Raindrops: poetry in motion

From the maths of Morris dancing to the theory of science fiction, the annual festival reaches beyond traditional boundaries to explore the subject's relationship with other areas, most notably the arts. Stephen Manning reports.

Is the moment a raindrop splashes into water science or art? For Anne Osbourn, it is both. She uses images from science to inspire pupils to produce writing or artwork about the subject and, at the same time, stimulate creativity and scientific curiosity.

She believes flouting conventional divisions between subjects can bring out the best in pupils. She says: "I have seen incredible things come out of children with seemingly conventional abilities.

"We want to understand the world around us, whether we are scientists, poets, business people or plumbers. It's about finding out how you fit into the world."

Ms Osbourn practises what she preaches. She is a senior plant scientist at the John Innes Centre, a microbiology research laboratory, in Norwich and a published poet.

She has devised the Science Arts Writing initiative, which was launched at the British Association for the Advancement of Science Festival last week, after a pilot scheme in seven Norwich schools. An estimated 20,000 people attended during the week, including 4,500 pupils from schools in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

Ms Osbourn devised the initiative during a sabbatical year, funded by NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Dreamtime Fellowship, at the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

The initiative focuses on linking subjects and it is hoped it could help combat science's ailing profile. The number of pupils taking A-level physics, for example, has halved in just over two decades, from 55,728 in 1982 to 28,119 in 2005, according to a recent report by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson, of Buckingham university. The report stated that government attempts to stop the decline have all failed.

Pupils are confronted with images ranging from dust mites and views from space, to human nerve cells and a raindrop splashing in water. A teachers'

handbook is being developed, part funded by Society in Science.

Ms Osbourn hopes that, with the help of the National Science Learning Centre, the project can be used across the UK. She would, how-ever, like to see schools develop their own programmes rather than have a set national course. Artwork and poems by pupils from Norfolk's Rockland St Mary primary and Framingham Earl high, have been already collated for a book, See Saw, which is being sold to fund more projects.



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