Created on Thursday, 18 May 2017 09:48 | Written by Gaby Reid

Bringing science to you

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After nearly a decade of Glasgow Science Centre’s BodyWorks On Tour program, Science Education Co-Ordinator Gaby Reid reflects on successes so far as well as revealing some plans for the future. 

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The BodyWorks On Tour program, which includes workshops, live science shows and interactive exhibits, and which has already travelled more than 160,000 miles (the equivalent of six times around the world) is now into its third phase.

The aim of the educational outreach programme, is to allow Glasgow Science Centre to reach people across the country in their communities, especially schools and community groups, which need additional support to approach science in an engaging, interactive and stimulating way. The teams have delivered 19,903 hours of science in classrooms across the country which amounts to 829.3 days or 2.3 years!

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Primary School pupils gets hands on with BodyWorks exhibits.

We help people understand the science underpinning their health and wellbeing in a way which is accessible. Another key aim is that programmes are not confrontational but simply present the science in terms of how peoples life choices affect their health, empowering individuals to make informed decisions. Since 2008 the project has reached more than 800,000 children and adults covering every local authority in Scotland with 96 per cent of teachers rating their pupils’ enjoyment as excellent. Glasgow Science Centre, along with funding partner GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is aiming to reach even more people across Scotland.

Since its launch, BodyWorks On Tour has been generously supported with funding from GlaxoSmithKline totalling £1.6 million. The third phase of the program which builds on the previous two has seen GSK commit a further £500,000 of funding. The program has come a long way from its humble beginnings, of one vehicle available for teams to travel to events, limiting the maximum they could attend to seven per week. Now with a bigger team and more equipment and exhibits, the team can attend an average of eleven events every week, meaning an additional 150 per year.

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The team at the Scottish Pipe Band Championships 

Originally the travelling exhibits focused on how the body functions such as the respiratory and digestive systems as well as the skeleton and muscles. Phase three takes the BodyWorks programme a step further to look at diseases often caused by lifestyle and those which are more prevalent in Scotland including lung cancer, obesity and liver disease. Other key topics include healthy eating and exercise, safe drinking and the effects of smoking cigarettes. The BodyWorks team is also keen to create more normality around talking about mental health and will have more exhibits about the brain to present mental health in an accessible way.

During the first two phases of BodyWorks, the team partnered with the NHS to support their smoke-free services which led to a reported increase in enquiries about quitting smoking programs. For phase three, science researchers from Cancer Research UK and Arthritis Research UK will join the BodyWorks team during visits. They will work with the BodyWorks team to increase the awareness of the current research which is being carried out into these common diseases. The team also plan to work more closely with education councillors. Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils are already working with the BodyWorks team to offer very specific support to very small, deprived and rural schools.

For phase three, sixteen new exhibits were developed to add to the current travelling exhibition. These include the Brainwave Battle, where two people compete to find out who can maintain brain focus for the longest; the Vein Viewer, which reveals the body’s network of veins; and the Dexterity Challenge, where players have to use their eyes, muscles and brain to complete a test of deftness.

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Igniting an interest in science in secondary school pupils

There are two new shows. One will be aimed at young people from primary seven to second year and will focus on career opportunities within science and the skills needed to enter industry, employment as well as further education.

The live shows have been described as a mix between a science demonstration and stand-up comedy. Each is created with the aim of allowing the audience to have an immersive experience, such as the mini 3D cinema which allows viewers to see a real human body that’s had a CT scan and MRI scan. Those watching can see underneath the skin in 3D, as it is ‘peeled away’ allowing them to see the muscles, skeleton, brain and central nervous system. The scans provide an almost cinematic, rainbow coloured experience, and seeing a real body in this way can be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the majority of audiences. The courses are set up to help teachers deliver the Curriculum for Excellence. Feedback shows that 79 per cent of teachers rate the events relevance as excellent. A powerful additional effect of the programmes is that primary teachers without a science background report that they have learned practical ways to bring science to life for their pupils after seeing the events.

The team works hard to break down the perceived daunting scientific barriers and aims to work with a range of backgrounds and abilities to enable people to begin the journey of understanding their bodies. The team ensures the exhibitions are accessible no matter of people’s age or scientific understanding. The equipment and shows are designed to be as accessible as possible to allow the team to work with a wide range of abilities, those where English is a second language as well as assisted needs and assisted learning groups. In rural schools, teachers can be working with up to twenty children who have a broad spectrum of ability which can be challenging. In inner city schools often English can be a second language for some children. Recently, BodyWorks has worked with young Syrian refugee children who have been able to easily take part as the exhibits are hands-on, fun and intuitive.

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GSK's Katie Pinnoch and GSC Chief Executive Stephen Breslin 

The BodyWorks team say the support from the British pharmaceutical company GSK has been invaluable, not only financially but in terms of the company being open to ideas. The BodyWorks team believes GSK is a true partner working with them to help as many people as possible to change the way they think about themselves and the way they value their bodies and science.

GSK’s director of UK & Ireland charitable partnerships, Katie Pinnock, explains the partnership was developed because the BodyWorks project ticked all the right boxes for the company; “We wanted to fund a project in Scotland which educates young families and children as well as the next generation of scientists. Once we had seen the plans we knew it was a really unique and innovative programme which was going to bring science education to life in a really fun engaging way.

“GSK and Glasgow Science Centre have very similar shared values; we both want to make sure the wider public has a basic understanding of science. Too many children switch off to science at an early age. We feel that through our support of science education anything we can do to help families and children and wider public – is success in itself. Helping children understand their bodies and their health we feel and hope will benefit the health of Scotland.”

Funding from GSK has lasted almost ten years. Katie Pinnock explains they have decided to keep funding because of the successes and the team’s constant innovation. Katie explains; “What’s helped the partnership is the way GSC has continued to develop the BodyWorks programme including the installation of the permanent exhibition at the Science Centre. The program content has always been considered and developed. The team never rest on their laurels; they always look at how they can build on what they have done before to continue engaging as many people as possible.”

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First Minister and Glasgow Science Centre's MSP, Nicola Sturgeon 


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