Magic Mike – Introducing our inspiring new Science Oxford Centre Manager
Thursday 2nd November 2017
They say what goes around, comes around and never were the case more emphatic than for Science Oxford’s latest staff member, Mike Dennis. Mike is our new Science Centre Manager and will be responsible for creating and delivering a wide range of programmes for primary school visitors to our new Science Oxford Centre at Stansfeld Park in Headington, which is due to open in early 2019.
However, this is not Mike’s first experience of working for the organisation or being in charge of one of our science centres. He originally joined us back in 1990 as a guide at Curioxity – the science centre we ran on George Street in Oxford, which is now home to the Old Fire Station.
Mike says: “I was working as a supply teacher and feeling a bit unfulfilled when I spotted a job advert in The Oxford Times for a visitor guide at a new science centre called Curioxity. I got the role and started work on day one of opening, on a six-month contract and earning £3.50 an hour. My job was to lead school visits and help family visitors get the most from the exhibits.”
“For me small is beautiful” he adds, “Curioxity only had sixteen exhibits: it was a tiny science centre and that’s why it worked so well. With big centres, children will rush around trying a bit of everything; with a smaller space and limited number of exhibits they tend to focus better on an activity and get more out of the experience.”
Soon Mike became manager and was responsible for the day-to-day running of Curioxity, with a broad remit that included everything from exhibit maintenance and marketing to coordinating the annual science festival and schools liaison.
He also had a real talent for writing shows and workshops, which were loved by primary school audiences and many of which we still run today. The Science of Magic Show, which Mike developed over 25 years ago to engage young people in the science behind ‘magic’ tricks, is still a popular event in our schools and family events programmes.
“..unlike magicians who don’t want you know how they do it, we DO want you to know”
“I wrote six shows aimed at primary and family audiences,” says Mike “And they were designed to create a dialogue between presenter and audience that encourages participation. I think the Science of Magic Show is an audience favourite because, unlike magicians who don’t want you know how they do it, we DO want you to know. The show allows children to think about the trick, to try and predict how it might have been done and make suggestions. It’s essentially a science problem-solving workshop but they love the challenge. “
By the time Mike left Science Oxford in 2006 he had become Head of Public Programmes for the charity and was in charge of all our public events, gallery exhibitions and the SETPOINT scheme (a forerunner of the STEM Ambassador scheme) for Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
Mike says: “I took a sabbatical for a while and focused on a few different voluntary roles while deciding what to do next.” That next step came in the form of a new teaching role – as a Senior Lecturer in Primary Science at Oxford Brookes University. He taught science and D&T to BA & PGCE students in primary education.
He says: “Of course my previous Science Oxford experience really helped in communicating how engaging and exciting science teaching can be. In fact, I regularly delivered the Science of Magic show to my teacher training students. The wonder of ‘magic’ is that it appeals to everyone and allows trainee teachers to enjoy the show on the same level as children. It gives them a glimpse of what it’s like for a child to experience something new and exciting and hopefully inspires them to try the tricks with their own class.”
Now Mike is back with us as our new centre manager, what is he looking forward to doing this time around? “Well, I’m having to pinch myself that this opportunity has come up”, he says. “It’s a chance to put into practise all the knowledge and skills I have developed across my career. The job description could have been written for me!”
“We will be unique – and that’s what makes this project exciting for me…”
“First off, I’m looking forward to helping develop a science centre that is founded on good educational practice. The Science Oxford centre will be a combination of all the best in hands-on science exhibits, flexible workshop spaces, a small theatre and the most amazing woodland. There are endless possibilities for activities for children. Lots of venues and science centres do some of these things – but we will be doing all of them – we will be unique – and that’s what makes this project exciting for me.”
Mike is also looking forward to making links with schools across the region, plus building partnerships with other charities and organisations. “It also helps that I live in Headington,” he says. “So I know the local community and many of the schools quite well. This will really help in building up those relationships and creating new ones that will benefit the science centre in the years to come.”
So now, 27 years after he first stepped through the door of Curioxity, we are delighted to be welcoming Mike back to Science Oxford – and we know it’s going to be magic.
Find out more about our planned new Science Oxford Centre at Stansfeld Park, Headington.
Primary teachers – did you know that you can book our Science of Magic show for your school!
By Jude Eades