Physics in a Primary School

Engaging young children about physics can sometimes be difficult, but Gavin Leithall and Paul Skrzypczyk, postgraduate physics students from the School of Physics, University of Bristol, visited Elmlea Junior School in Bristol on February 10th to do just this.  They spent the day giving talks to six Year 3 and Year 4 classes as part of the school’s Science Week.  The enthusiastic 7, 8 and 9 year-olds learnt about not one, not two, but three states of matter – with the help of some flowers, a dressing-up box, and a frozen fluffy rat!
The audience at Elmlea Juniors
The audience at Elmlea Juniors

The presentation explored ‘Solids, Liquids & Gases’ and the temperature scale.  With some appropriately dressed volunteers, the pupils found out about extremes of hot and cold here on Earth, before moving on to discover what ‘absolute zero’ means and just how hot the sun is (15 million degrees Centigrade!).

Dressed for the right temperature
Dressed for the right temperature

The audience then got to see what amazing effects some super-cold liquid nitrogen had on the properties of different materials.  Flowers froze and crumbled, bananas were used to hammer blue-tack nails and rubber bands stopped stretching as they were all cooled down to almost -200 °C.  Only Fluffy, the soft toy rat, escaped unsmashed from the freezing experience!

Fluffy meets liquid nitrogen
Fluffy meets liquid nitrogen

There were lots of questions from the audience, who were very keen to share their science knowledge.  The organising teacher, Sarah Earle, said “Everyone really enjoyed the talk and it fitted very well with the topics the pupils have been learning about recently, building on and extending their understanding of science concepts.

The presentation used was developed as part of the ‘Physicists in Primary Schools Project’, a joint venture between the Institute of Physics Women in Physics Group. and a educational team from the University of Sheffield, funded by the EPSRC.   The project aims to enthuse young children with the enjoyment and excitement of physics.  The materials cover a dozen curriculum-related topics and include slides, tried & tested demonstrations and detailed guidance.  They are freely downloadable (follow link) and a great resource to use with any primary-aged pupils.

This event was organised with the help of the Institute of Physics Regional Officer – Alison Rivett.  The School of Physics at the University of Bristol has an active outreach programme for schools, see link.
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