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From the Ocean Deep to the Night Sky: Science Festival Schools Programme

Orkney International Science Festival has announced its schools programme for this year. Each year in addition to its public programme, which is freely available to school pupils to visit, the Festival provides a special further programme for schools only, delivered direct to the various individual schools with no charge.

a woman pointing up at various mythological representations of the night sky and constellations
Dynamic Earth’s travelling planetarium

The schools programme has developed over the years, and it’s now one of the big northern STEM providers outwith the formal education system, according to the Festival’s deputy director, Dr Maha Abhishek.

“We’ve found that many STEM organisations across Scotland are keen to collaborate on outreach activity and on unlocking joint funding to make it possible to bring many activities which could normally only be accessed by family or school visits to the Scottish mainland. So we’re bringing direct to the Orkney classroom activities from centres like Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, who this year will enable pupils to look into the ocean deeps and also find their way about the night sky in the planetarium.”

The Festival’s schools programme includes topical themes such as energy workshops offered by Glasgow Science Centre, computing science workshops, and a visit by the Fossil Detectives whose discovery of a mammoth graveyard near Swindon was the subject of a special David Attenborough TV documentary.

One of the key themes in this year’s Festival is astronomy, and this is reflected in the schools programme through workshops about the history of astronomy from Vassilios Spathopoulos from Glasgow International College, and activities from Caithness Astronomy group.

There are also wildlife activities, including marine biology workshops from the Scottish Seabird Centre, and sessions with local marine biologist Ashley Kitchiner.

“There are separate programmes for primary and secondary schools,” said Dr Abhishek.

“In addition, schools are able to freely access the big bank of online events that the Festival built up in the Covid years, and also its online magazine, Frontiers, which is packed with stories of science and exploration and Orkney.”

She described how the Festival builds up each year further links with activity providers across Scotland and works hard to source funding.

“This year we are delighted to receive help from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) that will enable many young people to attend the Festival’s centrepiece, the Sun installation in St Magnus Cathedral. We’ll be announcing more about the plans for the Sun in the near future, and in the meantime we’re letting the schools know that some of the STFC’s funding will contribute towards travel costs to Kirkwall for school groups.”

David Attenborough and on either side of him Neville and Sally Hollingworth and in front of them a huge mound of mammoth fossil bones
The Fossil Detectives, Neville and Sally Hollingworth, with Sir David Attenborough from his TV programme about their discoveries.

The STFC’s Head of Engagement and Skills, Dr Jenni Chambers, said:

“The SUN installation is a hugely impactful science-led visual experience and STFC are pleased to be able to help support its presence at the 2023 Orkney International Science Festival. We are delighted that so many young people from schools across the Northern Isles will get to experience the SUN and the rich programme of engagement activities associated with it.”

Dr Abhishek said that the Festival provided a unique opportunity for Orkney school pupils to access a wealth of experiences.

“All the activities are carefully selected and shaped around the curriculum, or closely related to it. In addition the Festival is collaborating on several projects making new material available, for instance in the history and understanding of science. The hope is that by providing contact with stimulating activities and inspirational presenters we can help young people with a vision of what they themselves can achieve.”

The schools programme can be accessed on the Science Festival’s website at www.oisf.org/portfolio-items/schools-2023.

The full Festival public programme is to be announced next Thursday, 8 June.

ED’s Note: The Orkney News has a huge number of science based articles and for those who are interested in astronomy, Duncan Lunan writes a weekly column on all things Space related. To find any of those use the search button.

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