It’s been a pretty cool few days

After a number of months  of trying (off and on, mind), I finally managed to get the url for the blog changed to
Thanks to my colleagues at St. Columba’s College English department for the idea.

After putting in quite a bit of work into Young Scientist Projects for the first time this year, we have had four out of the eight submitted accepted for presentation next January. Busy times ahead. They’re almost all in Second Year, and when we spend time on it in class, those not preparing for the Young Scientist Exhibition will be preparing for the Scifest equivalent next May.

Then I got a phonecall on Saturday from Aoife O’Donoghue, who is the Tyndall Outreach Officer, to inform me that one of my leaving cert students won first prize in the senior category of Science Snaps, their Science Photography competition (Shhh . . . Shane doesn’t know yet).
Not that I that anything to do with it mind; I tried to promote an internal Science-Photo competition at the beginning of the year and had the grand total of three entries. So at least this should help in promoting it if it runs again next year. And Mary Mulvihill over at Science@Culture might even be impressed with the quality of the entries.

And then I came across this on Youtube, and I don’t know why but I cried. My wife thinks it might have been the beautiful music in the background.


Ideas for Young Scientist competition

I put together a list of (124) possible Young Scientist projects for my second-year class. Most of them are taken from previous years and hopefully it will give them some ideas. 

Closing date is October so you need to get cracking. You don’t need to have the project finished by then, but you will need to have a one-page description ready to send off. Remember only about half of the applications are accepted for presentation.
The good news is that we will be concentrating on this over the next two weeks, so no boring science textbooks.

I pushed this with fourth years before but got nothing but frustration for my troubles. So this year I was going to concentrate on second-years, but some of my fourth-years have actually come up with some very interesting ideas.  Hold this page.

The list of projects is here.

The Young Scientist homepage with rules is here.

Now get cracking!

Some of my science class investigating the action of saliva by trying to eat three crackers in under a minute – is there a science project here?

Congratulations Scifest winners!!!


I mentioned that I was trying to promote Scifest as a means of getting students to do real science as opposed to the learning by rote and following cookbook recipe-type so-called experiments. So after promoting it among second, fourth and fifth years, I ended up with about eight groups, of which seven pulled out when they realised the presentation was going to be held on a non-school day.

Which left us with ‘The Power of Poo’, a second-year entry from two girls; Georgina Gilsenan and Philippa Tuthill. This highly original project involved inserting a couple of radiators into the middle of a dung-heap, pumping water through the pipes, and noting the rise in temperature. The results obtained may not turn the planet off its axis, but there was a serious amount of science involved in controlling variables. They even tried two different dung-heaps; cow and horse!

And it won!
In three categories!
Best Junior Project.
Best overall Physics Project.
Runner-up in Best overall Project.

Unfortuantely I had to leave early in the afternoon and so wasn’t there for the prize-giving ceremony, and so don’t have any photos of the girls receiving their prizes, but if I talk nicely to their parents they might lend me some to put up here.

The irony is that after prodding and poking each of the other groups all along the way, only for them all to pull out, this was the one project which I had almost nothing to do with apart from submitting the entry.  There really shouldn’t be any teacher’s name associated with it – it really was all there own work.

Not that it will stop me shamelessy exploiting the publicity in school as a means of promoting the project again next year, with hopefully a little more commitment.

Laptops from €249

This form Dell

Laptop Computer

From €249 plus delivery.

I don’t know the specs but I reckon they would be ideal for working with dataloggers in Science projects like Scifest and Young Scientist, and I can’t imagine they are more expensive than the alternative mobile dataloggers; LabQuest and Xplorer GLX

You would still have to use their software and sensors, but still . . .??

Nice project for Scifest

Here’s another nice idea for generating electricity; ideal for Scifest or Young Scientist project if only to investigate its feasability.

The students’ test case . . . was a prototype stool that exploits the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of the body on the seat causes a flywheel to spin, which powers a dynamo that, in turn, lights four LEDs.

“People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly,” recalls Graham.

The Crowd Farm is not intended for home use. According to Graham and Jusczyk, a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second. But get a crowd in motion, multiply that single step by 28,527 steps, for example, and the result is enough energy to power a moving train for one second. “


Students’ blogs

I was talking recently about setting up a group blog for students doing Scifest 2008.

John Hegarty suggested Google Groups might be a good way to go, and also mentioned that Tom Kendall gives talks on blogging in schools and he suggests the following site as a platform to work on

Tom has set up two of these in his own school: and

Mags Amond however has suggested another alternative, which she mentioned on the DICTAT forum

“Also, nearer home, TeachNet / Digital Hub people are piloting a space for Irish Second Level students called Project Blogger (building with WordPress). The TY science students in 15 schools are being introduced to it over these few weeks, so Blogs being what they are there hopefully should be something to see very soon.”

All of these are involved with CESI, which is holding its conference on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th February, so maybe I’ll delay things a little and hopefully talk to them there.

Links for Scifest Project

Hello Philippa and Georgina and Jo Jo and Sarah and to others who I can’t remember.

The following are the links I said I would post which are related to your projects:

Charging while walking:
It’s worthwhile looking at how this motion produces electricity:

This one involves usual solar power

Potato battery
All you need for this one is 500 lb of potato

Not sure if this is possible either – but we can test!

Onion and ipod
Looks like this may be a fake, but how can we tell . . .?

(not so) constructive comments:
Heat from Manure
Not too much out there, but at least it seems to have been done before:

Good luck, and keep me informed.

Blog for Scifest?

Philippa and Georgina are in Second Year and have a wonderful idea for their Scifest competition. Philippa’s family have a number of horses and it has come to her attention that there is a large amount of heat generted in the manure heap. It may not be the cleanest job in the world but Philippa reckons she might be able to feed pipes through the manure heap and use it as a method to heat water.
They’re not so interested in whether or not this has commercial applications, merely in the science of how to get the most heat energy out.
I think it’s a wonderful idea – lots of variables to investigate- and has great potential.

We’re hoping to get quite a few students involved, and it occurred to me that this could be a really cool way to use blogs. Imagine if each group had their own blog, and could comment on each others’ projects. Serious potential for learning.

If anyone wants to advise on how best to approach this I would love to hear from you.

It would also bring them closer to how real science works. When I mentioned the possibility of blogging to the girls they were a little apprehensive of others stealing their ideas. Welcome to the world of science. Science has worked well in the past precisely because scientists were forced to publish their works in order to establish priority, yet they too had to be careful not to give away all their ideas.

One of the more well-known examples of this was the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson. Watson wrote a wonderful book detailing his work at the time; this book – called The Double Helix – was highly controversial at the time because it turned out to be a warts-and-all approach, and many of the characters involved were not impressed with their portrayal.

Scifest 2008

The Double Helix on wikipedia

James Watson on

Scifest 2008

The Young Scientist competition is a wonderful idea and makes you wonder why our students can be so enthusiastic about this and yet so uninterested in studying Science in school. Could it perhaps be anything to do with us as teachers, what we teach or maybe how we teach it.

I have had some mixed feelings about the competition itself however. The decision as to whether you get accepted or not is based on a form which is filled out well ahead of time. I don’t know how the organisers could improve upon this (or maybe they have since I was last involved) but it means that a pretty basic project could get spruced up in the report such that the final presentation bears little resemblance to the report which was sent in.
Aaron Dormer was a student of mine from a few years back and spent a year putting together a large scale model plane and built his own aerodynamic testing station. I helped him with the report and was as positive as I could be about the whole thing, only to find that the project was not even considered worthy of presentation at the fair itself.
In fact I don’t think I have ever had a student or group enter.

That’s why I love Scifest

Put together by Sheila Porter it’s all on a much smaller scale, so almost all projects should be accepted for presentation. It may not have all the hoopla of Young Scientist, but it should get me back into this way of teaching.

Our (my) mode of teaching is very traditional and as a result very poor. I know about formative assesment, constructivism and all the other isms, but it’s just so very, very, very hard; and I mean VERY HARD to change my bad habits. Hopefully this will give me a suitable kick up the arse, and allow me to recognise that an old dog can actually learn new tricks.

I already have one group looking on the net for material, and I got to thinking; wouldn’t it be great if each group had their own blog and were encouraged to submit comments on their peers’ blogs?

Maybe I’m getting carried away!