What a wonderful world

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Morag Fleming is thrilled and amazed as she journeys through time at a powerful new hands-on exhibition in Edinburgh

What did you do at school today, dear?" "I witnessed the Big Bang, nearly fell into a volcano while it was erupting, touched an iceberg and got caught in a shower in the rainforest."

"Oh, that's nice... "

This is how I imagine the conversation over tea in any one of the households of pupils from Glasgow's Sunnyside and Willowbank primaries who are visiting Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh the day I pop in.

Combining elements of geography, environmental studies, natural history, ecology and science with a massive "wow" factor, Our Dynamic Earth is a hands-on journey through time where visitors absorb a mass of information about how the world was shaped and how it has changed over millions of years.

Teachers from Sunnyside primary initially express concerns over how much the pupils, particularly the younger children from P4-P7, are taking in.

"I'm not sure exactly what they are getting from it but they are certainly enjoying it," says Moira May of her P4s. "I'd like to bring them in smaller groups next time so they can get into it more."

The children certainly know what they like best: Kerry McMillan, from Sunnyside's P5, likes the "ice bit", an actual iceberg in the polar room: "You could stick your finger in it, it was freezing."

Her classmate Jordan Morrison, likes the earthquake simulation and volcano room. "The floor shakes and bits light up on the ground," says Jordan. "It makes it look real."

But Majid Spingher, a P7 from Willowbank, likes "the jungle because it had a really good atmosphere, there were fake animals and it rained".

Catriona Bruce, head of the education department, says: "It's certainly true that these exhibits create the most excitement among the children, but the galleries are full of all sorts of attractions and information which the visitors can pick and choose from.

"There are voice-overs and visual elements which mean that pupils are taking in more than perhaps they realise, and of course there is so much here that it creates an interest in these areas of learning which keep the children coming back, both with school and with their families.

"We are constantly changing. Recently, we installed a variety of hands-on exhibits for younger visitors, and there are larger animatronics in the rainforest, which the children are loving."

Our Dynamic Earth is the perfect venue for an annual school trip. Pupils would enjoy the thrill of the spectacles each time and absorb a little bit more with every visit. The tour through the galleries takes around 90 minutes on average, but if you try to explore every aspect in detail you'll be there for days.

A popular schools package is to add on a classroom activity, pitched according to year group, on any one of 10 topics. These classes ensure a more detailed look at one specific topic and are delivered by friendly and experienced education officers.

And if that is not enough, changes are afoot to create Our Dynamic Scotland which applies the global lessons to our own country. The new exhibits are due for completion next year.

Our Dynamic Earth education service, tel: 0131 523 1273; www.dynamicearth.co.ukeducation

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