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Ideas flow despite lack of funding

It would be no surprise to see "casualties" among Scotland's science centres unless the Government takes some responsibility for funding them, says Graham Durant, professor of science interpretation and communication at Glasgow University.

Professor Durant, who chairs today's session on "Science and the Citizen" at the Science Education 2020 conference in Edinburgh, contrasted the secure position of Questacon, Australia's national science centre in Canberra, to which he has just been appointed director, with the parlous state of science centres in Scotland.

Around the centres, however, educational initiatives are continuing, with some interesting developments. The Big Idea, the inventor centre in Irvine, has created a post of education manager, and appointed former headteacher Ruth Ruthven, whose energy and years of experience at the Glasgow Science Centre have led her to revamp the education programme and bring focus to the activities offered to schools. These now include links to the curriculum, interactive science shows, structured trails and a variety of options to let teachers tailor a visit to the Big Idea to the educational needs of their pupils.

"We've sought feedback from a large number of schools," says Ms Ruthven.

"We are developing activities for our theatre, workshop and education suite and building formal links with the science and education communities."

The Glasgow Science Centre has been through turbulent times recently but the appointment of Grant Slinn as director of exhibits and programmes offers the promise of calmer waters. He has run science centres in North America for many years.

The capabilities of the e-learning centre are being developed to appeal to "kids who might not come to the science centre but are really involved in technology", says Mr Slinn.

There are shows in the virtual science and space theatres, on topics such as facial muscles and communication and the stars and space in different cultures. "The focus is on telling stories and having fun," says Mr Slinn, "and attracting and holding an audience."

Sensation, in Dundee, is about to lose its education manager, Alice Hague, who is heading for Stockholm and a post with the science and technology network of the Foreign Office.

On the plus side, visitor numbers are increasing and Sensation was chosen as the 2003 Scottish Family Attraction of the Year by The Good Britain Guide.

A teacher's pack has been prepared and a new lecture series featuring prominent guest speakers has been launched. This is aimed at making senior students consider a career in science.

A new exhibit exploring issues in DNA technology marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of its structure. In June, a travelling exhibition from the Natural History Museum in London, entitled "Eating Creepy Crawlies" and accompanied by workshops, will open for school groups.

"Things are going very well at Sensation and we are one of the more financially stable of the science centres," says Ms Hague.

Satrosphere, in Aberdeen, the country's longest established science centre, offers more than 100 hands-on exhibits, shows, workshops and special events: "Look into infinity, leave your shadow behind, step inside a bubble or see pink elephants."

Education officer and seconded primary teacher Judy Duncan, whose three-year stint at Satrosphere ends this year, says the attraction now regularly pulls in five to seven classes a day.

"Most school groups come for two hours, and beside going around the exhibits take part in one of the 10 shows or workshops that are linked to the 5-14 curriculum. These are focused on topics that can be difficult to do in class, such as forces, electricity, the body or the night sky."


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