Flash, bang, wallop

Science can be spectacular. Start a new topic with a bang, a flash or a shower of sparks and you've got the class hooked. So when I was looking at ways of persuading more pupils to choose the subject, I thought expanding our repertoire of demonstrations would be a good move. I wanted to bring in the "wow" factor.

The course was held at the National Science Learning Centre in York, which is a superb facility. And what I liked about the experiments was that they didn't require any fancy equipment. They were simple - but stunning. Some I'd seen before but forgotten about, others were new to me.

My favourite was probably the custard powder bomb. You simply hold two Bunsen burners horizontally, then blow custard powder between the flames - quite likely to torch the ceiling. I also liked one called elephant's toothpaste, which demonstrates the power of a catalyst. When you add potassium iodide to hydrogen peroxide, you get a jet of foam that shoots out of the beaker.

On the last day of the course, we had to teach a model lesson featuring as many of the experiments as we could squeeze in. It was one explosion after another. I found it interesting to see how the same experiment could be used across all the science subjects. So a physics experiment that demonstrated energy release could also explain photosynthesis in a biology lesson.

I suppose you could argue that these are just cheap tricks - but they work.

They get everyone's attention and at the same time they demonstrate scientific principles.

Pupils are much more excited about science now. They're always begging us to repeat experiments and my colleagues are usually happy to oblige Jean Wilson is head of science at Blackpool and The Fylde College, Lancashire. She was talking to Steven Hastings

Make a date

Inspiring Science Learning through Demonstrations, a three-day residential course run by the National Science Learning Centre in York.

Next year's course is June 23 to 25, 2008. Course fees of pound;325 covered by a bursary for schools from the maintained sector. Plus pound;175 accommodation.


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