Take a vitamin C pill, a canister and some water, then ... BANG!

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Fizz pop rockets is just one experiment pupils at Galashiels Academy enjoy doing at a lunchtime club, started to encourage young people to have fun while developing an interest in the sciences

It's lunchtime at Galashiels Academy and a group of enthusiastic S1 pupils are busy making slime and fizz pop rockets. They have given up 30 minutes of their 40-minute lunch break to be at a science club.

Run by physics teacher Suzanne Pritchard, the club covers "anything they want to do" - chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, meteorology, biodiversity and environmental science. Pupils who attend can number anything from four to 40, while four or five Higher students come along to help.

Mrs Pritchard mixes cornflour with water and food colouring - the children have chosen yellow and red, resulting in a peachy goo. Sounds of disgust and delight are uttered as they finger the slime, and splodges of goo are dotted around the table. The offenders are easily identifiable by their peach-tinted hands.

"You have no idea of the mess that can be made in here," says Mrs Pritchard. "There's no limit to the club, but any more than 30 and it's chaos."

For the fizz pop rockets, they take an empty film canister, stick a quarter of an effervescent vitamin C tablet to the inside of the lid with a piece of Blu-Tack, pour a little water into the canister, then replace the lid, forming a seal. They then turn it upside down (in a tray or basin to catch the resulting liquid), stand back and wait. A few seconds later - BANG! - the rocket explodes.

"They can take control," says Mrs Pritchard. "It's not something that's dictated by someone who left school 30 years ago. It's their responsibility to be safe and it's their responsibility to tidy up. They plan ahead what they want to do. It covers a lot of skills that there's not always time to develop in class."

Pupils who are normally seen as disruptive or quiet seem to respond particularly well, she says, perhaps because they are there out of choice. "I've never had any discipline issues at all."

Mrs Pritchard feels the club ties in strongly with Curriculum for Excellence. "If they're working together in a nice way, they're responsible, they're communicating, they're developing other skills," she says. "The main one is about being effective contributors, with teamwork, investigations, creating poster presentations. They quite often work in wee groups and have to solve a problem. It's also about developing them as responsible citizens - helping each other, being safe, environmental issues - and making them confident individuals, asking questions

S2 pupils who were in the club last year gave a presentation at a conference hosted by Hawick High in September on Curriculum for Excllence. Mrs Pritchard is keen for the club to attend events and enter national competitions. Some of the members demonstrated their activities at a Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) showcase event in June.

"One of the kids from our science club won young engineer of the year," she says.

"I like science and I enjoy the club," says S1 pupil Michael Birtwistle. "My favourite one was doing Cola fountains. You put Mentos into Coke, and there were holes in the lid and it makes fountains."

"We have to do that outside," adds Mrs Pritchard. "I usually time it so that we do slime around Hallowe'en, fireworks around bonfire night and Christmas crystals a couple of weeks before we break up in December.

"If they want to do something, I can usually get the materials to do it. They wanted to do volcanoes. It was just bicarb and vinegar, so we made some. One of the girls heard that they'd made lip balm in Higher chemistry at Selkirk High, so I phoned the school to find out how and we made it, using mint we'd grown, Vaseline and olive oil."

Next year, she hopes to work with the eco-committee and home economics department to keep a vegetable patch and investigate where food comes from. "There's no structure to these classes; it's really informal," she says. "The kids get a lot out of it."

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