Monday, 16 March 2015

Winning the Josh Award

Guest post from 2014 Josh Award winner Sarah Bearchell...

Sometimes curiosity has amazing consequences…. 
 
As Josh Award winner and as part of the Manchester Science Festival 2014, I visited Springwood School in Swinton, Greater Manchester.  The primary school has about 170 pupils who have a wide range of Special Educational Needs. The workshops were very simple: we made some clouds using dry ice and warm water as a way to explore states of matter.

The children were instantly excited when they saw the white water vapour tumbling out of our experiment.  They were utterly amazed when they were able to feel how cold and wet it was as it ran through their fingers. They heard the bubbling of the carbon dioxide as it sublimed from a solid into a gas and felt the vibrations as the bubbles popped when they reached the surface of the water. We also added blackcurrant squash to the mixture so that our clouds smelled and tasted of blackcurrants.  It was a full sensory experience!
 
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As we worked, we used scientific language to talk about solids, liquids and gases. The more vocally-able children really enjoyed this new terminology and joined in with a loud shout of the word ‘sublimation!’  Some of the most able children asked questions about reaction rates and we were able to do experiments to investigate.

The equipment I use is designed to get the children as close as possible to the experiment, whilst keeping them safe. Dry ice is very cold; at about -78°C, that’s roughly the same temperature as the South Pole in winter. If you touch it you can get frost burns which are really painful. The experiment boxes have lids so that little fingers cannot get in but there are small holes so the cloud can escape. They are also safe to carry around so I can take the experiment to mobility impaired children.  It’s really important to me that every child can access the activities.

The Josh Award funded me to develop a new piece of equipment which I call ‘The Cloud Machine’ and with it, every child could control the making of a dry ice cloud. Most children were able to pull the cord which releases the dry ice into the warm water but some severely disabled children controlled their cloud formation by indicating to their carer when to pull the cord. Their delight was universal, as was their sense of empowerment.

I had a fantastic time exploring with the children at Springwood School but the response of one particular child raises a huge smile every time I think of him…

I was working with a group of children who were about 6 or 7 years old.  All of them were mobile, although one little boy was walking with a frame.  We made our first cloud amongst great excitement and when I made the second cloud I invited the children to come and explore it on the floor.  They all came forward with enormous enthusiasm, including the little boy who left his frame to crawl over to the cloud.

When I lifted the box to show how the bubbles were moving, the boy held on to me and pulled himself up into a standing position. He was absolutely fascinated by what was happening. When I turned to show the other children what was happening, the little boy stepped forward to follow the box.

He was walking unsupported and his teachers were utterly amazed. 

His scientific curiosity had driven him to walk and I am really proud that I had the privilege to be there when he did.
 
Check out Sarah's website for more information and pictures: https://sites.google.com/site/sarahsadventuresinscience/the-josh-award