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Let's get physical

Carolyn O'Grady joins primary pupils studying moving and breathing to see what makes a top athlete

Jumping up and down is usually frowned on in class. Not so at a workshop on moving, breathing and respiration at Explore@Bristol, the city's interactive science centre.

Held in one of the science classrooms in the centre's well equipped education suite, jumping and, heaven forbid, even shouting, are encouraged.

It's all part of Sportastic! an interactive exhibition which offers children a range of sports and an insight into what it takes to be an athlete.

"What are we doing today?" asks science education officer, Lorraine Coghill, introducing the Moving, Breathing, Respiration workshop to key stage 2 children from St Mary's Primary School, Bridgwater, in Somerset.

"Sporty stuff," comes a reply, and that about sums it up. With the aid of a PowerPoint presentation which shows a figure on screen, Lorraine takes the class through a series of activities which investigate the biology of sport.

They are given timers to measure how often their partner breathes before and after furious jumping and they listen to their heart with stethoscopes and check their pulse before and after exercise.

The maths for all the activities is done on a worksheet. Moving on to the brain, they measure reaction times by a simple test: working in twos, one pupil holds a ruler above his or her partner's thumb and index finger; he or she drops the ruler and then measures to the point on the ruler where the other pupil has caught it.

Each worksheet features a chart relating distance of catch to reaction times. It also requires them to circle appropriate words such as increased, decreased, more, less and faster.

Along the way they are shown picture of a smoker's and non-smoker's lungs, and explore the functions of bones, muscles and adrenal glands in exercise.

How sweat glands help cool the body is demonstrated by asking children to put a little water on the back of one of their hands and to blow on both.

"Which hand feels colder?" asks Lorraine. Smell pots are passed around to a chorus of "gross" as Lorraine explains that it's the bacteria that feeds off sweat that smells rather than sweat itself.

After the workshop, St Mary's pupils move on to the Sportastic! exhibition, where they can indulge in more physical and mental activities.

Dr Penny Fidler, exhibition project manager, says: "The exhibition is a highly physical, highly interactive environment, introducing the science of sporting performance.

"By providing visitors with a range of sports activities, we hope to discover why we are so passionate about them, how our brains and bodies adapt to them and what makes them so much fun."

Children can test their reaction speeds by punching out lights which appear on a reaction time wall (the same as is used to train top athletes); play virtual volleyball; time themselves in a sprint; and be a goal keeper facing balls fired from a machine.

Less physically demanding is an exhibit where visitors lie flat looking at a screen which shows them what it's like to hurtle headfirst down an ice run at 135 kilometres an hour. And to give them insights of a different sort they can also practise handling sports wheelchairs round the exhibition.

For those in need of more cerebral activities there are computer stations where they can access websites on different sports.

* Sportastic! runs until November 28. Admission is free with a ticket to the Explore Science centre which costs pound;4.95 per child. The workshop is pound;2 per child.

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