Engaging the audience…

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Engaging a museum audience learning about centre of mass by making them strike a pose for science 🙂

Anyone who has ever done any public speaking knows that 5 minutes can go by in a heartbeat, or feel like it takes a lifetime to pass.

As we rocket towards our Science Academy student presentations at the New Zealand International Science Festival, we have been thinking about audience engagement and what our students can do to maximise this. Engaging the audience and knowing they are “along for the ride” can help that 5 minutes fly by in a pleasurable rush.

There are two groups of students presenting “on stage” in July – the ones who have elected to do an interpretive talk, and those who have elected to do a Science show. Though there are big and not so big differences between the two delivery methods, getting the audience on board will be key for both groups.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are really four groups that the public can be divided into when it comes to Science Communication:

  1. The Science Fans – the lovers of Science who can’t get enough and invest their free time in reading, attending talks, museums and other science related activities
  2. The Cautiously Keen – they aren’t the fanboys or fangirls but they have a genuine interest in science and are keen to know more.
  3. The risk averse – not engaged
  4. The concerned – not engaged

The Science Academy students are presenting their work to the public as part of the New Zealand International Science Festival. I think it is safe to assume that their audience will be from the first two groups as it is unlikely that someone who is not engaged in learning about Science would take the time to attend a Science Festival.

So that means that we are at least starting with a friendly audience. This is a big plus. It is much easier to engage the audience if they are in the audience because they are interested in what is being presented and genuinely want to learn more. The audience is already on the students’ side.

Building another idea from another blog I wrote last year, to engage an audience, you need to:

  1. Validate the audience’s thinking
  2. Take them on a journey
  3. Be framed within their values
  4. Fall within social norms
  5. Involve pictures and graphs and/or audience participation

There are a few more ideas that need to be touched on for successful audience engagement. Firstly, language – everyday vs for experts. The audience wants to learn but they don’t want a PhD thesis on the topic. The audience needs to understand what you are saying. In a five minute presentation to a public audience, the jargon should be at a minimum needed to make your point.

Accuracy can also sometimes lose you the point – keep it simple! It is better to be a bit less accurate but have the audience understand what you are saying than be super accurate and have them lost. If you engage them and get them interested in their topic, they will go away and try to learn more, if you give them a lot of details right at the start, they won’t understand enough of what you are saying to appreciate what you are saying. This is especially true with such a short amount of time to engage with the audience.

Tell a great story. Good story telling is emotional connection – why does the audience care about your message? Think about the trolley problem – some variations of this problem have shown that we tend to save the people we know and care about and sacrifice strangers. Make the audience care about what you have to say by building an emotional connection.

Frame your audience questions for maximum response rate. It is much easier for your audience to think of something general rather than specific. For example, asking them to think of a good experience they have had with Science rather than asking them to think of the best experience they had with Science. Linked to questioning, make sure you leave enough time for response – sometimes the audience needs to warm up or think about what you have said. Don’t let a lack of response cause you to panic and rush on before the audience has had a chance to respond! Equally, think about what you will do if you do NOT get the response you were expecting – have a back-up plan! The audience can still be engaged depending on how YOU respond to their unexpected, or lack of response.

Finally, make sure you acknowledge the audience contribution, thank the audience for coming along on the journey with you and participating. The audience will leave feeling appreciated and valued for coming to your show.


A sense of style…

Friday, April 27th, 2018 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

I was browsing the internet the other day, as you do and ran across this video. I’m not a natural history film person in general and I don’t watch natural history documentaries very often because to be honest I find the traditional documentary style a bit boring. I did like this though and it made me think about different approaches with the same message or aim.

I typed “frogfish documentary” into the search bar of google and was rewarded with many short films about frogfish.  Here are a few examples which I have divided based on my own interpretation of the type of presentation style:

All of these examples have pictures and videos of frogfish and all have very similar content in terms of facts about frogfish. The difference is in the style of presentation. The kids one is very clearly aimed at kids but we could argue that the other two are both aimed at similar audiences, adults. The styles they are made in though are very different.

Looking a bit further, documentary films in general can be divided into 6 categories or modes according to American documentary theorist Bill Nichols.

  • Poetic modethis is an early form of documentary that tends to be more subjective and evoke a feeling, mood or tone
  • Expository mode- as time moved on, documentary makers started looking more at the social problems of the word and expositional images paired with narrative. This is more like a David Attenborough type nature film in that it is meant to transfer information
  • Participatory mode – in this type of documentary, the filmmaker interacts with the subjects by asking questions for example. The participation of the filmmaker is known to the audience (by hearing the interviewer’s voice off camera for example)
  • Observational mode – In contrast to the participatory mode, the observational mode is like a fly on the wall style documentary – simply watching animals in their natural habitat
  • Performative mode – This is similar to the participatory mode because the filmmaker interacts with the subjects but unlike that mode, in performative mode, the filmmaker is also trying to convey a message or particular story. The performative mode is less objective and more subjective.

Our OUASSA students are producing shows, talks, films and written works for public presentation at the New Zealand International Science Festival in July. Thinking about the audience that will be at the presentations and how best to reach them will be key to getting their messages across. The style of show, talk, film or writing will be just as important as the medium and information.

What’s in a name?

Thursday, March 15th, 2018 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Many names over the centuries have become synonymous with scientific achievement and discovery, etched in our collective understanding for the ages. Like famous explorers – famous scientists leave their names in the footprints of history with phenomena, units, models and formulae named after them. The most famous scientists tend to be those who not only make great discoveries that advance mankind, but also manage to communicate their work and the importance of their work to the world outside their lab. They are also great science communicators.

Yesterday, Stephen Hawking passed away. Arguably one of the most well known physicists of our time. Hawking radiation, just one of his many theoretical accomplishments carries his name. Hawking wasn’t just a theorist though, he made the transition from academic to popular culture with his books aimed at children and adults as well as appearances in popular media such as the Simpsons, Star Trek and the Big Bang Theory. Stephen Hawking was a passionate Science Communicator in whose honour the prestigious Stephen Hawking medal for Science Communication was named. This is awarded annually at Starmus festival to recognise excellence in Science Communication at an international level.

The story of Starmus festival in itself is a great story of Science Communication. In 2007 Brian May, founding guitarist of the rock band Queen, completed his PhD dissertation on zodiacal dust in the solar system. Along with one of his co-supervisors who also happened to be a musician, they founded the festival as a way to “celebrate science and the arts with the goal of bringing an understanding and appreciation of science to the public at large.”

In a world where we are exposed to and consuming more information than ever before, it is vital that Scientists are able to convey their work to the public in a way that the public will understand. Scientists like Stephen Hawking attempted to bridge the gap between academia and the public through writing, speaking and films aimed at explaining their very complicated research to a public audience. This trend of scientist as communicator carries on with many leading scientists today writing, filming and speaking about their work to the public. (Including our very own budding scientists, the OUASSA students, who are presenting their work to the public on the 13th of July at the Otago Museum). After all, as our own Ernest Rutherford is quoted as saying “It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid”.

Critical thinking critical to…. thinking??

Friday, March 9th, 2018 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Bloom’s Taxonomy – good critical thinkers travel up towards the pointy end.

The New Zealand Curriculum defines critical thinking as “examining, questioning, evaluating, and challenging taken-for-granted assumptions about issues and practices” and critical action as “action based on critical thinking”

As scientists, we need to be thinking and acting critically in order to ensure that the most evidence based and experimentally supported theories and ideas are being moved forward. Much has been written about how to teach, particularly science students to think critically (You can start travelling down that rabbit hole here)

Unfortunately, especially in high school, many students are driven by credits, exams and assessment and so knowing the “right answer” sometimes feels more important to students than critically thinking about the presented information to form their own answer. Another issue is that thinking is very hard to assess – because it goes on in the students’ minds, it is often difficult to see how they arrived at an answer and instead just assess the answer itself.

Critical thinking is an important skill to learn though, in this increasingly data driven world, we are evaluating information almost constantly. Learning how to separate the “wheat from the chaff” will help us make more informed and evidence based decisions, as well as stopping us from falling for “Fake News” 🙂

The scaffolds in Knowledge Forum are designed to help with this. By making your thinking explicit, you are not only showing that you are examining evidence and thinking critically, you are also able to think about your own way of thinking and evaluate the way that you are approaching information.

It has been agreed that the most effective way to improve your critical thinking is to practise. In Knowledge Forum, the scaffolds are an easy way to help you do this. In school, think about applying those same questions to your schoolwork. Every lesson is a new theory, now you need to find the evidence to support new theory and build your knowledge of the topic. Building your critical thinking skills will help your understanding of the topic and enable you to access those excellence and beyond grades.

Putting pen to paper…

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

For this week’s blog, I thought I would look at an area that many OUASSA 2017 teams seem to be struggling with, breaking up the work for the team presentation. I have put myself into the roll of the team leader. I wrote up the presentation outline (which I did alone but really the team leader should be doing this with input from their group) and then I thought about how I would break up the work of the presentation to a hypothetical group of 6 team members. I picked 6 because that 7-9 is the group size for our OUASSA 2017 students.It didn’t actually take me very long to think about the outline and write it out. The most important thing to remember at this stage is that it is a work in progress. As we research and craft the presentation, some of the things I have written on my outline may change, and that is ok. It is a guide to myself and my team for where we are generally heading with our presentation. Having a good outline will ensure that my team is on task and not wasting time on research we won’t be using for our presentation. It also helps everyone in my group have a clear idea of what the big picture will look like, and where their piece fits in.

So on to the mechanics of it. I wrote what I was thinking each step so hopefully my handwriting is legible to all 🙂

The final step was filling in the rest of the form. I thought about what I needed people to understand to convey my message. I need people to understand what is fission, fusion and the difference between them. I have a really broad idea of how I want the introduction and conclusion to look but it’s not finished yet. For a first draft, this is totally fine, we’ll come back and tweak this while developing the presentation.

Finally, how will my group divide the labour so that we do the work that needs to be done but don’t waste time on anything else? This is what I came up with:

  • 1 person will write a brief introduction to the talk as a story with an ordinary kiwi family. This should only be a minute or so long so emphasis on BRIEF.
  • 1 person will research fusion and come up with a brief explanation to report to the team
  • 1 person will research fission and come up with a brief explanation to report to the team
  • Once that is done, 1 person will do a 1 minute compare and contrast summary
  • 1 person will use the research to do our visualisations of each concept
  • 1 person will write the conclusion

We will manage everyone’s ideas and contributions in a google doc that we can all contribute to. I know that some of my team are really busy with winter sports in June so they will do the research so that their part is finished early on. Those of us not as busy closer to camp will do the parts that depend on the research.

At camp we will rehearse our visualisations together and tweak our presentation before we show our presentation to the panel for feedback. This shouldn’t take long if everyone has done their part.

I have attached my full outline form: ScienceShowOutline.

Hopefully this will give you guys a bit more guidance on how to distribute the labour and what we expect you to be doing. Remember, we are only an email or phone call away if you need any help.



Tell me what I want to hear…

Friday, May 12th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

OUASSA 2017 students have been working towards a presentation to the public at the Otago Museum which will take place on July 14th. The research for their presentations are in full swing and things should be starting to come together for their presentations. Some recent experiences have reminded me of the importance not only of researching your topic, but of evaluating the information that you find.

Evaluating the information you find is especially important when researching topics that are emotional or controversial, where people are inclined to have opinions based on anecdotal evidence from the world around them. Many of the topics that are being researched for presentations in July fall into this category. People feel very strongly about topics like Climate Change, Genetic Modification and Medicine in the Third World. It is important in a presentation to the public that you are presenting the science behind the issue and relying on provable facts rather than popular (or unpopular) opinion.

The internet is a great place for research because you can very quickly find a lot of information. The downside though is that unlike a book or a research publication, anyone can put information on the internet without any verification that it is actually true, and present it as fact.

For that reason, it is very important when you are researching to make sure that you evaluate the sources that you are using. Although after researching, you may have formed a personal opinion on the issue, it is important that when researching, you are looking at unbiased information based on fact (or at least that you are conscious of the bias and are looking at the information with that in mind).

The library have produced a nice little reference for evaluating internet sources using the acronym BAD URL. You can find a copy here. How_to_Evaluate_Websites

If you want to really dig deeply into how to evaluate sources, this is an e-learning module produced by the University library designed to help you learn about different types of information sources and how to evaluate them.

In July, the students will be having a presentation on “What your brain does when you’re not looking.” Unconsciously, we all are influenced by our bias and frame the world through our own experiences. It is important to make sure we are aware of this and do as much as possible to limit bias in our work and promote impartiality.

Dancing about Science…

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Fun, interactive, and engaging Science?

I was looking at some research into Science shows and came across some key findings on how to engage children from Science Museum (UK) focus group research undertaken in 2010:
• Audience participation is regarded as crucial – if children aren’t involved, they may lose interest.
• Parents like young, casually-dressed presenters, rather than the stereotypical white-coated ‘nerd’; they feel an informal approach is important in removing barriers to children’s appreciation of shows.
• The three words they felt would most attract their attention in descriptions of the show were Fun, Exciting and Interactive

For this week’s blog post, I tried to look for some novel ideas on how to present Science to an audience. Keeping in mind those ideas from the focus group on keeping it fun, exciting, and interactive.

One really amazing thing I found was Biology for the blind and partially sighted. Using 3D printing to bring the microscopic world to people who otherwise wouldn’t have any experience of it. Definitely worth watching, especially the audience reactions to being able to interact with the microscopic world for the first time in their lives!

For another novel presentation method, check out this TED talk about dancing scientific concepts which includes, among other cool things, a great example of the difference between ordinary light and lasers using dancers. The 2016 winners of the contest that he mentions “Dance your PhD” are also worth a look. I particularly liked the people’s choice award winner.

I have already shared with you what I think of as some good examples of story telling in Science Communication in a recent blog post on storytelling.

I also emailed the students some examples of one person’s use of music as Science Communication.

Videos are a very popular way to get the message across and the students had a tiny taste of this in the January camp Science Communication sessions. Videos don’t have to be hugely costly high technical productions to be effective, some of the best videos are really simple, for example, Minute Physics.

So hopefully that has given you a bit of inspiration to think outside the box for your presentations. Whether you present your information in the form of a song, a story, a video, a show, a play or something else, using a novel presentation method is one way to keep it fun, exciting and interactive.

Once Upon a Time…

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”
The Stranger by Albert Camus

“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
The Gunslinger by Stephen King

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.”
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

These are the first lines from some random, well known stories. You can find lists of best first lines or exciting first lines all over the internet. No matter what story they come from though, they all have one thing in common, the first line needs to set the scene but also leave you wanting more.

There’s no doubt that a good story has the power to hook us, reel us in, and capture our imagination until the tale is through. Everyone, young and old loves a great story. A good story can be a powerful vehicle to impart information.

Building on the idea from two weeks ago that to engage an audience, you need to:

  1. Validate the audience’s thinking
  2. Take them on a journey
  3. Be framed within their values
  4. Fall within social norms
  5. Involve pictures and graphs (and I would add audience participation!)

Think about the stories that you have enjoyed, did they do these things? Did they validate your thinking? Take you on a journey? Were they framed within your values?

The point is – storytelling is a powerful tool. It may be the most powerful tool that you have to engage with your audience. When you are developing your presentation, think about the story behind it. Take the audience on a journey with you through the story you tell.

Here are a couple of examples for you to look at:

Example 1: Fergus McAuliffe speaking at the TEDX in Dublin tells a story about frogs. I particularly like this example because he has no slides, and only a few simple props, but at the end the audience is absolutely silent and spellbound.

Example 2: Tyler DeWitt speaking to high school science teachers. This one I chose because in contrast to the previous example, he uses visual aids behind him to tell the story. The story was part of a talk to teachers about the differences he found when presenting the material in a traditional way and using the story format (in the video clip) again, an engaging story that makes the science relatable to the audience.

Example 3: This is a LONG story but it is a good one. Jay O’Callaghan was commissioned to make a story as part of NASA’s 50th Anniversary. He tells a love story between two young NASA interns in modern times but interwoven is a lot of science and history of NASA. He tells it with no props, no visual aids, just a story. Engaging the audience with nothing more (or less) than a story.

Forged in the Stars – Jay O’Callaghan


Keep it simple…

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Venue for the ASC 2017 conference – the Science Exchange in Adelaide, Australia

Last night I returned home to Dunedin from Adelaide. I was attending the 9th annual Australian Science Communicators conference where I had a presentation to give and also a poster in the gallery. The conference was amazing and I learned a lot which will be shared over the coming weeks.

On the weekend after the conference I stayed in Adelaide and visited a number of the city’s attractions. It may have been the conference leaving Science Communication in the forefront of my mind but I found myself analysing each one in terms of good communication and engagement. There is still a LOT of static displays and writing to explain displayed artefacts in museums. In one of the conference presentations, a panel tried to address this – but by far the most effective presentations were the ones that were interactive.

Activity at the Migration Museum in Adelaide

One very simple example of this was the crosswalk activity that I encountered at the Migration Museum. The exhibit was meant to show how immigration policies in the first half of the 1900s favoured a certain type of migrant (white and British). Instead of screeds of writing and examples or even just a small statement, there was a large crosswalk on the wall. You read a description of someone who wanted to come to Australia at the time and then pushed the crosswalk button. The walk man lit up if they could immigrate, the don’t walk sign lit up if they couldn’t and a yellow traffic light was a maybe. A small lit up explanation of why that particular person could or couldn’t migrate was also displayed.

I think this was a brilliant example of how a simple metaphor (the crosswalk) was used to make information very relevant. Everyone crosses the street, imagine not being able to cross the street because of your race or circumstances. It certainly made me think about immigration and the effect of policy on people at that time. The setup was also engaging. I probably would have walked past a panel of the same information if it had just been written up on the wall.

So over the coming weeks I’ll share more of what I learned in Adelaide but my learning for today is the power of the simple metaphor. Finding something your audience relates to and use it to convey your message.

Face wash crisis solved by junior science…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

My fresh made face wash – fancy picture courtesy of visiting Canadian mother 🙂

Recently, the company that I have been buying facewash from since I was 18 years old, ran out of the product I use. Rather than settle for something else, I did a wee bit of research online and found a recipe to try.

The whole experience reminded me of a unit that I ran with my Year 10 class a few years ago. We had finished a unit on Acids and Bases and so they were familiar with things like the pH scale and we had looked at cleaners, toothpaste and other common household items. I had run across the resource “Lips, Lipids and Locks” in the resource room and decided to make a mini unit around it.

From the 2005 Applications series of books

Firstly, the students read the book. They then had a think in groups about what kind of products they used on a regular basis and what chemicals were in them. We did a small group and whole class brainstorm about the types of cosmetics they could reasonably make.

They then did some research about recipes, decided on a recipe to use and came up with a “shopping list” of ingredients. Once we had gone through the ingredients, there were things that we couldn’t get either because of cost or because it wasn’t available in a timely manner. This meant the students had to go back and look at alternatives.

Finally, we spent some time making and testing out their products. Once each group had a product, it was presentation day. The students presented their products to the class along with their ingredients, why their ingredients worked and also if they had to use alternatives, what alternatives they used and why they worked. They had to talk about why they had chosen one recipe over the others available. They also had to analyse their final product and talk about what they would do differently next time, what they liked/disliked.

There was not enough time for them to go through multiple production runs and refine the products which I think would have been a good learning exercise as well. I think this would have helped them understand what kind of research and development goes into creating the products they use.

All in all, I feel like they were engaged as they were making things that they thought were relevant. They also were developing their research skills and problem solving abilities. Finally they were communicating what they learnt to the wider group.

Back to my own experiment with facewash, with a small tweak it turns out I’m on to a winner. It was quick and easy and works well. If you’re interested in the recipe, here it is:

Another fancy view of my final product

1/3 cup oat flour – oats have saponin giving them mild cleansing properties, they are also moisturising

2/3 cup almond meal – almond meal is used to exfoliate, it is high in B and E vitamins and it is also very moisturising

2 Tablespoons of honey – honey is an antimicrobial and also contains antioxidants

A few drops of melted cocoa butter – moisturising

Squish all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. To use, mix a pea size amount with water in hand and apply.

Applications are OPEN for OUASSA 2017…

Thursday, October 6th, 2016 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Planning for the 2017 student and teacher programmes are well underway as the school year rockets into the final term for the year!

Our teacher and student applications for 2017 are open until the 21st of October. You can see the schools who were mailed application packages as well as access the online application forms for teachers and students here:
OUASSA 2017 Application forms

The application form is the same for students, teachers and nominating teachers, you will be shown different questions based on whether you are an applicant or a nominating teacher and whether you are applying to the student or teacher programme.

Teacher applicants will need to fill in the application form only.

Student applicants will need to fill in the application form, have a teacher fill in a teacher nomination and also submit an essay either via email or hard copy (instructions and topic are in the application material)


Sensational sensing…

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

I was listening to thblind sighted athletes emotional expressions innatee radio this morning and heard the fact stated that blind people use the same facial expressions as sighted people because facial expressions are innate rather than learned. This means that blind people don’t have to have seen a facial expression for
sadness or joy or anything really to know what it looks like, because it is something we all do automatically. Facial expressions are passed down just like hair colour or hitchhiker’s thumb.I looked up the original study this information was based on – you can read the press release on the American Psychological Association website here (or get a hold of the journal article referenced within if you’re super keen 🙂 )

When I looked up this article about facial expressions, a sidebar also caught my eye. It was about blind people and dreaming. Everyone dreams, even though many times we can’t remember what we dreamed. Most of my dreams are in pictures, so what would dreaming be like for someone who has never seen? Interestingly, if a person has lost their sight post approximately age 7, they still dream in pictures. If they lose their sight earlier though, they dream in the way the experience the world, not in pictures but in smells, sounds, touch and spatial awareness of the situation.

This reminded me of the series on Discovery Channel a few years ago about senses. The Human Body – Pushing the Limits, was about the amazing power of our bodies, including the senses. (You can watch some excerpts here) At one point in the first episode, they explore surgery that restores sight to blind people. The person who lost their sight in a car accident at age 19 does very well and seems happy. The person who lost their sight at age 3 though really struggled. It seemed that by losing his sight so early, he hadn’t developed many of the skills involving judging distances and timings that sighted adults have. He found it easier, even after regaining his sight, to use his cane when out and about to judge surfaces, kerbing etc.

In the July OUASSA camp, we are going to be participating in a New Zealand International Science Festival event called “Dining in the Dark”. At this event, we will dine blindfolded in the dark to experience what it is like to be non-sighted. We will also have guest speakers, a blind member of the community to talk about the challenges of living with blindness, and a researcher from Otago who will talk to us about why she teaches in the dark. (see more here)

The idea of dining in the dark is not new, restaurants like Unsicht Bar in Germany have been running for years in the dark. Guests have noted that eating in the dark means they experience their meals in a completely different way, becoming more aware of texture, smells and temperature. “The slices of lamb felt delicious, they smelt even better and the salt grass seemed to spread out before me as I chewed. Each sip of Italian Sauvignon was preceded by what can only be described as a nasal feast of its own.” (from The Independent, you can read the full review here)

The idea of our other senses compensating for a lack of sight has been around for a long time. To actually experience it though is quite amazing. Losing sight, even temporarily, causes us to rely on the rest of our senses for all of our information about the world around us. This experience allows us to reflect on the world that blind people experience every day and discover how amazing our brains are at interpreting information and adapting to circumstances.



Video killed the radio star??

Thursday, April 7th, 2016 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

flatscreenThe other day, looking for a quick video on the Science of Sport to show a Physics class as a little starter, I went to the Veritasium website to look for some inspiration. I found these two videos which I think have been posted before but are definitely worth a re visit for Science Teachers.

This is going to REVOLUTIONIZE education! 

Effectiveness of Science Videos 

Just as an aside, I ended up going with this video: Bungy Jumping What I did was show the video to the students as a starter. They watched, I paused it when you need to select an answer. No one was keen to volunteer their answer to the question so I just un paused the video and let it finish. What they didn’t know was that no answer is actually given in the video! So, when the video was over, they HAD to discuss and work it out and talk with each other because they really really wanted to know the answer. SO we ended up having a great discussion on forces in the fall, what is that rope actually doing, we talked about transfer of energy and all kinds of good stuff. I’m definitely going to check out some of the other little starter videos and try and sneak one in again 🙂



Finding information…

Monday, March 7th, 2016 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

ResearchI was just looking for some materials to help my class become better at researching and found the awesome self help guides from the library.


The library self help website that has TONS of tutorials and videos on how to research and also write reports. It is designed for uni students but I think it is still useful for the last year of high school as well! Particularly I am going to use http://www.otago.ac.nz/library/modules/power_searching/ which is about making effective online searches. And there are a bunch of resources on Google searching on the right hand side.

Also if you click on how do I improve my essay writing and report writing skills on the left hand side there are links to tutorials on essays, scientific reports etc

Happy researching!!


Fabric that really “breathes”…

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

FlapsThis morning, I saw an article that referenced a new type of fabric being developed at MIT. The fabric was impregnated with bacteria so that when the wearer was hot and sweating, the bacteria responded and fabric venting flaps opened. When the wearer was not hot and sweating, the flaps closed. This sounds like such a simple idea but such a great one. Who hasn’t been working out and felt like they were wearing too much or too little to keep themselves at a comfortable temperature. Fabric that responds to your personal needs at any given time sounds great to me! I found the link to the group doing the work at MIT and you can find it here: Biologic Fabric

While you are there though, take a look at Tangible Media Group

It looks like there is some incredibly cool work going on at MIT. I particularly like the responsive table and the kinematic blocks 🙂

1.21 gigawatts? 1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

What all the cool kids are wearing in 2015

What all the cool kids are wearing in 2015, yes, it does look like they drew on their faces with markers…

Happy Back to the Future Day! was the text I received this morning from a friend.

It was waaaay back in (movie time) 1985 when Marty McFly jumped back into the famous DeLorean of Doc’s and headed to October 21, 2015 to help out his future children. The fun of any time travelling movie is the chance to imagine what the future will be like. But now that we are actually here, how accurate was that future?

Love the hats we're all meant to be wearing in 2015.

Love the hats we’re all meant to be wearing in 2015.

Well, we’re not fuelling our cars with the Mr Fusion waste-run generator yet, and no one really uses pay phones or faxes any more…  (Remember the street side fax machines in Back to the Future – send a fax from the street) Perhaps though, the fax machine highlights a glaring absence in the Back to the Future predictions – where are the cell phones? We use our smart phones for so much in 2015 and they were basically absent in Back to the Future where newspapers were still prevalent and the TV was used for video calling.

Back to the Future isn’t the only time the future was a bit odd. Over the school holidays I watched an episode of The Jetsons on a pop up channel for old cartoons. Future predictions there were wild – flying cars, instant hair styles, food in a second and of course the nuclear powered robot dog which inexplicably attacks anyone in a mask because anyone who wears a mask must be a burglar (cue hilarity when the burglar puts his mask on George to escape completely fooling the robot dog). Anyway – the fact is we don’t know what the future holds, and predicting what may or may not come to pass is fun.

Google past predictions of the future and you’ll get quotes like these:

  • “Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires, and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.” – Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865
  • “I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone.” – Darwin (writing in Origin of Species), 1859
  • “Within the next few decades, autos will have folding wings that can be spread when on a straight stretch of road so that the machine can take to the air.” — Eddie Rickenbacker, ‘Popular Science,’ July 1924
  • “Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone.  My answer is, ‘Probably never.’” — David Pogue, The New York Times, 2006

Every year we ask students to write an essay on the role of Science in the 21st Century. Often we have students writing about scientific approaches to what they see as challenges or problems in the world today. Students also often write about technological advances that they see happening now and in the future. I wonder how many of these ideas will actually come to pass? One thing is for certain, it’s definitely fun to wonder what life will be like for our grandchildren or their children.

Let there be light – part II!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments


The photography competition mentioned in the last post (see poster below) has been extended to Wednesday the 8th of July – perhaps something to work on those first few days of the school holiday??

Additionally there are some cool public lectures coming up as part of Luminescence: The Spectrum of Science – a schedule can be found here: Luminescence Lectures

photo comp poster - X


Let there be light!!!

Monday, June 15th, 2015 | EMILY HALL | 1 Comment

Here are a couple of links to some events in honour of 2015, International Year of Light. There is a photo competition and a Year of Light expo suitable for all ages. These are being run by students from the Physics department including OUASSA alumni! Great to see alumni getting into science!!


Soup in a can – a lesson in exothermic reactions.

Monday, April 13th, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

A while ago, a friend gave me this can that she had been given as a novelty prize somewhere somehow.


Anyway, because it was “science-y” she thought I might enjoy it.

I must admit it’s been sitting on the shelf for a wee while. Mostly because every time I look at it and think I should try it out, something else comes along to distract me. Also due to being vegetarian for most of my life, the contents of the can have never really screamed my name. Recently though, I have heard advertisements on the radio for a similar or possibly the same product. I decided to pull out the can and give it a try. I don’t eat meat so I decided to use my carnivorous children as taste testers.




The can itself feels squishier than a regular can, like it is covered in foam under the label. I think the indicators on ours were not working because, as you can see, although the instructions said they would turn from black to green, both indicators were white initially.

Before we started, I went to the hotcan website to find out what was in there to produce the heat (water and calcium oxide) mostly because I wanted to cut the can apart after the experiment and didn’t want any chemical burn surprises

Pushing in the bottom of the can made a popping noise immediately.






Shake it like a polaroid picture. We shook the can the required amount of time and then set it on the bench as specified in the instructions. Almost immediately, the can began to dance on the kitchen bench and steam was billowing out the bottom. (I told the kids to get back because I actually thought it was going to blow, thankfully this stopped fairly quickly)

After waiting the required time and using the ultra scientific method of feeling the can with our hands (broken indicator, remember?) we decided it was done and had a look/taste.

Reviews of the soup were favourable. The temperature was hotter than expected (said the tasters) there were no chunks, just a smooth soup. Taste was what you would expect from tinned soup. The boys did mention that there was less soup in the can than they had expected. The reason for this became clear when we opened up the can.

IMG_2364Inside the can you can see there is a cylinder coming up through the centre of the can – presumably this is so the soup heats from the middle to the outer layer. The foamy consistency of the can is a layer of insulating foam between the label and the can which would help with the soup heating, staying hot, and not burning your mitts off when you hold the can.

When we took the bottom off we saw this:


Slightly hard to see from the image but it is like a bladder of what I assumed was water originally surrounded by a chunky white powder.




I asked the children (12 and 11) as I was writing today (2 days later) what if anything they had learned/remembered from this whole experience.

  • Water and calcium oxide produce heat which is transferred to heat the soup. You have to shake it to make it work better
  • When you burst the water packet, the water seeps into the calcium oxide, they must have measured the water and the calcium oxide so it produces only a certain amount of heat

An interesting and easy little experiment!

I found this Limestone Lesson Plan on the Royal Society of Chemistry website and thought it could be paired with the hot can for a great Chemistry lesson. Look at the Chemistry of Limestone lesson (which includes heating the limestone to make calcium oxide and then testing it with water to see the exothermic reaction) and then apply the knowledge to how the hot can product works.




Chemistry detour…

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments



My next post was going to be on the chemistry behind the hot-can and I am part way through what I think is a neat little experiment/lesson involving this cool (or hot rather) invention. Today though, I was derailed by another Chemistry resource!

I’ve been a fan of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) open courseware for a while and I used snippets of it with classes and the OUASSA tutorials last year. I especially recommend their Highlights for High School where you can pick a topic and subtopic and be directed to a specific resource that may help you. Meaning for example, you don’t have to watch the whole lecture series on Classical Mechanics to help you in your struggles with Projectile Motion, the folks at MIT have pulled the relevant bits out of their screeds of material and collated it all for you. I must admit though to being so focussed on the Physics resources available, I was missing this little gem.

Chemistry Boot Camp is a multi episode show that follows 14 students as they go through a three week intensive lab course at MIT. The show is compelling for two reasons, first, it offers a glimpse into what life is like as a student at MIT and second, there is some really cool Chemistry going on. What I liked most about the show was that instead of just glossing over what the students were doing, there was an effort made to explain the Chemistry behind what they were doing and why.

The episodes are short – only 5 minutes ish in length and not counting the bonus episodes there are 11 in total, I managed to binge watch the entire series in a lunch break. A nice light Science meal to set up your afternoon.



The future of airline travel??

Monday, March 16th, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments


Air travel and the continuous increase of numbers of passengers and planes in the sky has long been cited as one of the contributing factors to global warming. Airplanes fly high in the sky meaning that any greenhouse gases they are producing are immediately sent into the upper layers of the atmosphere, potentially increasing their harmful effects.

Emissions from aircrafts are not only harmful for our planet but also have some in your face side effects that impact us more directly. A report published in the science journal Nature Climate Change forecasts that increasing CO2 levels will result in a significant increase in in-flight turbulence experienced by trans-Atlantic airline flights the middle of the 21st century. A 50% increase in fact. Now that is a very real and scary prospect indeed.

Enter Solar Impulse II – at this very moment, the world’s first ever Earth circumnavigation by a solar plane is taking place. The Solar Impulse II, a fully solar powered aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi on March 9th. Solar Impulse II has the wingspan of a 747 to support the 17,000 solar cells that it uses for energy. Despite this, it weighs only the size of an average car. The plane can fly night or day as, during the day, the solar panels charge rechargeable lithium batteries. Not a single drop of fossil fuel is required.

It is making several stops on its journey around the world and is currently in Ahmedabad, India. You can keep up with the progress of Solar Impulse II here:


This website allows anyone around the world to read updates from the crew, watch live take off and landings and check out where the plane is in real time. In addition, the crew post updates and information about other solar projects happening in the countries that they visit. For example, when I looked today, there was a post about solar wells in India. Another amazing idea!

Of course, at the moment, the Solar Impulse II is one of a kind, and a fair way from being a production ready commercial airliner. The concept though, that we could potentially use solar power to travel in the future, is an exciting one.

The quest for the perfect pop leads to kitchen science…

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments


Popcorn in the pan – first pop!

Popcorn is a great snack – I’m not talking about movie popcorn, yummy as it is, I’m talking about the high fibre, low calorie nutrient fest that is naked popcorn. The easiness of popcorn just amps up the appeal, chuck some kernels in a lightly greased pan on the stove and a delicious hot snack appears in a matter of minutes.

But what is popcorn really? Despite my enthusiasm for popcorn eating, I never thought much about what makes popcorn, well, pop! Enter this news article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/66105879/scientists-unravel-the-secrets-of-popcorn-physics

A quick google search revealed similar interpretations of the same research on many news sites, including this one: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/science/why-popcorn-also-jumps.html which has the video footage from the research showing (mesmerising) slow motion kernels popping one at a time.

I couldn’t let this one go – I looked up the names of the authors of the papers. Super helpfully, one of them has a website and has not only included links to the originally published papers that all these news articles were based on, but added lots more video and content around the popping of popcorn. http://emmanuel-virot.weebly.com/popcorn.html

Another cool thing I learned from all this popcorn reading and watching was that you can pop other grains, not just popcorn. Time for some kitchen science!

I tried popping wild rice, white quinoa, red quinoa and black quinoa – without a doubt, the wild rice and the red quinoa made the best pop (although not as spectacular as popcorn)


Wild Rice before and after


White Quinoa before and after


Red Quinoa before and after








I also couldn’t believe the sound of the popping grains – just like popcorn!  Here is a video of wild rice popping and also at the end I mixed all the quinoa I had leftover and popped it all together. Wild Rice PoppingQuinoa Pop.  Apologies for the poor video quality – it was filmed on my phone 🙂  Finally – the big question – how did they taste???  Well, interestingly quite similar to popcorn really although the wild rice husk made it slightly more unpleasant to eat than the quinoa. I don’t think popped quinoa is going to take the world by storm yet though, it would take an awful lot of quinoa to make a satisfying snack quantity!

How do you spell success??

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Wsuccesshat do you think about when you think about someone is successful – what do they have that separates them from the unsuccessful? Are they talented? Lucky?

Psychologists have determined that success, whether it is sporting, academic or otherwise, is less a matter of luck or talent and more a matter of practise and perseverance. You may even have heard about the concept that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in anything.

In fact, although the 10,000 hour concept continues to be debated, it does have a modicum of truth. The 10,000 hour concept came from a research paper written in the 90s by an American psychologist who was looking at the work of a group of psychologists in Germany. The German psychologists had been looking at violin students and trying to figure out if there was a difference between those students who go on to become successful – professional violinists at the highest levels of their art, and those who remain hobbyists. What they found was that although all the students that they were following had similar amounts of practice time between the ages of 5 and 8, by the time they had reached 20, the successful performers had averaged 10,000 hours of practice each, compared to the average of 4,000 hours of practice in the less able performers.

There’s been some interesting debate including people using themselves as the subject of experiments to determine whether or not 10,000 hours of practice will enable them to become experts in some skill for example playing a sport or learning an instrument.
Regardless of whether or not the 10,000 hour theory is correct, one thing is certain. Success is less a product of natural talent and more the effect of pure hard work.

This last year of high school is an interesting one. There are academic results to aim for, leadership roles in the school, sporting and cultural commitments outside the classroom. In what seems like a heartbeat, the year will be over along with the end of 13 years of formal education. What happens next is entirely in your own hands.

So, before it all starts to become a busy, activity filled blur, take time to think about what you want out of the year. Make yourself some goals and make sure that you are SMART about them. Another resource to look at is the student study resources at the HEDC. Although it is aimed at University students, specifically first year students, there are a lot of useful tools in there that could be helpful to you in this last year of High School. I particularly like the weekly time planner – a template that you can download, print and use to organise all your activities one week at a time. There are also useful tips on time management, learning, studying, researching and other topics that will help you out this year and with further education.

So, get going and get organising – make this last year your most successful yet 


Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

invisibleNumberAt morning tea the other day, our IT wizard mentioned this website which is an amazing collection of mathematical goodness.

You can type in any equation and get it solved with steps here:

Or if you go to the examples, you can pick something you would like to learn about (to study for example hint hint) and have a play with changing up the numbers in the example questions.

There’s even a spot where you can get them to generate problems for you to practise online with feedback – this is not free but you can get a 7 day trial, just in time for exam study.

So sit back, relax and play with Maths this holiday!!!

The blog post… of SCIENCE!!!

Friday, August 1st, 2014 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Bill-Nye-640x350I am outting myself here as a huge nerd from childhood. When I was growing up I used to LOVE watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on TV. I actually think at one stage I even wrote him a fan letter because I wanted to do exactly what he did when I grew up. He made Science look so fun and cool.

Flash forward to the other day when I was watching Epic Rap Battles: Sir Isaac Newton vs Bill Nye and my Year 13 girls actually asked me who is Bill Nye the Science Guy (insert startled look and gasp here). After I recovered from the shock I set about looking for some old episodes and found this:

Bill Nye Archive for Education on YouTube. Full episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy! These are suitable definitely for junior school but my seniors enjoy them as a treat for times like when we are about to start a new topic and I want them to just think about the bigger picture rather than the maths and details.

2013 Alumni: Fight for your right Chapati and come to the Science of Curry dinner so we don’t have Tears on our Pilaus…

Thursday, May 29th, 2014 | EMILY HALL | Comments Off on 2013 Alumni: Fight for your right Chapati and come to the Science of Curry dinner so we don’t have Tears on our Pilaus…

chilliIn July we usually invite last year’s students to come and share an activity with the current group of students. This year we are going to be having a Science of Curry night arranged for us by the NZ International Science Festival happening in Dunedin July 5-13.

Personally, I am a huge fan of curry but I actually never thought about it as Science. What kind of Science could be lurking in all that yumminess?

Well, when I started to think about it, a whole lot. From the very start of the process – like why do onions make you cry? And why are chillis so hot? – to the magical blend of herbs and spices that make up the taste.  And looking further at the ingredients themselves like ginger and garlic – they are supposed to be good for us – why? And I like hot curry but why does it make my mouth burn? What will stop that feeling? The local  curry place always tells me that Mango Lassi or raita will take the burn away – does it really work? Why?

Seems like the humble curry is hiding a whole lot of Science. I’m sure I’ll get my questions, and many more I haven’t thought about yet, answered at the Science of Curry night. Class of 2014 – you are already going. Class of 2013 – shortly you should recieve an email invitation so let me know if you will be coming along to what is sure to be a spicy evening for you brain and your mouth 🙂

Spotted a fin in the water? Maybe it’s the Shark Competition coming your way!!

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 | EMILY HALL | Comments Off on Spotted a fin in the water? Maybe it’s the Shark Competition coming your way!!

sharkSharklab ’14: Why Sharks Matter

What’s happening?

Scientists study many things, from the smallest cell to the farthest galaxies. And somewhere in between is the study of one of our greatest predators – the shark. Many scientists, like marine explorer and Science Festival guest Ryan Johnson, study great white sharks in an effort to understand them better. He also spends a lot of time talking to people and making documentaries about sharks and to teach us how important they are.

We want the next generation of science story tellers: the challenge is to show people why it’s important to learn about sharks, and to tell that story in an exciting and creative new way.

You are in charge, so how you tell the story is up to you.

What’s up for grabs

We’ll get you geared up for more outdoor fun: The winners of each category will take home a brand new GoPro outdoor camera kit valued at $800!

How much time do I have?

The competition runs from April 7th until midnight on June 22nd, 2014.

Now get started!

Cool resource for Physics and Chemistry

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | EMILY HALL | Comments Off on Cool resource for Physics and Chemistry

websiteI ran across this website a couple of years ago but for some reason didn’t use it at all.


On the site is a complete course in Chemistry and a complete course in Physics for high school level in Georgia, USA. They consist of a series of videos, one on each topic listed with note taking guides and study guides. The videos are only about half an hour long and come with a problem set based on the video.

I am going to trial one of these in class today and also show the girls the link in the hopes that they might use the videos at home for their own revision. I was thinking too it might be a good activity for them if I am away so they can still move forward with their learning even when I am not there. We have a set of netbooks they can use and watch the material on their own if the reliever doesn’t have a laptop to show the whole class at once.

I’ve eaten so much fish oil I may grow gills, but I still didn’t ace the Calculus internal…..

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

brain fullProducts to increase or enhance memory are seemingly endless, foods, vitamins, minerals, brain exercises… Seems like a lot of work to make my brain, well, work!!

Sooner than you think fair students, you will be writing the last exams of your high school careers, and as part of that process, you will need to call upon your brain’s extraordinary power and memorise/assimilate the subject related knowledge to get you through those externals!!

Whether you want to believe it or not, one of the tried and true exam techniques is NOT leaving it to the last minute or even last term to study, but starting with regular revision now. This could be especially important for external topics covered at the beginning of the year. If you keep touching them regularly, there won’t be a big amount to try and cram into your head all at the end.

Another technique – teaching! Teaching something to someone else makes you think hard about your own understanding of the topic. If you are struggling with a question, try to explain the problem to a friend who is not studying the subject – this can force your brain to work out a solution and someone with little to no knowledge of the subject can make you reconsider information you had taken for granted. Even just speaking the information out loud and trying to explain concepts in your own words helps.

So start studying now, teach your cat some Physics and get ready to see Excellence at the end of the school year. In the meantime – spend some time checking out the Student Learning Centre. This is an invaluable resource for your first year of University but their study tips and writing tips can help you out in High School as well!! They also have a nice printable study planner that is generic enough you can start using it today!

Student Learning Centre

Happy Birthday Alessandro Volta!

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

VoltaHappy Birthday Alessandro Volta!! Who the heck was he you ask?  Well, the clue is in the name. The unit for electric potential, electric potential difference and emf are all Volts which comes from Volta. Volta made the Voltaic pile which in an improved form is known today as the battery!! Watch this cool movie from some lads at MIT to find out more about how he made this discovery.

Alessandro Volta Video

Once you’ve seen the video, look online for some pictures of the modern battery which, on the inside, all look much the same as the voltaic pile.

Finally, You can make your own voltaic pile at home using some copper/zinc coins alternated with some paper towel soaked in vinegar or lemon juice. You will need to use non NZ coins or old coins though as the current 10 cent piece is copper and steel! Also give the coins a sand to expose the zinc insides to the weak acid. Attaching your pile of 7 or so coins to an LED should bring forth light!! Of course you can always go the other route and get yourself a handy potato clock – same principle!


Fingers and toes can take a rest for another five years…

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

The Christmas story has Mary and Joseph in Bethleham because of a census. The first record of an official census was far earlier than that, in Babylonia in 3800BC.  Many years later, the first census in New Zealand occurred in 1851. For a few years, census was the responsibility of the provincial governments, so who was counted and when varied throughout the country. When the central government was formed in 1877, the census became a more organised affair and our first whole country census on the five year cycle we still follow today was held in 1881.

There have been exceptions to this cycle, as we all know, this 2013 census was meant to be held in 2011 but postponed due to the Christchurch Earthquakes. In fact, there have been two other times when the census was not held as scheduled. The 1931 the census was abandoned because the country was going through the Depression and there had been a reduction in the number of public servants. In 1941 when so many people were involved in World War II, the census was postponed until the end of the war and the 1946 census was thus held in 1945.

That is a lot of counting! Today the census 2013 results have been released. You can see a cool inforgraphic of the results here: New Zealand Census 2013

Census results are deemed so important that the Census Act of 1975 means you can be fined $500 plus $20 per day for every day that you have not filled in your census forms!

Besides being useful to allocate goverment funding and resources though, census also shows us a cool picture of the who we are as a group. If you want to dig further into the results you can do that here at the Statistics New Zealand webpage. Statistics New Zealand also has a facebook page. Be warned though, all the intersting infographics can be a major time drain! 🙂




When one door closes, another opens….

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Or something like that anyway. As you all know, we are rapidly approach the end of the school year, and the end of secondary schooling for the majority of our 2013 intake. Next year our 2013-ers will be off at University, Polytech, gap years, working and more! If you are off to University though, consider this tool for helping you choose a major to focus on. No Major Drama. Yes it is an odd time to be thinking about University but it only takes a few minutes and could be a fun yet useful little exam break (although my top degree path came out as Medicine followed by Dentistry at number 2 and Physics all the way down at number 11!)

Remeber to study hard, make sure to schedule in some breaks, and if you need help, we are only and email/phonecall away 🙂

– Emily


Fight Like a Physicist

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

I have spent much of my spare time of late preparing for a presentation at the New Zealand Institute of Physics biennial conference coming up later this week. The presentation that I am giving is called “Fight Like a Physicist” and will detail a project that I am working on about learning mechanics through karate.

All this karate mechanics made me think. I know that all sports have huge amounts of Physics in them – but have you really stopped to think about what the Physics applications are in your favourite sports. You can start with the Level 1 basics like conservation of Energy and Newton’s Laws of motion and move all the way up through the mechanics curriculum to the level 3 concepts of rotational motion. As well, depending on the sport, there are all kinds of other fun Physics concepts to be unearthed.

So go out and find out what is the Physics behind your favourite sport. I have listed some cool websites to help you search!

The Science Learning Hub: Sporting Edge

The Science Learning Hub: Cycling


And finally some good resources on the Physics of Karate!

KarateChop – Physics– the physics of breaking boards

KinematicsAnalysisofTechniquesHSScience: A program in Italy where a physics teacher and karate teacher work together to provide workshops for students of mechanics.

scientificamerican0479-150: I really like this article not just for its karate content but it is 34 years old and I found the techniques they used to analyse without the equipment we have available currently really cool!!


Monday, August 12th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Just a reminder that we are going to try and start tutorial sessions this week with Chemistry on Wednesday from 6-7 and Physics on Thursday from 6-7. The tutorials will be recorded and made available off line for those who want to access them that way. Biology will start next week, Friday the 23 of August from 6-7pm. Maths is TBD at this stage.


To get to the rooms go to:

Chemistry: https://connect.otago.ac.nz/r6czkmanvpc

Physics: https://connect.otago.ac.nz/r93679027

Biology: https://connect.otago.ac.nz/r63671294


Remember, I sent out the getting started with OtagoConnect info sheet last week, let me know (ouassa@otago.ac.nz) if you have any problems.

Biology resource from OUASSA teacher PD!

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Thanks again to Susan Yardley for her engaging presentation about her Endeavour Scholarship work last night. If you missed the presentation, you can find it here: https://connect.otago.ac.nz/p8ffdabve7k/

Also if you would like to check out the resource she developed, you can find it here: http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/resources/identification/plants/styx-mill-biodiversity


Project Synthesis time once again…

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments



Synthesis of Project A View Discussions



You are each to make to a New Note that pulls together the knowledge you have gained from the knowledge building discussion on your Project A View (Maths, Physics. Geography or Zoology).

We have added a new set of scaffolds entitled ‘My Synthesis’ to help you do this. Use these scaffolds to help you synthesise what you have learned from your Project A discussion and to highlight the most important ideas, posts and links that were raised.

Post your synthesis as a New Note titled `My Synthesis’ within your Project view.

 This task should take you no more than 30 minutes.

Date Due:  Friday 31 May, 2013

Every synthesis post goes in the draw for one of 5 iTunes or Warehouse vouchers.


What does a Scientist look like??

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Do a google image search for Scientist and you get a lot of images that look like this guy in the picture. Although I was somewhat heartnened to see that some were women, by far the vast majority were men and most were white. Somewhat foolishly, I then google image searched Physicist and it was white males as far as the eye could see. I’m not sure why I didn’t see that one coming.

The first day of class in my Year 12 Physics class every year, I always get the students to draw a Physicist. Because I am in a girls’ school and 3/4 of the Science department are female, you’d expect to see lots of women in the mix, but year after year I get pictures like the one on the left. We then go through the exercise of talking about Physicists who are not stereotypical in an attempt to get them to see that Physicists are real people and that anyone, including them, can be one.

I recently ran across this http://lookslikescience.tumblr.com/ and had to share it. Allie Wilkinson, an American journalist, solicits pictures and short bios from anyone doing Science who wants to submit. The result is a collection of people of all ages, ethnicities and genders doing Science but also dancing, skating, running, being human.

Definitely going to show this one to my classes and hopefully it will help them see Science not as some unreachable thing but something that is accessible to people just like them.

Fun Friday Films!!

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

The school holidays are upon us and while you students are busy with work, fun and hopefully some study, I’m sure there’ll be times when you think to yourself “boy, I could sure do with a serving of Science right now!”. Well you are in luck because someone recently suggested one of these 3 minute films to me and I found myself watching more and more of them. And for teachers, I showed a couple to my class yesterday at the end of the period and they really enjoyed it. They are interesting little snippets that can serve as a good starting point for discussion and only 3 minutes long so not a huge investment of time.
http://focusforwardfilms.com/ is the website
This one http://focusforwardfilms.com/films/78/you-don-t-know-jack appealed to the students as it is about a 14 year old boy who makes a breakthrough in cancer testing.
My 10 year old son was particularly fascinated with this one: http://focusforwardfilms.com/films/30/solar-roadways where they talk about a new way to “pave” the road with solar cells!

Anyway I’ve managed to watch maybe 1/2 dozen of the films on here and haven’t yet found one that I didn’t think was cool on some level.

Another film site that I’ve been sent at least 3 times in the last little while is one by astronaut Chris Hadfield on the ISS.
He has videos on all kinds of things from making a sandwich in space, to sleeping in space, toothbrushing in space to wringing out a washcloth in space!! Again cool Science of everyday objects and good starting point for discussion! I really hate flying but Chris Hadfield makes me want to be an astronaut it looks like the most amazing “job” ever!!

Have a happy safe holiday to all the students and teachers!!

Grab a steaming cup of 1,3,7-Trimethyl-3,7-dihydro-1H-purine-2,6-dione…

Friday, April 12th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

So this week I went looking for some cool chemistry resources. I stumbled into the Royal Society Chemistry page and found a couple of things I thought were really cool!

First – Feb 2016 marks 175 years of the Society and one of the things they are doing is a 175 faces of Chemistry. Little bios of Chemists and their lives. They reminded me a little of the Applications books where they use a real life example of someone doing something cool to explain some Science and I thought maybe they could be useful to get kids thinking about the relevance of Chemistry to them. The one I thought was super cool was a high school Chemistry teacher turned Fireworks guru – insert explosive learning puns here! Anyway – check them out: http://www.rsc.org/Membership/175-faces-of-chemistry/

Also on the website, they have resources for teachers, I took a quick stroll through those and I am going to use the one about the 100m race and acid/base chem in my Year 10 class next term. They are nice because they are ready to go ppt and notes with worksheet etc but also I was thinking with the 100m one it is loose enough we can add in some things as we go. All their resources are here: http://www.rsc.org/learn-chemistry/resource/listing?searchtext=&fcategory=all&filter=all&Audience=AUD00000001&displayname=teachers

And finally, the part of the site that dragged me furthest away from any useful work and perhaps proved to myself yet again what a massive nerd I am was the ChemSpider. This is the neatest little tool – you type in the name of a chemical (it was almost morning tea time so I started with caffiene) and it gives you the name, formula, 2d and 3d pictures as well as links to papers written about your substance of choice and all kinds of other useful information. Very easy to spend a lot of time in here exploring chemicals around us!! Fall down that particular rabbit hole here: http://www.chemspider.com/

And that is all from me for now, I have to get back to chemspider!!!


Phun Physics Phriday resource…

Friday, April 5th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Quickie post to share this resource from IOP. Every day this term I have been writing on the whiteboard in my classroom a “Tody in Physics” that I found from the IOP website. (http://www.iop.org/resources/day/index.html) The students enjoy seeing what has happened “on this day” and the couple of times I haven’t gotten around to updating it they complain!! We’ve also had some good discussion come from them asking questions about what exactly the discovery means or who that person is or why would anyone want to know that? 🙂

If you have some time – make sure you take a look at the rest of the IOP website – there is a lot of good stuff there about teaching/promoting Physics.

Hope the short week was good to you!


For 2013 Academy Students – where we’re going with KF

Friday, March 1st, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Well done for the contributions you have made to our start-up activity in Knowledge Forum on three global problems.  Many of you are doing a great job structuring well written posts which have created discussion and further questioning amongst your peers. Many of you are also trying hard to use the PQP approach and you will soon begin to see that this method of structuring answers is a useful tool to master, not just in Knowledge Forum. Remember that when proposing something that builds on the post you should provide evidence that supports your proposition. This can be a link supporting information, a news item, magazine article, video clip or another post.

To date you have been building knowledge on 3 global problems. Shortly we will move our focus closer to home – to your Project subjects. First, however we would like you to pull together what you have learned in each of these global views by posting a`Synthesis View’ as outlined below:

         `My     Synthesis’ of Global Problem View Discussions 2013

Task: You are each to make to a New Note (titled `My Synthesis’) that pulls together the knowledge you have gained from our knowledge building community discussion on at least one the three Global Problem Views:

  • Climate Change: Let the Science Speak!
  • 21st Century Energy & Food Demands
  • Global Wealth & 21st Century Science

We have added a new set of scaffolds entitled ‘My Synthesis’ to help you do this. Use some or all these scaffolds to help you.

In your synthesis we’d like you to outline:

  • What you have learned from these discussions
  • Highlight the most important idea(s) developed in this community
  • How the knowledge building discussion has impacted on your understanding of the topic of study.   

Post your synthesis as a New Note titled `My Synthesis’ within the relevant `View’

This task should take you no more than 30 minutes.

Date Due:  March 10th

Every `synthesis’ posted goes in draw for 1 of 5 I-Tunes/Warehouse vouchers!

1. Time frame 

  • Global Views Synthesis:        25th February –10th March
  • New Project A Views:            March 11th to April 19th
  • Project A Views Synthesis:   April 20th – May 5th 

The three Global views will remain open for the rest of the year so feel free to contribute any good ideas, resources, thoughts at any time. However, from March 11th we would like you to focus primarily on your Project A views (Maths, Physics, Geography or Zoology).  We will shortly post a starting view for each of these project groups with the help of your project leaders. These you will individually be building on, the same way as you have been doing with the Global problem views. You are free to contribute to any of the project views. You will then have two weeks to you synthesize and consolidate the ideas and knowledge you have taken from community’s contributions.

We will then move onto your Project B group (Biochemistry/Genetics, Chemistry, Computer Science or Marine Science) and repeat the exercise with four views on these projects. The synthesis and consolidation phase for these projects will take place in the lead up to the Winter Science camp in July.

2.  Commitment/expectations

As outlined in the January camp as part of OUASSA 2013 we expect you to be contributing to Knowledge Forum on a weekly to fortnightly basis. At least one post per week would be brilliant! Emily and I check Knowledge Forum very regularly and read your posts. Occaisionally we will post ourselves. However, our role is to guide the discussion and sometimes present useful links – not to provide `answers. You are the `knowledge builders’!

3.  Trouble shooting

The login page for knowledge forum is at http://knowledgeforum1.otago.ac.nz/login
Remember to use the ‘Enhanced’ version of the software where possible and to select ‘OUASSA-2013’ from the Database drop-down box

If you are having any problems logging into Knowledge Forum, remembering your user name or password, or have any general questions, please contact us right away:
Email: ouassa@otago.ac.nz  Ph: 03 3793496 steve.broni@otago.ac.nz Ph: 03 4799204
Also, please don’t forget to be checking the OUASSA Resource Page for useful resources: https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/ouassa/
We try to add to this page regularly with at least one useful link/resource.  Please feel free to send me any useful links that you would recommend or you can post them yourselves on comments box.

Anything else we can help you with?  Email us… we are here to support and help you reach your full science potential.

Kind regards – The OUASSA Team
Steve Broni (Director)
Emily Hall    (Science Teaching Co-ordinator)


Friday – Fall Further down the rabbit hole…

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

I ran across these little Physics related videos the other day. Each one is only about a minute long so a nice little break. They are also aimed at presenting ideas rather than answering questions so could be a good way to stimulate a discussion or a starting point for more research. Cute and accessible for many year levels. Access the videos here.

Have an explore of the site while you are there – they have some other resources online mostly related to quantum physics. I also liked this one which explains some “big ideas” in an accessible way.

Have a great weekend!


I had to get up anyway…

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | 1 Comment

This morning my lovely 11 year old nieces woke me up from a dead slumber with a 5am facetime request. I can forgive them because they live in Canada and don’t really have a handle on time differences. Of course their first question was “why is it so dark?” since for them it was 10am and daylight…

Anyway – I have been thinking about sleep lately because the latest issue of New Scientist covers the issue of sleep in depth. Recommended reading if you can get your hands on it. While thinking about sleep I also spent some time here warning though there are so many interesting interactive things to play with you could end up spending more time than you planned!

Finally nothing to do with sleep but I recently received an email with a link to the Quantum World song from this website. I watched a couple of the other ones and thought they were pretty neat. The planets one is good, and not just because Neil de Grasse Tyson is wearing a super funky tie in it. I have put the link to the Climate Change one on Knowledge Forum under the Climate Change question. They’re all worth a look though if you have a spare few minutes – maybe some soothing science music if you’re having trouble sleeping?

Antikythera – science in action in ancient Greece

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Well, January camp is officially over and what a time we had! Much Science was done, friends were made and we all had a great time. Also have to give a huge shout out to our green shirt team who kept camp running smoothly and campers in line and on time! Students need to remember to check into Knowledge Forum at least once a week and post your thoughts on the questions. If you have any questions or have trouble with Knowledge Forum then let me know ouassa@otago.ac.nz.
On another note I was watching a documentary on the History Channel last night about the world’s oldest computer. This is amazing – a piece of technology that dates back to 1BC that was used to count through lunar and solar years and predict both lunar and solar eclipses. The amount of mechanism, thought and observation that must have gone into this is incredible – and it was done in 1BC!!! The ability of the ancient Greeks to calculate precisely how many teeth to cut into the gear wheels and how to fit them together still amazes me. It makes me wonder , if they could create that with the limited amount of technology they had available to them, what kinds of amazing things will we be able to do in the future?

If you want to read more about the actual device, you can go to this website. I also found a youtube movie of an engineer who worked up a model of the device in his spare time using tools and parts that would have been available to the ancient Greeks watch it here.

That is not the end of the story though – the device was found over 100 years ago but although some analysis could be done, scientists were left to guess about what it was actually for. It has only been very recently that we have had the technology to enable an in depth analysis to be carried out. A special X-ray analysis machine was actually built specifically for the purpose of trying to see the device’s internal structure. Techniques for photographing and analysing paintings were used to finally allow detailed observation of writing on the surface of the instrument.

This whole story gives us a wonderful example of the discovery, investigation and observation at the heart of any science. Also, it illustrates the evolution of science as we go from educated guesses 100 years ago of what was almost a black box, to detailed 3d images of the interior of device today. Many scientists worked on the project, making predictions, testing, retesting, and fine tuning their ideas based on evidence. One scientist in the documentary talked about a colossal mistake he had made early on in the project which meant he had to go back and re think and re test his original predictions in light of observation not fitting with his original ideas.

As you head back to school this week and next remember your time at OUASSA and what you have learned but the most important things to remember are to be curious, ask questions, observe and experiment with the world around you. Work hard and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Yes, you may not succeed in everything you try but often our best lessons are learned when we look back at our failures.

Look forward to seeing you all on KF soon!

Camp time is almost here, 2013 OUASSA Intake!!

Monday, January 7th, 2013 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Happy New Year! January camp is almost upon us and the preparations are in full swing! In the meantime, some New Year’s frivolity to ponder…
Did your New Year’s celebrations involve dancing around a tree to ensure luck in love? stocking up on supplies so as to ensure a year without poverty? wearing brand new clothes for wealth? did you open your doors at midnight to let the old year out? Or did a tall dark haired man come first footing with coal to ensure you had a good year?
Superstitions are rife around holiday times and often seem simple, harmless fun as we follow along in the ritual without really thinking about where they came from. But reading about the above and other New Year’s traditions to ensure luck and prosperity for the New Year got me thinking – where did these superstitions come from in the first place?
There was a time in human history where belief in magic and the occult was considered just good common sense. With the ideas of scientists such as Newton and Galileo offering alternative explanations to commonly observed phenomenon, our idea of what is common sense and rational began to change.
Many of us do hold strong to superstition though and I think this may be partly because we are unaware of or forget the saying drummed into many an aspiring Scientist “correlation does not imply causation”. For example, just because the last three times I killed a spider it rained doesn’t mean that every time I kill a spider it’s going to rain. The two things are correlated in my tiny experiment but there are way more factors to consider than just my spider killing and the rain falling. (For the record, I tend to have more of a catch and release policy towards spiders in real life 🙂 )
As the countdown begins and our new OUASSA 2013 students and teachers get ready to come see us (in just two weeks !) stay safe and healthy but also remain curious and observant of the world around you.

Food for thought – exam time youtube breaks

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

Exam time is upon us! The stress, the pressure, the extreme studying. Sometimes you just need a break, man. So here are some cool youtube links for you. These will give you a short guilt free break from study as you can be entertained but also absorb or review some Science in the process. Enjoy!

A while ago, a link was posted on the blog to the cool minute physics youtube channel. I am mentioning it again in case anyone has forgotten. The content is updated regularly and is worth a look. Especially in these time pressurised pre exam times, a little minute physics snack is a nice break from study. You can get to the minute physics youtube channel by clicking here.

Another longer, but no less cool youtube channel if you want to learn about Science is this one here, called the SciShow. Not just Physics but we’ll forgive them for that. I first ran across this when one of my students came in raving about water bears, since then I’ve popped on here and watched other tidbits. If minute physics is a snack, then these weighing in at 3 – 5 minutes each we will call a light lunch.

Finally, if you’re looking for something longer, say a 3 course meal of a science video, you could do worse than have a gander here. I used a clip from one of this BBC Horizon series in the tutorial that we did on waves and interference looking at Young’s double slit experiment and how observation changes experimental results. The wave particle duality and uncertainty. I haven’t had the time to watch all these but I have watched bits and it is a good solid Science series.

Hope you are all studying hard, eating well and scheduling time to rest and relax!


Secret Messages and a Side Track down Equation Lane

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

I was reading an issue of New Scientist at the airport the other day and there was quite a cool article in it about quantum entanglement and a possible link to cryptography. You can read the whole article here, if you would like. I was going to write a blog post on that and include another article I found today that is relevant to the topic (click here to see it)
I got side tracked on the New Scientist website watching this short video – its a pretty cool little three minute study break if you’re looking for something short to watch.
New Scientist Equation Video
So good luck with exam study, make sure you rest, eat well and exercise as well as study and we can think about quantum entanglement another time!
PS – Just had to put in a plug for Otago University Physics Department. My Year 13 Physics class went on a tour on Monday of the University labs. We had a really interesting talk about temperature and what it all means followed by a tour of the laser lab where they were cooling things down into the single digit Kelvin scale. We then got to experience the relative heat of the cold labs where the temperature is down to the negative Celsius scale. We looked at super cool liquids and some properties of ice as well as hearing about all kinds of research going on at Otago. All in all a really cool trip so if you get the opportunity to go have a look I would highly recommend it.

Why don’t parts of standing waves form in open pipes?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

At school today we were looking at the different harmonics and how they set up in strings, open and closed pipes. One of the students asked a cool question. He could see the closed pipe and string examples where there was “something” at the end of the length to reflect the wave, but didn’t understand why the waves would set up in the open pipe since it was open at both ends. Why didn’t the wave “fall out” the ends of the pipe? Or set up only partly in the tube and partly in the air or whatever medium was outside? Well, the answer is to do with the fact that although in the Year 13 book we are using at my school, and in most texts, the wave is represented as transverse, it is actually a longitudinal wave. This means that it is compressing and rarefacting in the pipe. The pressure at the ends of the pipe come in to play because the wave is setting up between these two areas of pressure which kind of act like the ends of the string. This is a pretty easy to read explanation of what is going on here. Also there’s a whole course of Physics lectures from MIT on waves online here. video 9 is where he goes into fundementals, harmonics and relates it to musical instruments.

Quick Introduction…

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 | EMILY HALL | No Comments


Just a quick post to introduce myself – I am Emily, here to (hopefully) help you out with the phantasical world of Physics (see what I did there?) I’m a full time teacher of Physics at Queen’s High in Dunedin. I also have a karate group at Queen’s where I can force introduce students to my other passion which is karate. In addition, I’m working on a Master of Science Communication degree in teaching Physics through…….. wait for it……… KARATE! (bet no one saw that coming). In my spare time I run around after my two little boys who luckily for me love karate and Science. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in person in July and virtually before then.

Over and out