teaching practice in had posters on the walls that were tinged with yellow and brown and had probably been in use for another forty years before!

Here is a link to some of the kinds of posters I used when I began teaching. Older readers may also remember them.

It wasn’t long after, as we moved into the seventies, that educational suppliers began producing more colourful and lively ones – a tradition that continues to the present day. Here is an example produced by Chris, the illustrator of the website, for my series of scientific method posters.

Science Poster 5 : Experiment

You may download them all free at

Back in the day biological specimens were contained in glass jars filled with formalin. In one laboratory I taught in there was a python’s head staring out from a jar on a shelf by the chalkboard. Today these pickled specimens are replaced by plastic models such as this one.

A plastic torso

In those early days, without computers and powerpoint presentations, the department was equipped with a slide projector and screen. Educational suppliers were producing slides on themes such a plants or invertebrates and providing notes that you could read out. I found them very useful. Here is a sample of two slides and notes I have prepared to show you how it worked. You might like to look at the picture and read out the notes as I used to do, to get the idea of how the slide show was presented.

Grass plant

Notes – Grass plants have wind pollinated flowers. When the flowers are ready to release their pollen, structures called stamens hang out of the flowers. On the end of each stamen is a swelling called an anther in which the pollen grains are made. These anthers open and release the pollen into the air.


Notes – Plants that use insects for pollination produce flowers with brightly coloured petals, which also produce a scent. At the base of the petals are structures called nectaries. They make nectar, a sugary liquid, which insects use for food. The petals may have lines on them called honey guides which direct the insect to the centre of the flower where the nectaries are. As the insects make their journey they brush against the stamens in the centre of the flower and pick up pollen from the anthers.

I used many of these slide sets then began making my own collection of slides and writing my own notes then recording them onto a cassette recorder (remember them?). These slide sets and cassettes became widely used in the department when biology was being taught.

A couple of years ago I looked back on those days and decided to bring the whole process up to date with short films and teaching notes. You can see one of them on the home page of my website.

Ways Into Science - Seasons

Ways Into Science – Seasons

Click on the film and have a look.

Click on the link to the Stop and Chat to see my teaching notes.

In the next blog I will explain how the films and Stop and Chat notes can be used together either at home or in class to stimulate discussion and science activities with your children.

Just to return to the slide shows of the past. At the moment I am working on a project with one of my granddaughters, bringing this process up to date with a short powerpoint presentation about the nature around her home. I hope to post this as a blog nearer the end of summer.

Perhaps you might like to make one with your children or grandchildren or class and send it in for the science exhibition gallery to

Science and beauty

In my last blog I asked people about what they remembered of science from high school. The majority of responses were about the Bunsen burner but others featured apparatus in general, gas taps, eye and heart dissections, hydrogen pops and the smell of the laboratory. One person said burning magnesium ribbon and then shouted out “Wow” as she remembered it – a response not unlike seeing something beautiful.

Magnesium burning in air. (Photo credit: Geoffrey McKim)

This made me think – should we not try and think about science as being beautiful? Perhaps if we did, we may appreciate the world around us more and also the way scientists work in order to make discoveries and create technologies on which most of our lives depend.

If we left school with more ‘magnesium ribbon moments’ perhaps we may associate science and beauty more closely. But what is beauty?

If you look through dictionaries and books on philosophy there are many definitions and ideas to choose from but in the end you may decide to synthesize your own. For my purpose of linking science and beauty to help rekindle people’s interest in science I have settled for an idea that – something beautiful – excites the senses in such a way (for example by the shape and colour of an object or the stages in a process such as a lighting strike or a carefully designed experiment) that it brings pleasure which may be expressed in awe and wonder and an understanding of how everything in our world is linked together in some way.

So how is a magnesium ribbon burning, beautiful, according to my idea?

The stages in the process I think bring pleasure. First the grey ribbon is put in the Bunsen flame and for a moment nothing happens then the ribbon bursts into flame, secondly the flame becomes a brilliant white and strongly illuminates everything around it. If the words of the science teacher are remembered, further pleasure may be gained by the thought of magnesium atoms in the ribbon joining with oxygen atoms in the air and in this process such a large amount of energy is released as light.

Once school is left behind, science may recede into the memory for most people and is only jolted into the consciousness when someone like me asks about it.

However you may find that the idea of beauty in science is closer to your thoughts than you think.
Here is a common occurrence in city parks that almost everyone will have noticed.

A butterfly feeding on flowers

We are attracted to the beauty of the scene by the colours and shapes we see but if we stir further memories of school science we may appreciate the processes taking place. Here are some memories that may return as you look at the picture –

the plant has grown so successfully using photosynthesis to generate the food it needs that it has now produced flowers to allow it to reproduce.

The flowers produce pollen for use in this process but the pollen must be transferred to other flowers for reproduction to take place.

These flowers have opted for using insects to transfer their pollen so they attract them with bright colours, scents and the promise of flying fuel – nectar.

The insect visits the flower, uncoils its hosepipe –like mouth into the flower and sucks up nectar while at the same time the hairs on its body pick up pollen to take away.

Remembering our school science can enhance the beauty of a scene such as this, I think. To look at the science and beauty idea in more detail I strongly recommend this link which explains the it much better than I can:

You may like to follow up this video by considering science and beauty at…


…then look around you for further examples or look at the pictures in our Natural History Gallery at

So why should we consider that science can be beautiful. First, I think it is a worthwhile activity for any adult but secondly it can be particularly useful to parents and grandparents as they help the younger members of the family learn about science both at school and in homework activities.

What are your memories of science at high school?

“What is the first thing you remember when you think of science at high school?”

I asked this question of about thirty people ranging in age from 20 to 97 years old. Why did I ask the question? Having spent all my working life either teaching or writing about science I wondered what memories people took away from school laboratories from all the experiences and information they received there.

I thought it might be interesting for science teachers down the ages to see what was a lasting memory of their science lessons. Here is the list starting with the most frequent response but most of the others were only mentioned once.

Bunsen Burner

Bunsen burner.
All the different sorts of apparatus.
The cabinets full of different apparatus.
Gas taps.
Making hydrogen pop and oxygen rekindle a glowing splint.
The smell of rotten eggs.
Seeing how a battery as made and then making one at home using vinegar.
Heart dissection.
Litmus paper.
Eye dissection.
Using disclosing tablets to stain plaque on your teeth.
The word Amoeba.
Magdeburg hemispheres to demonstrate air pressure.
All the experiments.
A Wimshurst machine – an electrostatic generator.
A tape recorder (from a 1950’s student).
The Van de Graaff generator.
Magnesium ribbon burning (the early 2000 student cried wow as she remembered it flaring up).
The word mnemonic for the elements in the second period of the periodic table – Little Bertha Bought Cotton Nightgowns Off Fair Nell. The elements are lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon.

But what did the 97 year old say who was a student in the nineteen thirties? In a firm voice he said “Water is H2O!”

And what of my lasting memory of High School science – the separation of sand and salt!

If you have a memory you would like to share, send it to me at my e mail address and I will add it to the list.

A Visit to Ingleborough Caves

Within four days of flying at 35 000 feet at 500 mph from Rome to London (see previous blog) I was half a kilometre inside a mountain called Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales

The cave is well lit and has a good path which makes it easy to explore.

Ingleborough is made from limestone and for over a hundred thousand years the water passing down through the rock has created the cave and many features such as stalactites and stalagmites which “grow” down from the ceiling and up from the cave floor respectively.

In places stalactites and stalagmites have joined together to form columns.

Water flows through the cave and makes a stream. As it flows over some rocks it forms structures known as flowstones.

The Rippling Cascade Flowstone

The Mushroom Bed Flowstone

I was not alone in my journey but in the company of some of the younger members of the family who also thoroughly enjoyed their time underground.

The troglodytes relax after their journey into the mountain.

You may like to compare this cave with the Postojna Cave in Slovenia in our Natural World photo gallery which Tez visited some time ago.

In this link you can also see how to “grow” your own stalactites and stalagmites by reading pages 10 and 11 in The Real Scientist: Stuff : Materials and how they change.

In the same book on page 9 there is an activity which shows you how to make your own caves, potholes and gorges in a mountain made of sugar lumps!

Here are some children investigating how sugar lump mountains erode by putting tea spoons of water (rain) on them.

Talking science in Italy

An early morning flight from London.

My aeroplane to Rome

A drive from Rome through southern Italy

A chance to look at the lovely Italian countryside from the back of the new Alfa Romeo.

The destination – Benevento

Sunset over Benevento

The reason for my visit? A national convention on Education. A growing number of schools in Italy are implementing Content and Language Integrated Learning programmes (CLIL) in which they are teaching maths and science to 11 to 14 year olds in English. As my Checkpoint Science series has been proving popular around the world and is published in English, I was invited by Hodder Education to make a presentation of the books and give a talk on how the Checkpoint books can be used for curriculum development to address the objectives of CLIL and help teachers prepare their students for the Cambridge International Examination Checkpoint Science tests.

Promoting the convention

The audience of teachers from all over Italy.

The audience of teachers from all over Italy.

I prepared my talk following the advice given in Chris Anderson’s TED Talks The official guide to public speaking which I found most helpful.

In my talk I asked the teachers to consider the ideas and science facts that the students bring with them from primary school and use them to help the students settle into secondary school, then demonstrated how the books could be integrated to prepare for examinations, develop a thorough understanding of Scientific Enquiry and help the students to become scientifically literate, by which I mean that they build up a knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts,which as adults they can use in rational decision making on science based issues which will affect our future world.

After my talk I joined Gill (International Schools Manager) and Taran (Agent for Hodder Education in Italy) on the stand…

Caption Taran and Gill on the Hodder Education International stand.

… to further explain how the books could be used to meet the requirements of individual schools.

Discussing the presentation of the science content of the books.

Discovering how the books can be integrated.

At the end of the convention Taran whisked me back to Rome in the Alfa and Gill made sure that I got on the correct plane. I would like to thank them both for looking after me so well on my first trip abroad to talk about science and my books.

Teachers in Italy can find out more information about my books from Mr Taran Arrigo while teachers everywhere can find out more information at or in the films on my website or by contacting me by email.

What can this be? Final two Curiosity Box books published

The Curiosity Box series is now complete!

The last two books in this six book series have just been published. They are Animals and the Human Body.

The Curiosity Box - Animals The Curiosity Box - The Human Body

Like all the books in the series they aim to stimulate children’s interest and curiosity in the natural world.

If you are already familiar with the titles published earlier this year you will know about “What can this be?” It is the title of the challenges I set the children as they read through each book. Their purpose is to arouse curiosity and initiate the imagination to produce an answer before turning the page to find out more.

At the end of each book is a curiosity quiz and suggestions for the children to set up their own curiosity box.

One keen reader has already sent in a picture of her curiosity box and I have provided extra notes about curiosity in science on my website. See them at

The autumn is a great time for walking in the countryside and finding curiosities in the natural world. Perhaps you would like to photograph them and send them to me at

so I can put them in our Science Exhibition Gallery at for children around the world to see.

Autumn science topics

The science of the seasons

As summer slips slowly into autumn this month, the topic of seasons naturally arises in many science courses around the world. In the UK, for example, at Key Stage 1 (5 – 7 year olds) there is a section of the curriculum entitled seasonal changes. My Ways into Science book, Seasons, provides library support for this topic.

Ways Into Science : Seasons

Ways Into Science : Seasons

While at you can find a film explaining how the seasons link to the movement of the Earth, stop and chat discussion sheets to help the children secure their knowledge, a quiz based on the Seasons book and an experiment report sheet to record the children’s activities in this topic.

quiz sheet

quiz sheet

The film and stop and chat discussion sheets can also be used now, or at other times of year by children reading Moving up with Science:Habitats where habitats through the season are featured on pages 12 – 19.

Moving Up With Science - Habitats

Moving Up With Science – Habitats

The science of space

The lengthening evenings with their starry skies provides an opportunity to cover curriculum work on space. To provide library support for 9–11 year olds in this area I have written The Earth in Space where pages 16 to 19 can be integrated with the film and the stop and chat discussion sheets.

Straight Forward With Science: The Earth In Space

Straight Forward With Science: The Earth In Space

All twenty five books in my three Franklin Watts series – Ways into Science, Moving up with Science and Straightforward with Science – have activities for the readers to try. They are very welcome to send in reports and photographs of their work to me at and I will put them in The Science Exhibition Gallery for other children around the world to see and share their interest in science.

The film and stop and chat sheets may also be useful in supporting revision of the movement of the Earth in the Cambridge Primary Checkpoint science course. See pages 74 and 75 of the study guide and pages 70 – 71 of the Teachers guide.

Teaching about the Seasons and the Earth and Space

In Teaching Primary science you will find sections on the seasons (pages 21 – 27) and Earth and Space (pages 152 – 158).

Teaching Primary Science

Teaching Primary Science is published today by Bloomsbury

In each section there is background information, glossary, progression notes, technical tips, three detailed lesson plans, further lesson ideas and activities and cross curricular links. You might like to integrate the film and stop and chat discussion sheets with the Seasons and Earth and Space sections in this book.

You may like your children to use ICT to communicate reports and pictures of their science investigations to other children around the world to inform, interest and inspire them also in their science work. If you do, send their work to peter and I will put it in our Science Exhibition Gallery. Here is an example from the gallery.

My Books

Follow the links below to find out more about my books and book series, as well as downloadable resources for teachers and parents using my books.

Books for Primary Schools
Books for Secondary Schools

Books and Resources for Teachers

Contact Me

I can be contacted in the following ways. If you have a picture for the Natural World Photo Gallery or the Science Exhibition Gallery, please send it by email.