A fine balance in entertaining and learning

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Science has probably never been quite as lively as it is when James Soper wobbles into town

James soper is juggling while teetering atop a unicycle. It's the grand finale of his demonstration of circus skills and the schoolchildren have lapped it up - as well as learning fundamental rules of science.

Mr Soper is a trained primary teacher, formerly employed in Fife, who travels around Scotland and beyond on a mission to show that science is fun and relevant to everyday life.

The 36-year-old had been practising and performing circus skills for many years before it occurred to him in a eureka moment that he could bring his talent into the classroom.

It irked him that children saw science as irrelevant to their daily lives, so he consulted university students about why they had continued to take science subjects; all had memories of enjoyable school lessons.

"You need to understand the curriculum and principles, and that's not necessarily fun," Mr Soper said. "But if children don't see it as fun, they're not going to carry on with science."

Through his company, Science Shows for Schools, Mr Soper brings science concepts to life: juggling is perfect for demonstrating gravity; the unicycle shows how friction works. (Although he does not dress up as a clown - that would be too distracting).

"It's a way of combining the 'ooohs' of going to the circus with the 'ah ha' you get from teaching science," he says.

Sheila Love, headteacher at Dundee's Ardler Primary, where Mr Soper performed late last year, says: "The children really enjoyed it. They understand what he's talking about - what goes up, what comes down, that sort of thing."

Mr Soper, whose company also offers other practical science demonstrations, says the circus skills also inspire primary school teachers, many of whom lack the confidence to teach science.

He is working, too, on an outreach course for Higher physics, but is acutely aware that engaging cynical teenagers requires an entirely different tone: "You need to be careful to try not to impress them."

www.scienceshowsforschools.com.

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