Let me play among the stars

25th February 2005 at 00:00
As Matthew waits with his P2P3 classmates for Glasgow Science Centre's new educational show to begin, he tries to repeat one of the most fundamental science experiments ever performed.

"You turn this big tube over and the ball and the feather fall down," the 7-year-old explains the modern version of Galileo's demonstration of falling bodies.

While Matthew's classmates from Hill's Trust Primary wander off to other exhibits, he lingers, looking thoughtful. "The feather floated down," he says, "that's why the ball fell faster."

Time doesn't allow him to ponder what will happen when the tube's air is removed, as the planetarium doors open for the show. Two rows of hand-holding youngsters, trying hard to contain their excitement, file into the amphitheatre and take their seats for the first screening of Dessy the Curious Duck.

The involuntary "Oooos" of wonder as the stars appear, in a sky blacker than most city children have ever seen, is a promising start, as are the chuckles that greet the arrival among the constellations of a friendly-looking, big yellow duck.

"It was a lovely sunny day and Sammy Snail watched as Dessy swam around his pond," the narrator says. "Also watching was Carter, who was a very cunning cat."

"Meow," says the orange moggie. "I like ducks, especially covered with ketchup."

Other characters in the visually appealing show include Oscar the blue owl and a feisty firefly called Flora. She sprinkles magic dust, which takes the characters out of the confines of the pond into the night sky to explore the stars and watch the moon in its month-long orbit of Earth.

"People saw dot-to-dot pictures in the stars and gave them names," Oscar the owl explains. "That one's called the Plough," a red arrow in the sky locates the northern constellation for upturned eyes. "Over there is Orion the Hunter and these stars are his belt."

Back at the pond, the days pass swiftly, punctuated by Dessy's narrow escapes from Carter's clutches and the changing shapes of the Moon reflected in the water.

The chums return to space for a brisk foray around the phases of the Moon and the show ends with Carter tumbling comically through the constellations, where he has been temporarily banished by Flora for trying to turn Dessy into sushi.

"Well, boys and girls, did you enjoy the story of Dessy, the curious duck?"

the presenter asks as the lights come on.

"Yes!" they roar.

"Do you know now how the Moon appears to change shape?"

"Yeees." The response is more muted, their good manners vying with honesty.

"I didn't know the Moon changed shape because it was going around the world," says Matthew. "But really it doesn't. It's always a sphere."

The visual qualities of the new show impressed his teacher, Caroline Heddle. "When it went totally dark and the kids could see the stars, it was great," she says. "To be honest, though, I think the science still needs some work.

"Earth and space isn't easy but there are ways of getting the ideas across.

I have gone around my kids asking what they learned. None of them is very sure."


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