Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre received funding from the Institute of Physics in 2012 to produce backpacks for children aged 4-10 to illustrate the some of the science of the planets.
Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has a planet path, which shows the positions of the planets in the solar system to scale but provides no other information about the planets. Consequently many visitors miss this feature during their visit. We were also aware that we had relatively little for families with small children (between the ages of 4 and 10) in the centre and that one aspect many visitors had requested more information on is the planets. We decided to produce backpacks which could be borrowed by visitors, particularly with children in the 4 to 10 age range, with a selection of activities in them associated with the planets. There is an accompanying information sheet for parents to explain the contents and present points for discussion but children can get something out of all the activities without any parental input.
These backpacks were launched for the February 2012 half term school holiday. We expected a total audience of around 5000 during this week, however not all of those people would have wanted to or been able to borrow the back packs. We produced 10 packs and 2 spares. These could be borrowed by one family at a time. We expected them to be borrowed by several families each day. To ensure they were returned we asked that the family give us a returnable deposit. We did impose a time restriction that a family can borrow the packs for during busy periods. After evaluating the packs during February half term we used this to improve the packs for future use and they then become a permanent part of our offer.
A questionnaire was given to every family who borrowed a backpack and a large number were returned. On the week in question, 58 families borrowed a backpack and 48 of these families returned the evaluation form. These 48 families consisted of 97 adults and 102 children. The average age of the children was 7.5 and they ranged in age from 1 to 16. 27 of the children were outside of the target age range of 4 to 10.
45% of these families had visited Jodrell Bank before.
39% of these families were aware of the Planet Path before their visit.
Only 8% had used the planet path before.
To assess whether we were making a visit to Jodrell Bank a more enjoyable visit for families we asked whether the planet path backpacks had increased the visitor’s enjoyment, made no difference, or made it worse. 45 families said it increased their enjoyment and 3 said it made no difference.
To find out if interest in the planetary sciences and astronomy was increasing we asked what aspect of the visit interested each group the most. 31% said the back packs were most interesting.
The final aim of this project was to allow children to explore scientific concepts for themselves without the need for adult intervention. All of the children were able to use the backpacks and the amount of adult help required depended on the age of the children involved.
The project’s aim was to engage families with young children with the Jodrell Bank planet path and planetary science. This aim was certainly achieved and the detail of the evaluation of each of the stated objectives justifies this statement. The feedback from the families who borrowed the backpacks, particularly on specific items in the backpacks was particularly encouraging and this showed we had generally chosen a good selection of activities to put in the backpacks.
The number of people who were interested in borrowing backpacks was high. However, there were a few people who were put off borrowing them by the administrative details. We require the family borrowing the backpack to leave us with their name and contact details as well as a returnable deposit of £20. This is in case the backpack or some of its contents are not returned to us for any reason. In practice, we have returned every deposit given to us in full. Unfortunately this administration is unavoidable; without it we risk losing the backpacks and/or their contents.
One complaint we did get from quite a few people who borrowed the backpacks was that the one hour time restriction we imposed was too short. Having seen the system work in practice, this time restriction was rarely necessary and we do now allow people to borrow the backpacks for as long as they like. In some ways this complaint was a compliment since the families were clearly enjoying the contents if they wanted to keep them beyond one hour.
The project has a significant legacy since the backpacks have continued to be available to all of our visitors ever since February 2012 half term. They continue to be borrowed regularly and the feedback remains positive.
More about the public engagement grant scheme is available here: http://www.iop.org/about/grants/outreach/page_38843.html