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The Edinburgh International Science Festival has a special schools programme which gives all pupils the chance to celebrate the magic of science. Deedee Cuddihy reports.

If you didn't know science was fun, you are probably a product of the days when school science consisted of red and blue litmus paper and trying to remember the order and names of the planets. The Edinburgh International Science Festival will change your view.

The festival, from March 22 to April 6, is, to quote the programme preview, "the world's first and largest public event devoted to the celebration of science". The science jamboree gets bigger every year - and so does its schools programme, now in its seventh year and running for a six-week period from February 10.

The 1997 schools brochure should have reached every primary and secondary school in Scotland. The telephone box office opens on January 13 and, if past experience is anything to go by, everything will be booked within the first week or two.

Judith Proctor, organiser of the schools programme, says: "There are three main planks to the programme: the touring shows and workshops which visit individual schools, the Olympiads and the Science Works children's activities centred in Edinburgh.

"Originally, the schools programme was aimed at P4 to S2, but because of demand from teachers and parents, we now cater for everyone from nursery schools, which come to the Science Works venue, right up to S6.

"We've got 20 events on the touring programme this year, including two puppet shows for P1 to P3; the Rainforest Roadshow for P4 to S3; a one-woman show on the life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson for P5 to S6 and the Mission Control rocket-building workshop for P3 to P7."

Prices range from Pounds 20 for a 60-minute Physics Fun workshop to Pounds 100 for the two-and-a-half hour, rocket-building workshop for up to 30 pupils, but you can book a talk and demonstration entitled Serpents and Synthesisers or a visit from the Cancer Research Roadshow for free.

The Olympiads are three three-day mini-science festivals for schools being staged this year at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, Napier University in Edinburgh and Strathclyde's Jordanhill campus in Glasgow. The Olympiads feature, among a range of 12 different activities costing from Pounds 1 per child, a science playcentre, dowsing workshops, radio and photographic sessions and the "Africa Bus" where children can get a shot at building a generator or producing a "cup of sustainable coffee".

The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh's George Street are the venue for this year's Science Works extravaganza from March 22 to April 6. Here there will be more than a dozen hands-on activities for children aged three and up on offer under the one roof - but not necessarily at the same time - seven days a week. Shows such as Secrets of the Theatre Explained, Dr Bunhead's Magical Chemistry Cookbook and Risk cost from Pounds 1 per child, while a few such as Cell City, Packaging Materials and the Children's Science Book Festival are free.

Now that science is part of the 5 to 14 curriculum, an increasing number of schools are becoming festival "consumers". Some particularly keen and well-off establishments booked as many as 10 activities last year, taking a mix from all three sections of the schools programme. One school from Arran brought a group of pupils over for the sleepover staged at the Royal Scottish Museum in Chambers Street from Saturday evening to Sunday morning.

If you want to be locked in a spooky building with 150 eight to 11-year-olds, they're running the sleepover again this year at a cost of Pounds 18 per person.

For each event and activity booked, schools receive a simple, two-page set of teachers' notes outlining the activity, giving its curriculum links, the science involved, age range, group size, length of session, suggested classroom work before and after the visit and, where travelling workshops and shows are concerned, what the school needs to provide and how long it takes to set up and dismantle the "props". In addition to the main schools programme, there is a series of Twilight Science courses for teachers.

Demand for the programme has increased to the extent that the festival has decided to offer a range of the travelling shows and workshops on a year-round basis.

One of these will be StarLab (Pounds 60 per 90-minute session), the festival's portable, inflatable planetarium in which "the night sky is recreated, displaying all the stars and planets as they would appear on a clear evening". StarLab incorporates the Space Show, an "exciting, interactive demonstration about the physics of space and how humans have managed to live in this alien environment".

Dr Simon Gage, the festival director, says: "I was surprised by the big demand from schools, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that it's harder to make science exciting these days because of restrictions in schools on the use of chemicals and the experiments that can be carried out, and that the education support services don't appear to be providing teachers with the resources they need to deliver part of the 5 to 14 curriculum.

"Despite cutbacks and lack of resources in education, science is still a pretty vibrant subject in Scotland. When the festival first began, much of what was on offer we imported from down south. Now almost all of the content is Scottish-based."

The box office opens on January 13, 8.45am-5pm, tel: 0131 220 6220.

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