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.
Find out more about Burton Constable Hall at http://www.burtonconstable.com
The cabinets of curiosities were built up by William Constable (1721 – 1791)
The curiosities are set out in two rooms.
Large items such as this machine for generating static electricity are set out on tables
while smaller items such as these biological specimens are set out in well lit cabinets
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.
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 http://www.peterdriley.com/books/curiosity-box/ may help to get you started.
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.
Water flows through the cave and makes a stream. As it flows over some rocks it forms structures known as flowstones.
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.
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.
An early morning flight from London.
A drive from Rome through southern Italy
The destination – 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.
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…
… to further explain how the books could be used to meet the requirements of individual schools.
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 hoddereducation.co.uk or in the films on my website or by contacting me by email.
When I began my blog one of the first items was in a section I called “science is nearer than you think” and I featured Richard Towneley who lived at nearby Towneley Hall in Burnley. He was the first person to make systematic measurements of rainfall – in the seventeenth century.
Much more recently I discovered that Burnley College Sixth Form Centre was hosting a Lancashire Science Festival event and went along.
I was pleased to see that many people had also come along to enjoy the activities and displays. The 3D printer display showed items that had been made from or for the human body.
The plastic backbone and pelvis had been made from a patient’s scan and was used to help the surgeon see inside the body and decide on a course of action.
The printer can also produce the components for making an artificial hand.
Later there was a very entertaining appearance of Titan the robot.
I wonder what Richard Towneley would have made of him?
For more information about the Lancashire Science Festival go to
I recently visited Benjamin Franklin’s House in London.
Inside are the original floors and wood panelling to the rooms and throughout the day there are performances by an actresses who take you back to the days when Franklin lived there. The performance is supported by a superb audio-visual display by the end of it I almost expected Franklin to open a door and join us.
For me, and I suspect others with an interest in science, the highlight is entering the room at the back of the house, which he used as his laboratory. Like all the rooms it is without furniture and dark for the audio visual- display but present in one corner is a kite like the one he used in his experiments.
It was in this very room that he discussed electricity with the Joseph Priestly, another great man of science of the eighteenth century. I leaned against the wooden panelling that was also there at this meeting all those years ago and tried to imagine what it might have been like to listen to the conversation.
If you are in London I recommend a visit.
For more details go to:
I was invited into a school recently to present a science-themed assembly for Science Week. Afterwards the school would disperse to their classrooms (science labs for the day) and enjoy a wide range of science activities and experiments that the staff had put together.
For the assembly I took the theme of “let’s take a little look at the history of science and technology.” I began with the Ancient Greeks setting up their ideas about the universe, elements and strangely shaped stones, then moved on to Galileo, the alchemists and chemists and discovering what fossils really are, then moved forwards to the twentieth century.
I was born in the middle of it. I decided to show how a piece of technology (the product of scientific research) had changed during my life time. I chose the telephone because where I lived our telephones did not even have a dial. If you wanted to call someone up you lifted the receiver and a voice would say “number please”. As an eight year old I would say “Colne 238” (my dad’s shop) and the voice would say “and your number” and I would say “Colne 735” (our home number) and the telephone in the shop would begin to ring.
It was a few years before Colne telephone exchange became automated and we got a dial. I showed the children a telephone without and with a dial and moved onto the first mobile phones that I saw when I went to London to see my publishers. These phones were carried in a large shoulder bag and about the size of a brick with a long aerial that had to be pulled out to get a signal. I then presented a selection of mobile phones and ended with one my eldest granddaughter owns – it is inside a glove!
To change the perspective from the past to the future, I finished the assembly by saying “I can confidently say that I am the oldest person in this room and when the youngest person here is as old as I am, it won’t be 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050, 2060 or even 2070. It will be 2080 and what will science week be like in schools then?”
Back in 1999 Oxford University Press published my book called Dinosaur Alphabet.
It also came out as a Big Book. I used it in one of my road shows at the time and last week I was asked to do my Dinosaur Alphabet roadshow once again. This time it was with the Early Years Class at Settle Primary School. They arranged to meet me on one of their visits to The Play Barn in Settle – a children’s indoor soft play area.
As we went through the alphabet from Apatasuarus to Zephyrosaurus (the west wind lizard) we stopped off to try various activities such as catching a fish like baryonyx (we used a banana floating in a bowl of water), making sounds by resonance as Lambeosaurus might have done, discovering a nest of dinosaur eggs (ping pong balls) as made by Maiasaura and investigating the idea that the stones found in dinosaur stomachs were used to grind up food (we did a fair test with two sealed containers containing lettuce and one with a few pebbles in. After shaking them up the lettuce with the pebbles was described as a ‘green mush’).
We finished by chanting our way through the alphabet with me calling out each name and the children shouting it back. It was pleasing to see that today’s young children still enjoy this final activity just as much as those who must now be almost twenty!
Ettie has returned to England for some maintenance work over the winter but here are some more photographs from her journeys in France in the summer of 2015.
These geese were on the River Meuse. They were probably escaped domestic geese.
An African Goose. This bird is really a type of domestic goose and does not come from Africa. It is just a name that is used by poultry keepers. It is thought that it may have originally come from China!
A Barnacle Goose (Branta leocopsis)
Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
Monthermé, A town in northern France.
A frog in the woods near where the town photograph was taken.
A grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
A mute swan (Cygnus olor)
Continuing the adventures of Ettie the canal barge as she travels the canals of France.
Here’s a picture of a Wood duck at Mantoche on the River Saône. Wood ducks are native to North America but they are sometimes found at the edge of Western Europe such as in the British Isles and, like this one, in France. There is a small population of Wood Ducks in Dublin.
Wood ducks almost became extinct at the start of the 20th century due to hunting, their feathers were greatly desired for decorating ladies hats. Since then, thanks to conservation efforts, the population has increased greatly.
In Whitby there is a museum with a huge collection of fossils.
You can see the many specimens from the collection at http://www.whitbymuseum.org.uk/type/ftlist.htm
The museum is situated in Pannett Park and in one section of the park is the Jurassic Garden which links to the specimens inside the museum.
There is a path through plants which are similar to those that were growing in the times of the dinosaurs
Here is a monkey puzzle tree. Trees like this one were growing 200 million years ago and would have been seen by dinosaurs.
Looking back along the path you can get an impression of what the plant life would have looked like back in dinosaur times. You could almost expect to see one come crashing out of the trees!