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Feel the force with circus games

What happens when acrobats and the human cannonball come to class? Sarah Farley reveals all

Roll up! Roll up! the circus comes to the classroom at Charlotte Turner School, Deptford, south east London, where Theresa Moses, science co-ordinator, has asked Shell Education to run their key stage 1 workshop around the theme of a circus on force, magnetism and gravity.

Theresa says: "I am impressed by the way an outside agency can come into our school and provide an additional burst of energy and enthusiasm which holds the children's attention. The workshop presents us with a bank of knowledge with opportunities for the whole school, so it is a good financial investment.

"The teachers who are working with the children during the workshop benefit enormously as they are able to observe the children's reactions and can also see at first hand how the leaders manage the time needed for each investigation."

As excitement fills the classroom, the children divide into small groups each with a teacher, classroom assistant or parent to assist, and spend 10 minutes on each activity before moving to the next investigation.

One group of three pairs are trying acrobatic marbles, carefully balancing lengths of wooden marble run on small plastic beakers, with a "trampoline", made out of a piece of balloon stretched taught over a beaker, strategically placed so that the marble bounces off the run onto the trampoline and into another catcher beaker.

There is quite an art to aligning the lengths of run and choosing which size of beaker to use as the props, varying the angle accordingly so that the marble runs at the right speed to bounce just enough to drop into the catcher.

Meg Post, one of Shell's workshop leaders, says: "We purposely keep the workshop as simple as possible so that teachers can replicate it and develop the ideas. In the circus, what we are doing basically is requiring the children to change something small to see what happens."

In the human cannonball activity, the object is to take two sizes of syringes and fit them either end of different lengths of plastic tubing to create compressed air, which can be used to fire a plastic stick at a target. In this case the target is a row of plastic bears sitting on plinths. The children experiment with the tubing and syringes until they can provide enough force to knock the bear over. There is always a cheer when it happens.

"Different age groups respond by altering the equipment according to their experience so it is applicable for more than one year group," adds Meg.

There is no time to make written records of findings, but at the end leaders draw the results together in plenary discussion. The children keep examples of their work, such as the patterns they have drawn with spinning tops. For certain workshops, such as those for solar and wind power the teacher keeps the demonstration model. Follow-up work sheets and resource material can be bought through Shell. Some schools take the science workshops further by including them in an assembly, demonstrating their balloon buggies or wind turbines and explaining the experiments involved.

Class teacher Sian Bannister feels the circus workshop is a success: "Some of these children struggle with spatial awareness but they are experiencing success and it is helping them turn the concrete, hands-on experience into abstract ideas. They are using the appropriate vocabulary and are so absorbed in the tasks that they are learning effectively."


* Acrobatic marbles - varying lengths of marble run to make a marble bounce into a beaker. Investigate the relationship between slope of run and distance the marble travels. Can you adapt it for two trampolines?

* Roundabouts - mini tops containing crayons to create different patterns.

What happens if you vary the height of the spinner? What happens if paper clips are attached?

* Performing animals - pipe cleaner shapes moved around a board using different shapes and sizes of magnet. How many pieces of card can you use before the magnet ceases to pull? Does a bigger magnet work better?

* Human cannonball - syringes attached to each end of various lengths of tubing create compressed air for firing plastic sticks at targets. What combination of sizes of syringe and tubing are most effective for firing the stick? What can you do to make the stick travel further? (eg angle of projection) * Balancing clowns - card cut-out clowns with limbs in different positions have weights attached with sticky tape to make them balance on a pencil. If the weights are moved, can the clown still balance?

Workshops, lasting approximately 90 minutes, are solar power, simple chemistry, wind power, splash - building and testing boats - circus - forces, oil and gas, moving things - balloon buggies, moving things - band rollers, recycling paper, flight, wax.

Run by Shell education service, the workshops are in school, providing hands-on science education for key stages 1-3. Class size about 30, usually time for three workshops in a day, which can be repeats of different workshops. The subsidised sessions cost pound;100 a day.


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