Making of the ‘Amazing Animal Record Breakers’ show
Monday 28th September 2015
Have you ever wondered which animal is the biggest, fastest, smelliest or loudest?
This summer, Oxfordshire County Council invited us to put on a science show for children at libraries across the county. We were given funding for the project by Raintree Publishing and so we had the task of coming up with a show that could easily be transported to a library, was engaging for young children and was linked both to the library and to some of Raintree’s books. Fortunately, the libraries had a Record Breakers Summer Reading Challenge, and Raintree publish a series of books called Animal Superpowers – so the Amazing Animal Record Breakers show was born!
We came up with the idea of an interactive quiz about animals that would tax both children and their parents, and started researching our facts and putting together some fun demonstrations.
How can you demonstrate why the world’s largest animals all live in the sea? Why, with a mummy and baby balloon of course! How do you demonstrate the stinkiness of an anteater? By spraying an air freshener out towards the audience and asking them to raise their hands when the smell hits their nostrils.
Could you fit a giant shark in a library? Depends on the library, it turns out…
Mixed in with some of the amazing and surprising facts, there were also some serious points about how colour blindness can be an advantage if you’re hiding in camouflage, or how you need to look after your hearing as it degrades much faster if you expose your ears to loud noise.
We also developed a competition round at the end of the animal show where contestants had to guess how long various animals’ tentacles were (you’d be surprised just how long tentacles can be!) The lucky winner at each library got to take home a set of the Animal Superpowers books.
I learnt a lot researching the show, and had a great time delivering it. It reminded me how important it is to do your research properly – there were even times when I disagreed with Raintree’s books! Of course, this is because some of the facts are hard to measure and so you have competing observations. For example, do you give more credence to a scientific paper using engineering calculations to propose the fastest speed of a fish, or the real-world measurement of how fast a fish pulls away when trapped on a fishing line?
As with any science event, it is invaluable to know the background thoroughly, especially when inquisitive children ask questions that really make you think. It was rewarding to speak to enthusiastic children and parents after each show and particularly gratifying to see that we are raising awareness and reaching new audiences. It was also just plain pleasant driving around our lovely county in the summer and being greeted by so many friendly librarians who do such fantastic work introducing young people to the joys of reading. A smile and a cup of tea greeted me every day and I left with sense of gratitude after each show.
The show will be available during February half-term, and will soon be available for schools to book as part of Science Oxford Schools’ standard programme. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive and Raintree have already agreed to fund a similar programme next summer. So look out in your local library nearer the time to see what surprises we have in store for you next year!