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The Big Science Event Oxfordshire

Friday 26th June 2015

The motivational power of cabbage

If you ever needed a simple explanation of a complicated scientific concept I think I might just refer you to a nine year-old. Some of the county’s best young primary scientists took to the stage at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History this week to demonstrate their expertise in science experimentation, analysis and presentation. And their understanding and descriptions of how our world works were as clear to understand as they were beautiful to watch. No long words, difficult formulae or research funders to acknowledge – just a nice bit of science in its ‘purist’ form.

From the efficacy of face creams (using apricot skin as the test surface and, for scientific accuracy, a ‘control’ apricot) to the motivational power of cabbage, the intrepid Year 4 and 5 students were taking part in the Oxfordshire final of the Big Science Event. The Big Science Event aims to encourage primary age children to create their own experiments.


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The experiment can be on literally any topic – allowing students the freedom to do anything from an analysis of sweets (Haribo are the least likely to rot your teeth) to how to wake a snail up (see cabbage as motivational aid above.) They present their findings (first) to their classes and (second) to independent judges. This year five thousand children from across nearly 40 schools in the county signed up for the Big Science Event competition, with 42 children from 11 schools making it to the final. There they were judged on a five minute presentation about their research and a summarising poster.

And what a gifted bunch they were. Which Nobel laureate would have thought of explaining the theory of relativity using £2 coins, an elastic band and a school playing field; or Newton’s Third Law by balancing on a skateboard? The apricot/skin analogy was total genius, as was the concept of chemical reactions using coca cola, a balloon and a packet of Mentos (explosive stuff!)

Children really do see the world in a wonderfully simplistic way but, of course, that is not to say they are simple. In the case of the Big Science Event, these amazing nine year-olds proved that by asking a question and using science to answer it, they are well on the way to understanding not only the experimental process but also the joy of scientific discovery.

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