New Secondary Science Session: Nature’s Palette

Image - Pigments practical

Over the past few months, I have been working on developing a new secondary science session aimed at Key Stage 3 and 4.  I wanted this workshop to use as many specimens and objects from the Museum’s collections as possible and also include a practical experiment, a critically important part for any science investigation.   I decided on a theme for the session being ‘Colours and pigments’ and  decided to use this theme to explore the many aspects of colour in the physical, chemical, natural and cultural world.  The session was entitled Natures Palette: Pigments, Paradise and Photosynthesis.

It is a jam packed session with many hands on interactive and educational activities that starts with the physical basis behind light and colour, including the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light spectrum and how we see colours.  How humans use colour and why it is important to us is explored with a discussion and video tour round the human cultures collection stores area by Curator of Human Cultures, Stephen Welsh.  Stephen shows us some really fascinating examples of how colour is used and how important it is in different human cultures all over the world, both nowadays and throughout history.

The inspiration behind human’s use of colours is often from the natural world and so next students  investigate how colour is used in the animal world by using both a variety handling specimens as well as in the galleries.

Image - Up close to the female panther chameleon

The curator of herpetology, Andrew Gray also used his collection of live reptile and amphibians to illustrate the varied and sometime quite spectacular ways that these animals use colour for different purposes in the natural world.  The rare and beautiful animals really bring a different dimension to the session, as the students have an opportunity to get up close and observe the animals, with Andrew explaining their colourful adaptations.

The workshop then investigates the importance of pigments and colour in plants and of course photosynthesis.  Using a scanning spectrophotometer, the students investigate photosynthetic pigments in different plants and use their results to decide whether the colours in Smarties and M&M’s originate from those particular plants!

Image - Students working together investigating plant pigments

During the past three weeks, we have been trialled this new session with students from Our Lady’s Sports College, Swinton High school and William Hulme Grammar School and it has been a big success.  Some of the comment and feedback from the students can be seen below:

‘I really enjoyed the session.  It gave me a greater understanding’

‘I had a great time meeting all the animals and using the expensive equipment and i really enjoyed looking round the museum’

‘I liked today.  It was amazing.  All the stuff we did was extremely interesting’

We plan to add Nature’s Palette to our regular programming from September and will be releasing dates that this session will be available over the summer.  However, if you are interested in booking this exciting new workshop for next year, then please do not hesitate to contact me on

I also just want to say thank you museum curators and staff who have contributed to the session development and helped me in selecting and getting the objects and specimens together for this object rich session.  So thanks to Henry McGhee, David Green, Dmitri Logunov, Lindsay Loughtman, Suzanne Grieve, Scott McManus, and Stephen Welsh.

2 thoughts on “New Secondary Science Session: Nature’s Palette

  1. I just wanted to add that I snuck in on one of the pilot sessions for Nature’s Palette and it was absolutely brilliant. The session successfully demonstrates the relevance of the Museum’s collections to the notion of ‘colour’ and I was really impressed with the range of objects that Alexa has incorporated into the session (even minerals!!!). The session also engages pupils using an impressive variety of methods, ranging from observations, comparisons, discussions, and experiments to gallery work and presentations from members of the curatorial staff. Basically, just wanted to say well done to Alexa and to give this session a great big thumbs up!

  2. Pingback: Colourful living « FROG BLOG MANCHESTER

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