PAGEANT - "Education is the future"

Practical Physics Workshops 2006

skip to main content

home > projects > workshops > Practical Physics Workshops 2006

Collyer's Beacon Science

On the strength of its Ofsted Grade One Science provision, the college has been awarded Beacon Status for Science and is currently working on several strands of initiatives, including the production of teaching units and resources for GCSE Electronics, Physics, Biology, Geology and general Science. These are being trialled and then rolled out to secondary and special schools across the country. See Collyer's website

Frances Boswell, a Pageant member who is studying Maths, Physics and Electronics at Collyer's, travelled to The Gambia during the February half-term break and asked permission to take three days extra holiday for the trip. This request prompted considerable interest among the teaching staff and Joe Brock, who teaches Frances Physics and Electronics, and is also the Beacon Co-coordinator for Science, offered to send specially selected resources for Physics and Electronics out with her to Gambian schools as a special extension of the Beacon Science Initiative.

Gambian School Science

Joe and his lab technician, Philip, collected together a wonderful array of practical equipment - much of which was decided upon after consultation with the A-Level Physics students - together with two copies of a specially written teacher's manual, 'Basic Science for Gambian Schools' and another manual for the Electronics kit. This entire project was accomplished in under three weeks and we cannot thank Joe and Philip enough for all their hard work and enthusiasm.

materials and manuals being loaded to start their journey to The Gambia (1)

materials and manuals being loaded to start their journey to The Gambia (2)

materials and manuals being loaded to start their journey to The Gambia

The materials and manuals were carefully packed into strong suitcases for Frances and her mother, Tina, to take out to The Gambia and our thanks must also go to Monarch Airlines for kindly allowing this very special baggage to accompany them free of charge. On arrival at Banjul airport the customs officers were slightly perplexed by what they could see on their X-ray scanner, but were happy to pass it through unchallenged once the situation had been explained to them.

Once at the hotel Frances, Tina and Helen (a friend studying at Millais, also in Horsham) met up with Ian and Pippa Howard, we unpacked the cases and made a careful study of the teaching manuals. Holiday reading with a difference - even the hotel staff were interested in what we were doing!

holiday reading with a difference (1)

holiday reading with a difference (2)

holiday reading with a difference

holiday reading with a difference (3)

repacking the kit

the hotel staff join in repacking the kit

After a lot of discussion and further examination of the manuals by staff from both Senior Secondary Schools (SSS, equivalent to A-Level) and Upper Basic Schools (UBS, equivalent to GCSE), it was felt that the Science resources were best suited to the Senior Secondary level and the Electronics to the Technical College level. So the Science kit was split between Gambia SSS in Banjul and Essau SSS on the north bank of the river and the Electronics kit went to the Electronics Department of the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI).

We felt it was important to deliver as much as possible of this precious resource personally, and, if time permitted, to explain to pupils and teachers how the pieces of equipment should be used. Public holidays such as Muslim New Year, Independence Day and a visit by the King of Morocco left us rather short of time, but we were able to deliver the Electronics kit personally to the GTTI Head of Electrical Engineering and his (British VSO) Chief Instructor in Electronics. They were absolutely delighted with their gift and immediately wrote us a letter of thanks.

the electronics kit being delivered to GTTI (1)

the electronics kit being delivered to GTTI (2)

the electronics kit being delivered to GTTI

We did not manage to see the (American VSO) Science teacher at Essau SSS, as she was away on a Workshop when we called at the school, but we have since heard that she and her Gambian colleagues were delighted with the equipment and have used it already in several practical lessons. We have met this teacher on previous visits to Essau and we are sure she will use the materials well.

We did, however, manage to make a really successful set of visits to Gambia SSS. We delivered their materials one morning and explained to the Headmaster, Lamin Jaiteh, what we had brought and what we would like to do. He, as ever, was extremely co-operative and immediately brought some of his Science staff and senior pupils in to discuss unpacking the materials. We went to the main Science Laboratory, in which we had set up the microscopes on a previous visit, and were pleased to find that each of the students had been able to use them on a couple of occasions since our November trip and could show us what they had seen and how to set them up. We agreed to come back in the afternoon to officially hand over the Collyer's Science kit and left the locked case in the Headmaster's office - very tantalising for them, I am sure!

Collyer's science kit in the locked case

Collyer's science kit in the locked case

On arriving back at Gambia SSS later that day, we found an enthusiastic group of staff and pupils eager to open the case to find out what they had been given. Two members of staff carefully checked everything that came out of the case and the smiles widened as the piles of packages grew. Some of the items seemed to be strange things for school science lessons - a toy car 'loop-the-loop' set and two empty fizzy drink bottles, for example - but we emphasised that these were indeed pieces of equipment and were to be treated as such. One special gift was a large set of beautifully prepared slides for the school's optical microscopes and an explanatory manual describing each slide in detail. All the equipment was re-packed into boxes and put into the Science store to await our next visit, when we were to give a 'Physics Practical lesson' using some of the material and showing both teachers and students the appropriate pages in Joe Brock's Science Manual.

unpacking and checking

the science kit unpacked

unpacking and checking

the science kit unpacked

the microscope slides and manual

sorting and repacking

the microscope slides and manual sorting and repacking

Now we hit a snag - every day until we left was either a school holiday or already organised for School Sports Day or Independence Day marching practice... "Never mind," said the Headmaster, "Form 12T (the top Science set) will come in on Monday (the last day of our trip and a school holiday) to attend your lesson." We looked at the members of Form 12T to see what they thought about that suggestion - to our surprise they were all smiles and nodding assurances that they would indeed be there. Oh well, we thought - at least a few of them will probably turn up...

Monday morning dawned and Frances, Tina and Pippa (plus Kemo, of course) arrived at Gambia SSS at 9.00am as arranged. To our amazement we found about 40 students all waiting eagerly in the Science Lab for our 'lesson' - Form 12T were obviously an enthusiastic bunch!

the 'lesson' for Form 12T at GSSS

One has to realise that Science in The Gambia is taught almost exclusively as a theoretical subject because the schools generally have no resources for practical lessons at all. This meant that we were breaking completely new ground with these students - very exciting, both for them and for us!

Frances had suggested four different experiments to give the Gambian students a flavour for the sorts of things they might expect to be able to achieve. We were going to study things such as radioactivity, frictionless motion, waves and rocket propulsion - quite a wide range!

the 'lesson' for Form 12T at GSSS

Topic 1 - Radiation. We had 108 dice at our disposal - these were to be our 'decaying atoms' - so we split them into three batches and asked groups of students to shake them up, throw them and to consider those that came up as 'six' as having decayed. These 'decayed' dice were then extracted from the batch and the remainder thrown again ..and so on. We asked each group of students to plot a graph of throw number (representing time) against the number of 'undecayed' dice and to see what happened. 'Oh...', said one of the girls, 'We can work out the half-life....' They knew the theory, but had never done anything practical to explore it - this was the recurrent theme of the whole morning, as we were to discover.

the radiation experiment

the 'radiation' experiment

Topic 2 - Frictionless motion. Having started with something reasonably static, it was time to liven up the proceedings a bit - CD hovercraft were next on the agenda. These quite simple 'machines' caused great excitement - try them yourself at home. A cork with a small hole bored through it is either stuck onto or pushed carefully into the central hole of the CD - it must not stick out below the underside of the CD. Then, blow up a balloon and stretch the neck over the top of the cork - then, as the balloon deflates, the air coming from it forms a 'cushion' under the CD, which then 'floats' across the surface of the table. The table must be smooth and flat - not always easy to find such a surface in Gambian schools - but most of the groups of students managed to make one work. Once one had worked, of course, all the other groups became even more determined to make theirs work, and animated discussions broke out as to why it was / was not working and how the whole thing could be improved... 'Oh'.. said one boy, 'If the balloon was really enormous it could travel a LONG way!'

the hovercraft experiment (1)

the hovercraft experiment (2)

the 'hovercraft' experiment

Topic 3 - Waves. Joe's manual talked about various types of waves, even Mexican waves. Somewhat to our surprise, as the Gambians are absolutely football-crazy, no-one knew what a Mexican wave was - so we had to teach them. Great hilarity all round, but eventually we got quite a good 'wave' going round our circle. Then - the long spring, stretched out along the length of the lab. With this we could show them both longitudinal and transverse waves, such that they could actually see them moving along the spring - and then hear them when a card was inserted into the spring once the wave was travelling along it. The spring was coiled up and put back on the bench after the experiments were over - one of the students accidentally knocked it off with his elbow and the spring bounced down onto the floor and 'sang' loudly - 'Listen', he said, 'That's a really good wave...'

the mexican wave

waves in a spring

Mexican wave waves in a spring

Topic 4 - Water rocket. This was what the fizzy drink bottles were needed for - we collected the kit as described in the manual: two empty, plastic 1.5 litre lemonade / coke bottles, one bicycle pump, some water and a small, finned screw-on cap that screwed on to the bottles. Frances had seen this experiment in action before and insisted we all went out of the lab and out into a wide space in the playground. We had poured in enough water to about quarter-fill one bottle and had screwed on the finned cap while we were up in the lab - now the bicycle pump was attached to the screw-in cap via a fairly long piece of plastic tubing and a student was asked to start pumping... he pumped away vigorously for a few moments, while the other students looked on hopefully, waiting for something to happen. Frances looked a bit worried - would it work? Then... whoooooosh ... the rocket fired spectacularly upwards, reaching far higher than the top of the school building or the tallest tree in the playground. 'Wow', said all the students in great enthusiasm, apart from the lad who had been doing the pumping, who had leapt about six feet backwards when the rocket went off!

The spent rocket was collected from the other end of the playground and we then discussed what would happen with the second bottle, which had been half-filled with water - would it go even further, or not as far? This discussion continued while the second rocket was being assembled and when it was ready we held a vote. The great majority of students thought it would not go as far - the same student insisted he would do the pumping again, so that he could watch this time instead of leaping backwards in fright - he pumped away and... off it went... and they were right, it did not go as far as the first one. On the way back to the lab there was an animated discussion about this experiment: How did it work? What could you learn from it? How could you find the amount of water that would make the rocket go the furthest? These students were really thinking now, not just repeating what they had seen written on the blackboard.

water rocket experiment (1)

water rocket experiment (2)

water rocket experiment

water rocket experiment (3)

water rocket experiment (4)

We arrived back in the lab and the students reassembled around the benches, still chattering happily about their morning. Pippa had brought some Science Dictionaries as prizes for microscopy drawings, and presented them to the winners, most of whom were there among those attending our practical session.

Pippa giving science dictionaries as prizes

some of the prize winners

Pippa giving science dictionaries as prizes

some of the prize winners

On telling the group that Science Practical lessons were over for the day they sighed in disappointment, so we asked them two questions:

  1. Had they learnt anything from the morning session?
  2. Had they enjoyed themselves?

The answer to both questions was a resounding YES - and before we left we were thanked very nicely by Alieu, the Head Boy of the morning school section (Gambia SSS has to run two shifts, morning and afternoon, like many of the Gambian schools).

We were then surrounded by all the students, telling us how useful it had been, how it made the theory they had learnt in class make sense and how they hoped we would come back and do it again. We were so glad they had enjoyed it - we certainly had.

Alieu and Frances >>

Alieu and Frances

Thank you, Collyer's, for your most generous gift to these students - and once again, our special thanks to Joe Brock, who made the whole thing possible. We hope that he can go out to meet these students for himself one day - we are sure that both he and they would have a really exhilarating time.


Pageant is a UK Charity - Registered No 1093963

 back to top of page >>