Project aims:

We aimed to engage local families in thinking about how the physics of making measurements underlies an event such as the Olympics – engaging them with questions such as ‘how do we measure different quantities?’, ‘how accurate is it possible to make these measurement?’, ‘what do we mean by accurate?’, ‘how repeatable is this measurement?’, ‘how close do you have to be before results should be declared a draw?’.

This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant.


1) 800+ people have taken part in at least one of the activities

2) >90% state in the exit poll that they have learnt ‘quite a bit’ or more and 3) >50% state that they have learnt ‘a lot’

3) >90% state in the exit poll that they enjoyed the activities ‘quite a bit’ or more and >50% state that they enjoyed them ‘a lot’

4) The resources produced for the event become a legacy that is re-used by other schools in the locality

5) School staff they perceive that the event has improved children’s ability to communicate measurement-related concepts using appropriate language and images

Summary of activity:

In order to pull in as many families as possible who might not normally attend an event presented purely as a science fair, this event was combined with an arena showcasing children involved in basketball, gymnastics, table tennis and karate and with opportunities for children to test themselves against 15 world records in everything from crab walking to balancing spoons on their faces. The world record activities all also included simple measurements – for example timing and counting – and children were encouraged to discuss the ‘rules’ needed in order to define a record.

Specific measurement technology activities were as follows:

Standing long jump – measured and compared both as raw measurements and standardised relative to body length. Results were compared both to other participants and to various animal record holders.

Balance boards with automatic timing were created. Participants were encouraged to think about the issue of precision vs resolution in the light of the fact that the timing software only scanned every 10ms.

Who is the strongest? – Participants competed to hold their arms out straight against the pull of an exercise elastic (and were encouraged to think about how to make this a fair test for taller and shorter people). Participants also measured their grip strength using hand grip dynamometers and were encouraged to think about the shortcomings of the design used and how it might be improved.

Measuring challenge 2m – Participants measured outwards from a central circle using various techniques (hands, tape measures, meter rules, ultrasonic device) and deposited a colour coded counter at what they thought was the 2m point. The pattern of counters was used to stimulate discussion of the meaning of ‘accuracy’ and ‘precision’.

Measuring challenge 50m – Participants measured 50m from a starting line using various techniques (paces meter rules, surveyor’s wheels) and deposited a colour coded counter at what they thought was the 50m point. The pattern of counters was used to stimulate discussion of the meaning of ‘accuracy’ and ‘precision’.

Measuring challenge ‘tiny’ – Participants worked in pairs to measure a number of small test pieces using tape measures, rulers and vernier gauges. Each member of the pair wrote down their results independently and partners with matching results were offered reward stickers. This was used to initiate a discussion about how repeatable a measurement is.

Home advantage – An orienteering grid course was set up and timed electronically using equipment loaned by our local orienteering club. Participants were encouraged to do the course twice and compare their first and second times. They were then encouraged to think about how home advantage might affect results in a variety of sports.

Do you have to be so loud? – Participants were given the opportunity to use appropriate measuring equipment to find out how loudly they could shout (decibel meter), what their sound waves looked like (oscilloscope) and what the world sounds like to a bat (frequency shift bat detector)

GPS tracking – Participants took a GPS tracking device for a walk round the school grounds and then displayed their route on a map and observed the fluctuations resulting from the 10m accuracy of the device. A demonstration of how GPS positioning works was also offered (using strings to represent signal paths from satellites).

The need for speed 3 – Participants took it in turn to drive radio controlled cars round an automatically timed loop and to time the loop using a stop watch. Differences in recorded times were calculated and the spread of results discussed / displayed on a chart.

Make your own sand timer – Participants made their own timers using cassette cases, plasticine and salt and then challenged each other to estimate how long the timers would take to run.

Make your own pendulum – Participants made their own pendulum out of plasticine and string and competed to time 30 seconds as accurately as possible.
The need for speed 2 – Participants used a speed gun to measure their running speed a number of times and discussed the ‘outlier’ measurements caused when the speed gun picked up arm or leg movements rather than overall running speed.

Have your beanbag throw measured professionally – A local surveying firm very kindly provided equipment and expertise to measure children’s bean bag throws using the same type of laser measuring equipment that they will see in use for measuring javelin throws at the Olympics.

Evaluation approach:


Exit poll ‘how much did you learn from this event?’

Exit poll ‘how much did you enjoy this event?’

School's own monitoring of attendance by 'hard to reach' families

Feedback from staff

What went well:

1) The technical review of the materials provided by Dr Andrew Melbourne at UCL both improved the activities and gave immense confidence to all involved in the correctness of the science and the associated language.

2) The fact that the activities started in school time meant that all children took part in the enrichment activities regardless of parental involvement after school.

3) The teaching staff at Manor Field were all hugely supportive, with every one of them volunteering to support the community part of the event; meaning that their expertise in interpreting ideas at an appropriate level for the age of the child was available to help families get the most out of the activities.

4) High levels of enjoyment and learning reported by participants

5) Staff felt the event made a difference to children’s understanding of measurement concepts

6) New links made to local surveying company

7) The legacy of equipment for use at Manor Field and other locality schools

What was learned:

1) We underestimated the time and effort involved in getting through the Olympic marketing department bureaucracy for a decision on whether or not use of the proposed ‘faster, higher, stronger’ title was acceptable. Next time we would avoid anything that might even remotely infringe on anyone else’s intellectual property!

2) We felt the turnout at the ‘starting straight after school’ evening part of the event was disappointing compared to previous weekend events and will need to look again at the right balance between in-school activities to ensure no child misses out and evening/weekend activities presented as a separate event.

3) The headcount and feedback gathering could really have done with more volunteers but we were hit by a lack of school governor availability resulting from the fact that many who would normally have helped had already been in school for two full days earlier in the week interviewing for a new head teacher.

4) There were a couple of the activities where we had given insufficient thought in advance to making them accessible to the youngest children (for example, had we thought about it in advance, it would have been easy to give a choice of ‘whole number’ or ‘decimals’ timing on the balance boards)

Top tips and advice for others

1) Go for it! We felt our event outcomes were really worthwhile.

2) Our successes and learning points can be seen in the section above.

3) We would be very happy to supply copies of the materials for each activity to any other organisers who would find them useful

About this project


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Project type:

Started (approximately):

29th June 2012

Ended: (approximately)

29th June 2012

Tags for this project:

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About the contributor

Karen Ashworth
Manor Field Primay School

We aim to provide high quality enrichment activities that are accessible to all children regardless of family income levels. We have previously organised an astronomy science fair to celebrate Inter…

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