Where no (wo)man has gone before…

Image, The Planets above The Manchester Museum Mineralogy Gallery

Image, The Planets above The Manchester Museum Mineralogy Gallery

As previous posts have explained, myself and Neil have been working with a group of Year 5 pupils from Old Hall Drive, in collaboration with Cedar Mount High, on a multidisciplinary (science-art-drama-design-type affair) space project. The overall aim has been to get the pupils to create their own planet, to design some form of life to inhabit their ‘strange new worlds’ and to create a habitat for their extra terrestrials to inhabit.

Therefore, we were not only looking at creating new planets, we were also looking to populate their strange new worlds with some form of highly adapted extra terrestrial, and to devise suitable habitats for their life forms to occupy.

Quite a lot to ask of a group of Year 5 pupils, I hear you say. Perhaps not…
Having spent some time thinking about our own planet, and the array of bizarre critters that have adapted to survive in some of the most unbelievably hostile conditions, we went on to explore extreme environments further a field (not literally, but with Neil’s visualization techniques, it was hard to believe that we were actually sat in a classroom in Gorton!).

By the end of the two workshops at Cedar Mount, small groups of pupils had decided upon the following details for their own planet: Name, size, composition, gravity, distance from its sun, brightness of its sun, thickness of atmostphere, temperature, day length, surface features (landscape, ground, weather and water), and information about any moons or rings.


On 8th May, it was our turn to host the group; arriving at the museum with their planet stats, a packed lunch and plenty of energy, we embarked on our day-long adventure (boldly going where no (wo)man had gone before)…

MISSION: To design an extraterrestrial that could survive on a new planet

TASK 1: To design the skeleton of an extraterrestrial
Groups were given the task of identifying the key planetary features that would impact on the design of their ET’s skeleton. This allowed groups to revisit their planets, and to familiarise themselves with the types of skeletal adaptations they would need to be bearing in mind (also giving me the opportunity to ensure that they understood the first part of their mission!).

The next task (adapted from an activity that we use in our Bones and Skeletons session in which pupils have to design a superhero skeleton) took us up to the Animal Life gallery, where pupils ventured into the world of ‘functional morphology’ – of course they had no idea that they were doing this (which is part of the fun)!

Each pupil was given a picture of a human skeleton (missing various limbs etc.), with a task attached, for example, ‘Make this person a fast runner / a carnivore’ or ‘Help this person to fly / look scary / swim / climb’ etc. Using the skeletons on display in the gallery, pupils had to 1. find creatures with specific skills / characteristics / lifestyles and 2. draw the appropriate part of the skeleton onto the diagram. After initial uncertainty, the class threw themselves into the task, creating some very strange, but highly specialized ‘superhuman’ skeletons!

IMAGE, skeleton activity

IMAGE, skeleton activity

To build on the concept of skeletal adaptations, we carried out more detailed investigation of bones and skeletons back in the Discovery Centre, where groups had the opportunity to handle and explore some of the museum specimens. Again, this was based on our Bones session (a slightly tweeked), comprising four different ‘stations’ (tables) at which groups could investigate; skulls and teeEdit Post ‹ The Learning Team, The Manchester Museum — WordPressth, arms and legs, skeletons, and defence mechanisms, through handling and observing specimens.

Image, The Pre-Historic Life Gallery at The Manchester Museum

This prepared the class for the task of designing their skeleton.

TASK 2: To use the skeleton as the basis for designing the external features of an extra terrestrial that is adapted to survive on your planet.

Again, we started by thinking about the planetary features that would affect the external appearance of an ET inhabitant. The class found this much easier, and came up with some fantastic suggestions for overcoming some of the more hostile features of their planets!

In order to help pupils to think about different ways in which creatures adapt (externally) to their habitats, I set out four stations (based on our old ‘fur, feathers, scales’ session) at which groups could investigate fur, feathers, scales, and spikes/shells (protection) through object handling.  We then went off into the museum, visiting Prehistoric life, Animal life (mammals and birds) and the Vivarium, in search of inspiration.

Brimming with ideas, we returned to the Discovery Centre, where groups worked on completing their skeleton designs, and started work on creating the outside of their ET.

This extremely long and exhausting day (for all concerned!) was fascinating for me to develop, observe and take part in! The amount of creativity and imagination that the children were able to generate, as a result of exploring some ‘dusty old bones and dead animals’ (during a particularly long and intensive day), leaves me feeling inspired (by the group’s endless enthusiasm and creativity), proud (to be involved in such projects) and a little smug (because it just confirms that I am right to believe wholeheartedly in the value and effectiveness of our work in the museum!).


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