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Still leading the way in scientific fun

Over the past 21 years, Techniquest has developed from a single centre offering an insight into science through a few dozen hands-on exhibits into an important provider of science support materials to schools across Wales and beyond.

The original building opened in the old Wales Gas showrooms in the centre of Cardiff in 1986. It was the year of the world's worst nuclear disaster, when the "hand of God" helped Argentina beat England in the World Cup quarter-final, there was a royal wedding and the Australian soap Neighbours hit our TV screens.

Importantly for Wales, it was also the year when children started learning about science in an entirely different, hands-on way.

There's much talk of experiential learning in education circles today, but it was already happening in the first Techniquest centre more than two decades ago. Children could come in, see and touch science and make it real for themselves. It was no longer a matter of reading about electrical circuits in a textbook. At Techniquest you could make one and see the results.

Liz Terry, who worked in the charity's education department for several years before taking on the role of audience services director, says learning through play has always been important.

"Teachers know that children pick things up better if they are allowed to do them," she says. "In the first couple of months Techniquest had 10,000 visitors, about half of them children on school trips."

"Since then we have developed a close working relationship with classroom practitioners to make sure that we offer the kind of resources that support their work."

The schools programme began in phase two of Techniquest, when the education charity first moved to Cardiff Bay 12 years ago. There have been further significant developments, including a range of mobile outreach services, since the opening of the purpose-built waterside centre.

Techniquest offers a range of shows and workshops covering many science and maths topics, all tied to the key stages of the national curriculum. There are activities for toddlers right through to those studying at university. There is an ongoing commitment to update material and make it relevant for pupils.

Ms Terry says it is all about responding to teacher needs, discussing topics and ideas with them from the outset and involving them in the development of resources for schools.

Techniquest is leading the way again with metacognitive development. From an early age, children are encouraged to discuss the activities and what they discover from them. Challenge workshops taken out to schools help them to work collaboratively and encourage them to plan, develop and reflect on their work.

Resources for older pupils often explore the issues surrounding science through discussion-based activities. These encourage the 14-19 age group to take responsibility for their own learning, analyse their opinions and question beliefs.

Techniquest develops its own science shows, challenge kits and workshops and most of its interactive exhibits. It is regarded highly across the world and has exported exhibits and knowledge to countries in five continents.

Scientific research and technology have come a long way since the centre's official opening in 1986. The school curriculum has changed but Techniquest is still clear about its mission: to motivate and engage people with science to enrich their lives and motivate them to learn more.

Helen Hughes is press and communications co-ordinator at Techniquest in Cardiff.

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