Wednesday, 25 March 2015

New primary school session: Light and Colour

'Light and Colour', a new science-based primary school session, has been launched at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  The 90 minute  session ties in with the topic of Light as featured in the Science KS2 Programme of Study, and also links to the Art Curriculum.  The session has been designed over the last year in consultation with primary school teachers and with the support of Maya Herbolzheimer, the Activities and Outreach officer for the HLF-funded VERVE: Need Make Use project.

During the session pupils will:

- appreciate how humans need and create light and warmth
- understand how shadows are formed
- find out how colour is created
- be introduced to ideas of problem solving, and design and technology solutions

Glasses showing how light is made from many colours © Pitt Rivers Museum
In the opening discussion pupils are posed with questions such as: Why do we need light?  Where do we get light from?  What happens when we block light?  How have humans used colour?  After evaluating the session with West Oxford Primary School we acted on recommendations to improve scientific understanding of the relationship between light and colour.  We wanted a physical demonstration of how white light is made up of a range of colours and with the help of the University of Oxford Physics Department we tracked down special glasses which demonstrate this.

Pupils then rotate around 3 hands-on activities which explore different aspects of Light and Colour: How do we create light?  How do we create shadows? and How do we get colour? The principle behind all of the sections is to link scientific understanding to the Museum collections.  In How do we create light? pupils explore how fire was first created, handling flints and experimenting with bow-drills.  Having understood how a flame is created, they then explore lamp design from basic Roman snail shells to more elaborate Japanese parrot fish lanterns.

Education Guides learn how to use a bow-drill © Pitt Rivers Museum

Education Guides get their hands on a bow-drill! © Pitt Rivers Museum

Javanese shadow puppets are used to explore the section How do we create shadows?  Pupils are invited to take a particularly hands-on approach as they experiment with a range of materials to see whether they are transparent, opaque or translucent.

In the section How do we get colour? pupils consider how the iconic Haida totem pole acquired its colours.  They discover how to make paint from grinding up the pigment red ochre to mixing it with a glue so it stays painted on.  The Haida people used chewed salmon eggs as the glue but since this a little fishy for Museum-keeping pupils find out about other binders that can be used.  A matching game then helps pupils learn about what else has been used from the natural world to make colours.  They can get their hands on cochineal beetles, murex sea snails, madder roots and saffron flower stamens.
Grinding red ochre © Pitt Rivers Museum
Matching colours to source materials © Pitt Rivers Museum

'Light and Colour' is described as 'an amazing workshop' by the Year 4 teacher, Julia Christie, who piloted the session with her class from West Oxford.  She thinks:

"the real strength of the workshop is the provision of the wealth of real resources and artefacts which are so stimulating for the kids to see and the underpinning unifying scientific theme of light and shadows/ and colour...  and the organic materials from which these are made..."  

You can find out more about their trip in their school blog here.

So why not come and try our new hands-on Light and Colour session at the Pitt Rivers Museum or recommend it to any Key Stage 2 teachers/pupils you know!?  Tell us what you think of it!

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