Students hop, skip and jump into scientific careers

New scheme uses parkour and dance to energise job prospects

The sight of Daniel Craig leaping off giant cranes in Casino Royale and Natalie Portman pirouetting until her toes bled in Black Swan wowed cinema audiences around the world. But despite much debate about whether these feats were carried out by body doubles, there was little focus on the science of the human form that made them possible.

Now a new educational programme for Scottish schools is using parkour and dance to boost pupils' understanding of biomechanics and help them to see how studying science could lead to a range of interesting careers.

The Mystery of Movement initiative is based on a workshop held earlier this year by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), in which experts from both disciplines taught key moves to secondary pupils to illustrate different aspects of human mobility. A leading biomechanics researcher provided explanations of the science behind extreme and everyday actions, detailing how the brain sent signals to the muscles and handled psychological aspects such as fear and decision-making.

The students, from St Matthew's Academy in North Ayrshire, also discussed topics including job opportunities involving science and how scientific understanding could improve sporting technique.

Video clips of the workshop, along with fact sheets and discussion topics, are now being incorporated into a digital resource that can be used by teachers to recreate the lessons in their own classrooms.

The RSE decided to focus on parkour and dance after feedback from secondary pupils revealed that they wanted more information on possible careers relating to sport and exercise.

Dr Roger Scrutton, deputy convenor of the RSE young people's committee and a sports coach specialising in outdoor pursuits, said: "The RSE initially translated this into The Physics of Parkour. However, parkour is male-dominated and I wanted to broaden out the topic with a form of exercise that would have a wide appeal for females.

"Parkour and dance demand a high level of skill and coordination and this aspect is what led to the widening out of the science base."

Dr Scrutton added that getting pupils to take part in such a physical way was key to the approach's success.

"It personalises it and young people can take a little bit of ownership of the subject area when they are asked to do the exercises themselves," he explained.

"I was a bit concerned about the physical aspect because young people are quite physically conscious of themselves at that age, but they engaged tremendously."

Both pupils and staff from St Matthew's Academy were positive about the workshop, which took place in February.

Liam Stewart, a performing arts teacher at the school, said: "The pupils enjoyed the opportunity and were able to realise the correlation between the biomechanical elements and the parkour and dance sessions."

The online resource will also include links to the relevant outcomes and experiences set out in Curriculum for Excellence. It is expected to be available on the RSE website from the end of this month.

An Education Scotland spokesman said it was "encouraging" that the RSE was helping teachers to follow the principles of CfE by allowing pupils to learn through experience and "exciting real-life situations".

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