Rocket Dogs

This week marked a milestone in my Science Oxford journey; the first time I was let loose on a public audience! Filled with (completely unnecessary) trepidation and an almost equal amount of excitement, I traipsed through the tourists to the Story Museum and my first workshop: Rocket Dogs.

The Story Museum has been holding an exhibition about illustrators and I’d decided to base the workshop on a book by one of their featured illustrators, Mini Grey. Her book, Space Dog, was a hugely successful start to the workshop, with the children fascinated by her detailed drawings and the adults amused by her tongue-in-cheek writing.

After the story, the children were keen to get started and the room was soon filled with chattering, giggles and demands for more tape! As the designs for Space Dogs, Astro Cats and Mousetranauts became ever more involved, there were plenty of opportunities for informal discussions about how their designs could affect their creature’s ability to ‘rocket’ successfully. More than a few budding engineers had to explain their design choices to bemused parents, grandparents and volunteers and many improvements were made until it was time to test the animals…

Rocket Dogs (and cats and mice!) are propelled by air expelled from an empty bottle and the enthusiasm of the person hitting the bottle can have a marked impact on the height reached. Luckily, our group of promising rocket scientists had no problems with this; in fact, a few over-zealous launchers even managed to break some of our bottles! Within moments, creatures were zooming about the room and some engineers had already headed back to the tables to tweak their designs and so improve the height their animal could manage.

As the workshop drew to a close, it was time for my big moment. With a thread strung high above the children’s heads, I demonstrated building a toilet roll tube rocket and attaching it to the line. While their excitement mounted, I attached the rocket’s power pack (an inflated balloon) and let go…and nothing happened! Despite working beautifully on every practise, the rocket was a miserable failure. Fortunately, I had enough balloons for every scientist in the room to take one home and I have every confidence that all their rockets will be much better than mine!

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