Archive for the ‘Education & Learning’ Category

The scary automatic door, the alarming burglar alarm, the spooky coal mine, the thump of the iron weights, the disappearing golden ball. Does anyone remember the Children’s Gallery at the Science Museum in London?

exhibition road, london underground, the science museum, south kensington

On the left, the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, South Kensington, which opened in 1928 replacing buildings from the 1860s. On the right, an Underground poster from 1928.

From 1931 when the gallery was first opened up until 1993 when it closed, children visiting the museum in South Kensington would turn left in the main entrance hall and go down the stairs to the Children’s Gallery in the basement.

Families would usually have got to the museum by going along the pedestrian subway – first opened in 1885 – from the Tube station in ‘South Ken’.

In the basement, there was a long thin rectangular room, which I recall from the 1950s was fairly dimly-lit, where children were free to play with working models that had buttons to press, handles to turn, and levers to pull. There were also historical dioramas and models showing the development of science and technology throughout history. I thought some of these were dull compared with what we would now call ‘hands-on’ exhibits.

 children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

Going by this photo of the Children’s Gallery taken when it opened in December 1931, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of ‘hands on’ exhibits, but it was innovatory at the time. A printed guide to the gallery from 1935 states ‘if there is anything you want to know about the exhibits ask one of the Attendants in uniform’ © Science Museum/SSPL

Whilst the aim of the gallery was to ‘inform and instruct’ children on the social, material, and even moral impact of science and technology on society, surveys carried out in the 1950s revealed that this approach was more or less lost on the children. There was a lot of curiosity and fascination about the many exhibits, but the kids were also having fun.

Consequently, when the Children’s Gallery was revamped in 1969, the historical perspective was to some extent abandoned in favour of combining instruction with pleasure in order to make the children feel that ‘science is a wonderful thing’.

The Children’s Gallery was replaced in 1986 by Launchpad, an ambitious interactive gallery for young people, which moved to the top floor of the museum in 2007. Launchpad itself was replaced in 2016 by Wonderlab, an interactive science gallery with 50 exhibits in seven zones that was 60 percent larger than Launchpad, though an admission fee was also introduced reflecting the £6m cost (school groups are free).

A Selection of the Exhibits

Here are some of the exhibits from the Children’s Gallery that I remember from the 1950s through to the 1980s. I would have liked to include others but photographs of the gallery are thin on the ground. At the end of this post are some memorable exhibits from elsewhere in the Science Museum.

children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The noisiest area of the gallery was the one devoted to Lifting. Ropes that went around pullies could be pulled to lift heavy iron weights. The fewer pullies, the more difficult it was to lift the weights, and there was at least one that I couldn’t lift. There were also jacks where weights were lifted by turning a handle. These photos seem to be from the 1940s or 50s © Science Museum/SSPL

chappe semaphore, children’s gallery, diorama, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

There were many dioramas (three-dimensional models in glass showcases) on the development of transport (photo left), communications (photo centre), and lighting through the ages. Some of these had buttons and levers such as the model of the Chappe Semaphore (the first practical telecommunications system of the industrial age invented in 1792) the top of which can be seen in the middle of the centre photo. On the right, is a display behind glass panels of vacuum experiments. Again, these photos seem to be from the 1940s or 50s © Science Museum/SSPL

automatic door, children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The information stand on the left says ‘Automatic Door 1933. This automatic door has been in almost constant use since it was installed in 1933. At the time most people had never seen an automatic door, and the exhibit became a star attraction in the Museum’s old Children’s Gallery. The door’s 13 ½ millionth opening in 1967 was celebrated when the photograph below was taken’ © Science Museum

There were two exhibits that could be a little scary to a young child. The automatically opening door and the burglar alarm.

With the door, you queued up, and when it was your turn you walked towards the closed red door. You’d break a beam of light shining on a photoelectric cell and the door would swing open abruptly. If you were very young, you didn’t know about the beam, and it was a bit spooky. I wanted to be trapped by the door or something. It was very popular with kids who queued up again and again to go through the door.

The door is still on display, as in the photo on the right, in the Secret Life of the Home gallery in the basement of the museum.

Nearby, there was mock safe in the wall. The idea was to creep as close as you could towards the safe from a line on the floor of the gallery. You would break an infra-red beam, and the word Burglar, in red lighting, which was fixed to the wall near to the safe, would light up with a buzzing sound. Well that’s how I remember it, and I haven’t a photo of the burglar alarm to confirm this.

Other working exhibits that I can remember – though there are no photographs – was the eclipse of the sun by the moon, a diorama of an Archimedean screw being used for irrigation, a Watt engine and hammer, a model of an electric passenger lift, a submarine periscope (the sight poked out somewhere in the ground floor above, so that’s what you saw), and an automatic telephone number selector.

Two smaller working exhibits attracted quite a bit of attention. A Van de Graaf generator from 1929, used to accumulate an electric charge, and a Wimshurt machine from the 1880s, used to generate high voltages. I can’t recall what happened when these machines were demonstrated, but there were machines like this in the X-rated Frankenstein films of the 50s.

children’s gallery, disappearing golden ball, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The disappearing golden ball, which was introduced in 1958, was intended to demonstrate the capacity effect, though I can’t find out what this is. © Science Museum

Another popular exhibit was the ‘disappearing golden ball’. The ball was in the middle of a raised circular table 5′ or so wide at the bottom of the stairs down to the Children’s Gallery. When you leant out to grab the golden ball, it would disappear with a click or clunk into a small socket. No matter how quick you were, you couldn’t get hold of it. I think the ball’s movement may have been activated by a motion sensor in the ceiling above the table.

The ball is still on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery.

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christmas quiz 2016, eric ravilious, wet afternoonThis Christmas quiz, which you can print off below, only has an initial flurry of questions with a Christmas theme and there are picture clues for those whose festive brains are a little addled. It’s not about events of the past year, which I find rather dull. It’s more of a pub-type quiz to have a go at over the holiday with hopefully interesting questions, though on reflection there should have been some geography, history, science, or even maths questions. Next year perhaps.

It is not therefore the sort of impossible-to-answer general knowledge quiz like that set by King William’s College on the Isle of  Man that is featured each year in the The Guardian. Since 1905, pupils at the college have been required to take this test, and until 1999 it was compulsory. That said, the average score of the 300 pupils aged between 11 and 18 that take the test each year is just two, out of 180 questions!

radio times christmas edition, queens christmas message, royal yacht britannia

This is the cover of the Radio Times Christmas Number published on 22 December 1956 priced 3d (about 1 and a half pence). There were only two TV channels then, BBC and ITA. The BBC’s programmes on Christmas Day started at 11am with a ‘Family Service’ from a church in Coventry, followed at 3pm with the Queen’s Christmas message, live but sound only.
This was preceded by a three-minute message from the Duke of Edinburgh who was on the Royal Yacht somewhere in the Pacific, but who could only be heard ‘imperfectly’.

This is not surprising as who knows ‘during 1915, what yarn revealed the murderous activities of the Black Stone?’ (question 1.8 in the 2015 quiz, the 111th issue). Nor ‘where does a 20 second cycle operate from an octagonal tower? (question 4.7). One wonders what is the point of it? It certainly provides some kudos for the college and it exemplifies perhaps the thirst for knowledge for its own sake. There’s a term for this: autotelic. I did like however Q16.5. ‘What was Tom’s intended fate prior to his rescue from beneath the attic?’.  Answer: Roly-poly Pudding (Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers). For those who know Miss Potter’s books well, that’s not me, there is a give away in that this book has the alternative title of ….. The Roly Poly Pudding.

The answers to the two questions above are The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan, and North Foreland Lighthouse near Broadstairs in Kent. I’m surprised that the average score is as high as two.

As the King William’s College quiz is only published in the The Guardian on Christmas Eve you will have to wait until then. This year’s answers will be published in The Guardian in the New Year towards the end of January.

So, for a more relaxing and much less challenging quiz try my one: Christmas Quiz 2016 Questions. The quiz has 30 questions scoring a maximum of 38 points. Here are the answers: Christmas Quiz 2016 Answers. Any likes or comments would be welcome.

wallace and gromit, postage stamp, post box, christmas

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christmas quizThis Christmas quiz, which you can print off below, only has a sprinkling of questions with a Christmas theme. It’s not about events of the past year, which I find rather dull. It’s more like an ordinary pub-type quiz to have a go at over the festive season with hopefully interesting questions. Most people will be able to answer a fair number of the questions, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it together.

It is not therefore the sort of impossible-to-answer general knowledge quiz like that set by King William’s College on the Isle of  Man that is featured each year in the The Guardian. Since 1905, pupils at the college have been required to take this test, and until 1999 it was compulsory. That said, the average score of the 300 pupils aged between 11 and 18 that take the test each year is just two, out of 180 questions!

radio times christmas edition, wireless, radio receivers

This is the cover of the first Radio Times Christmas Number published on 23 December 1923 priced 6d ( a bit less than 3p). The complete issue can be downloaded here. There’s no quiz but lots of ads for ‘wireless’ and ‘radio receivers’.

This is not surprising as who knows ‘following the escape of the lugger from the Hole, who expressed gladness at having trodden on which blind man’s corns?’ (question 5.6 in the 2014 quiz). Nor ‘which administrator was fatally speared during his riverside ablutions?’ (question 8 .8). One wonders what is the point of it? It certainly provides some kudos for the college and it exemplifies perhaps the thirst for knowledge for its own sake. There’s a term for this: autotelic. I did like however Q6.6: what dual enterprise began when two pharmacists were inspired by a gourmet’s Bengali experience? Answer: Lea and Perrins (Worcestershire Sauce)!

The current compiler of the quiz Dr Pat Cullen has produced a compendium of past papers entitled The World’s Most Difficult Quiz which is available from the School Shop. On a picky note, on the school website, ‘papers’ above is stated as ‘paper’, and ‘available’ is spelt ‘avialable’. Oh dear.

wallace and gromit, postage stamp, post box, christmasBy the way, the answers to the two questions above are ‘Mr Dance, Pew’s (R L Stevenson – Treasure Island)’ (Q5.6) and ‘J W W Birch (Resident of Perak, 1875)’ (Q8.8). I’m surprised that the average score is as high as two.

As the King William’s College quiz is only published in the The Guardian on Christmas Eve you will have to wait until then. This year’s answers will be published in The Guardian in the New Year towards the end of January.

So, for a more relaxing and less challenging quiz try my one: Christmas Quiz 2015 Questions. The full quiz is quite long with 40 questions scoring a maximum of 84 points, so alternatively you could try the first 30 questions which score 63 points.

And here are the answers: Christmas Quiz 2015 Answers.

I hope you enjoy the quiz. Any comments would be welcome.

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wallace & gromit, christmas stampThis Christmas quiz, which you can print off below, is not a quiz about Christmas. It doesn’t have a Christmassy theme, and it’s not about events of the past year, which I find rather boring. It’s just an ordinary pub-type quiz to have a go at over the festive season with hopefully interesting questions. Most people will be able to answer a fair number of the questions, and it should be more fun if two of you do it together.

It is not therefore the sort of impossible-to-answer general knowledge quiz like that set by the King William’s College on the Isle of  Man that is featured each year in the The Guardian. Since 1905, pupils at the college have been required to take this test, and until 1999 it was compulsory. That said, the average score of the 300 pupils aged between 11 and 18 that take the test each year is, out of 180 questions, just two!

This is not surprising as who knows ‘where Blanche save the doomed Neville by clinging to the clapper of the curfew bell?’ (question 4.3). Nor ‘which royal infant was born prematurely at the Fürstenhof due to her mother’s pleurisy, and died the same day?’ (question 11.5). One wonders what is the point of it, other than providing some strange sort of kudos for the college. You can have a go at the King William’s College quiz here. The answers will be published in The Guardian in the New Year.

So, for a more relaxing and less challenging quiz try my one: Christmas Quiz 2013.

And here are the answers: Christmas Quiz 2013 Answers

I hope you enjoy the quiz. Your comments would be welcome.

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The 'commonplace book concerning science and mathematics' of Mary Smith who lived in the remote village of Thorney in the Cambridgeshire fens in the 1760s and 1770s

The ‘commonplace book concerning science and mathematics’ of Mary Smith who lived in the remote village of Thorney in the Cambridgeshire fens in the 1760s and 1770s

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) became significant in Early Modern Europe and were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned, and each book was unique to its owner.

Erasmus, (1466-1536), the Dutch scholar and theologian, set the mold in his De copia of 1512 by advising how to store collections of illustrative examples in retrievable form. John Milton (1608-1674), the English poet and polemicist, kept a book of sayings and thoughts, whilst the philosopher John Locke, (1632-1704), the English philosopher and physician  in his 1706 book A New Method of a Common Place Book also gave specific advice, on how to arrange material by subject and category, using such topics as love, politics, or religion. Commonplace  books he stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.

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