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DEMO: the Movie

We love science demonstrations so much, we made a movie about them.

Demo: The Movie follows science teacher Alom Shaha on his summer holiday as he muses on and discusses the use of demonstrations in the classroom.

“Beautiful & thought-provoking” — Andrea Sella, UCL; “Everyone who teaches science should watch this” — Tony Ryan, University of Sheffield; “You really should watch this in your next department meeting” — Jonathon Lisseman, Hammersmith Academy; “A celebration of the art & theatre of the Science demo. Superb film” — Wellington College; “Even if you’re not a teacher, WATCH THIS. So good” — Ben Lillie, StoryCollider; “All science teachers should watch” — Tom Sherrington; “the best use of Jenga I have ever seen” — Anna Starkey.

Alom and Mary Whitehouse of the University of York (who also appears in the film) have put together some discussion notes for teachers and teacher trainers: click here to download them (300Kb PDF).

Keep an eye on the Demo: The Movie set of posts here for more discussion, ideas, and suggestions.

In the year since this film was released, we’ve heard of its use with trainee teachers on four continents. It’s always gratifying to hear how it’s used and of people’s responses, please do tweet to us or post a comment here or on the film at YouTube.

We hope you find the film useful.

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18 thoughts on “DEMO: the Movie”

  1. Great film Alom and Jonathan – I know this was a labour of love. It really gets us thinking about the rationale and art of doing science demos.

    So, bearing in mind this blog has a somewhat diverse readership of educators, I’m fascinated to know what personal take-ways people have.

    What big ideas resonated most strongly with you?

    How can you apply these ideas to your practice?

    Which parts would you like to take issue with or explore further, if you had Alom and Jonathan in front of you?

    1. A great film which really got me thinking about the framing of my demos. Thanks for some great ides which I will try to incorporate.

      I’ve discovered for myself that children love the theatre/magical aspect of a great demonstration. It doesn’t even need to be a huge explosion. The demo the kids ask for over-and-over involves making intestines out of tights, porridge and coffee. Its wonderfully simple. By the time the teacher defacates in front of the room, the kids genuinely believe it is a real poo. They are squealing, retching and cheering in equal measure. BUT they do remember that the intestines are a muscular tube, gut flora helps you fart, not all food can be used by the body…and much more.

  2. Hi Alom & Jonathan, so following on from twitter earlier, I’m interested in what pedagogic rationale you think underpins what you want teachers to do with demos?

    From research I’ve been involved with (i.e. Enterprising Science etc) students have been found to struggle to learn on their own from observations or demos, but need the facilitation of a teacher/more knowing other to learn.

    So I’m tempted to go for a socio-cultural constructivist pedagogy drawing on Vygotsky, Werstch & Bruner, but I would be interested to know how you, or other blog readers would describe the pedagogy there, in terms of framing the what you would do with a demo.

  3. Ooh, Emily, that makes me feel ignorant. Well, I’ve heard of Vygotsky and Bruner (though not Werstch, must look him/her up…), but if I’m honest this sort of language is alien to me. Personally, I suppose I think of demonstrations for their narrative and communication value, which ends up as similar objectives and even means, but a different set of terminology.

    I think demonstrations are tools for capturing and directing attention, so that an audience can be guided to see a specific effect/phenomenon/etc. Hence, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of Robin Millar and Mary Whitehouse in the film, that knowing why you’re doing the thing, and making sure students see and recognise that, are critical. Which seems obvious, but there’s a danger that a teacher will pull an off-the-shelf demonstration of, say, ‘atmospheric pressure’ thinking their intent is clear, when all their students see is a can being crushed. The conceptual link is part of the performance/treatment of the demo, not inherent in the demo itself (discuss, 20 marks).

    If I’m parsing ‘socio-cultural constructivist pedagogy’ correctly, then yes, one of them.

    The Predict/Observe/Explain model in some ways appalls me – as a storyteller I find that sort of framework approach uncomfortable – but it’s a straightforward and pragmatic check of whether you’ve set your students up so they’re looking for the right thing, and hence likely to notice it and/or be surprised as you anticipate.

    One thing I find interesting is how relevant P/O/E (and related constructs) are in informal settings – in public lectures and the like. Hmm… I might kick off another post about that in a few days’ time.

  4. Absolutely loved this. I’m going to be encouraging our science department to spend more CPD time crafting and sharing each others best demos. Will definitely be using this film as the springboard in one of the next curriculum meetings. Inspiring. Thanks guys.

  5. Very interesting and thought provoking. It made me think about the demonstrations I do and whether I get the most out of them. I think I do, but this gives me a bit more to consider when I plan them.

    I’m not sure we’d have time in one of our meetings to show this but I’ll certainly be emailing the link to my colleagues. Hopefully they’ll find it as entertaining and helpful as I did.

    We used to do a “demo a demo” segment in meetings. This has made me think that we need to bring it back.

  6. An excellent film, it was great to be invited to the screening by Gatsby.

    I’m a senior technician and love going into classes and giving demonstrations and presenting demo’s to teaching staff that are relevant to the scheme of work……if I could I’d like to travel to different schools doing a demo roadshow. Over the years I’ve cherry picked some great ones.

    Its a great way to interact with students and raise the profile of technicians. A fantastic method of job satisfaction and to see the students (and teachers) get it and their “awe” is priceless!

    I left the screening with confirmation, and inspired to carry on what I have already started.

    I am going to reflect on my presentation style and think the magicians key methods were a fantastic idea.

    Alom and Jonathan, I’d love to be involved in any future project in any way possible.

    1. Thanks Paul, really pleased to have such positive feedback from a technician. One of the few things I think is missing from the film is a celebration of the science technician (although an early draft of the script did include a song about technicians). I can’t imagine it’s possible to be a good science teacher without the support of good technicians and I have been lucky in my teaching career in having always worked with excellent ones. My current technicians have helped with the other demo films Jonathan and I have made, but more than that, they enable my work every week.

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