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Science - Professor Pugwash

What it's all about

From the classic novel Treasure Island to the Aardman animated film linking pirates to Charles Darwin (which never happened in real life), pirates are always popular with children, writes James Williams.

Fictional pirates can be used to introduce a range of science ideas to primary classes. From navigation, using a home-made compass to look at magnetic fields, to powering your own pirate ship with a sliver of soap to explore surface tension in water, pirates needed a lot of science to carry out their pillaging and plundering.

A simple compass can be made using a needle that has been magnetised and then floated on the surface of water. Using a strong bar magnet, stroke the needle in one direction several times and it will become magnetised (or use a straightened paperclip). Rest the needle on a piece of tissue paper, then gently lower this into the water. The tissue sinks, leaving the magnetised needle floating in a northsouth orientation.

Make some light pirate ships from cardboard, with a sliver of soap attached to the back so that it just dips into the water like an outboard motor and powers the vessel. The dissolving soap breaks the surface tension of the water and pushes the boat along. So, ready, steady, race - who has the best-looking and fastest pirate ship? Or make some tissue sails and blow the boats with straws to create battles on the high seas.

What else?

To put magnetism theory into practice, try a demonstration from iop, bit.lyS4ObHN. Get pupils to make their own compasses with JubeJube's lesson, bit.lyQIjxC8

And don't forget - September 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day. www.talklikeapirate.com.

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