Messy Science

Project aims:

To provide a fun and age appropriate event to entertain and educate foundation, KS1 and KS2 children with their families.


1. To provide the chance for children to experience hands on and messy experiments safely.

2. To encourage children and their families to work together at the experiments and the crafts and to learn together.

3. To open up the University and its staff and students to local families with young children.

4. To provide our PhD students and early career researchers with an opportunity to develop communication skills to a very different audience to their usual (ie their peers and older school pupils). They will be expected to use age appropriate language to explain experiments to their table and for this a brief sheet will be produced and a training session held.

Summary of activity:

Messy Science was a hands-on activity run as one of a series of events by the University of Bolton which formed part of Manchester Science Festival 2011. It took place over two sessions: in the morning, activities were geared to Foundation and Key Stage 1 children from 10am – 12 noon; in the afternoon, activities were geared towards Key Stage 2 children from 2pm – 4pm. . On arrival, the children were checked in and then could spend the first hour moving as they wished between activities. The following activities were available:
a) The invisible glass
b) Gloop (cornflour and water)
c) Erupting fizz
d) Bubble race
e) Volcano
f) Magic toothpicks
g) Animal footprints
Activities a-f were run by IMRI with activity g being provided by the University Biology subject group. Each of the activities had been developed during the project, with the help of 2 Year 10 Work Experience students, a Nuffield Foundation Year 12 Summer Science bursary student and guidance from the IOP who funded this through the Public Engagement Grant Scheme. Also available were 3 crafts – spinning rainbows, decorating digestive biscuits to create the periodic table and creating pictures from a nature table – and a pedometer challenge. For younger children and as a break from activities, a quiet corner was available, with science books, Megablocks and colouring sheets based on Fifi and the Flowertots.
After the children had spent about an hour on activities and crafts, they were gathered together for the singing. Songs had been found on YouTube and they were played along with the words being displayed on large screens. The singing was led by two Year 7 children who encouraged joining in and dancing. For both sessions, the songs used had familiar tunes to help with the joining in. They were The Heating Song (based on The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars), RECYCLE (based on Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT), Planets Round a Star (based on Written in the Stars by Tinie Tempah) and Messy Science (specially adapted for the sessions by one of the Year 7 children and based on Price Tag by Jesse J).
The children were then given juice and biscuits and picked up their craft items. A display of Mentoes being dropped into lemonade and cherryade was provided.

Evaluation approach:

Two basic methods were used to evaluate the project. Manchester Science Festival provides an observation sheet, which was completed and we also developed a wall chart based on the IOP children’s questionnaire. Looking firstly at the observation sheets, these allowed us to record the type of visitor and the overall atmosphere of the event, so we could see if we had reached our target audience. The second method of evaluation was based on the IOP questionnaire for children. We produced wall charts which allowed the children to rate each activity by ticking a smiley face, an angry face and a “not bothered” face to signify if they liked, disliked or were neutral about the activities.

What went well:

1. We achieved our aims of attracting children and their families to the event. We had originally planned to host 50 children at each session, and were fully booked prior to the event.

2. Children engaged with all the experiments and the crafts to the extent that we received requests for the instruction sheets, which we emailed out to people. Feedback has been excellent, to the University and also to the Festival organisers.

3. We were delighted to welcome back for the day the two Year 10 (now Year 11) students and our Nuffield summer student (now in Year 13) who had contributed so much to the activity and they helped us to deliver the activities on the day.

4. Our undergraduate, PhD and young post doctoral researchers helped by welcoming the families, running the activities and discussing the event with families afterwards. They made a huge contribution and all enjoyed a new audience to communicate their enthusiasm for science with.

What was learned:

1. The event ran very smoothly and we believe this is due to the planning, in part initiated by the preliminary report requested by the IOP at time of funding. The training day was an excellent idea as was the creation of instruction sheets detailing how to run the experiments and describing the science behind them.

2. We had chosen songs for the singing part of the event based mainly on recent chart hits. This worked very well with the older children who were familiar with the tunes and were able to read the new lyrics on the large screens. They joined in straight away. We would in future look for simpler songs for the younger children. Both sessions joined in with “Planets Round a Star” and with “Messy Science”, as they had easily identifiable choruses.

3. The timing of 1 hour for the crafts and experiments was just about right, meaning that the children could experience all the activities they were interested in. Allowing the children to move freely between activities was also a success. We had been concerned that this might lead to some tables not being visited and to others being swamped, meaning less forceful children could not engage in the activities. This did not happen - all tables were busy and the juice and biscuits allowed time for some finishing off and quick demonstrations if required.

Top tips and advice for others

1.Plan thoroughly

2. Trial all activities.

3. Train the demonstrators

4. Enjoy the event!

About this project



Project type:


Started (approximately):

26th Octobr 2011

Ended: (approximately)

26th October 2011 but it will run again!

Tags for this project:

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About the contributor

Kim Alderson
The University of Bolton

I work as a Professor in the Institute of Materials Research and Innovation at the University of Bolton, where my main area of research is in auxetic materials (materials which have a negative Poisson…

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