Marbling the Solar System in Swindon
Nythe Primary School
Years 5&6 (42 children)
24th October 2018
Blog by Clare Dudeney

(click on photos to see more)

How hot is the Sun? Why is the Sun so hot? How close can you get? How do scientists take pictures of the Sun? How was the Sun created? What would happen if the Sun wasn’t there?’  Just a few of the many questions from the children which were sent in advance to the SunSpaceArt team.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC, is based in Swindon. They fund the SunSpaceArt project and were keen for us to work with a local school. So, we (Dr Helen Mason, a solar scientist, Clare Dudeney and Christabel Forbes, both artists) visited Nythe Primary School on 24 October 2018.

Helen gave an interactive presentation to Years 5 & 6 on the Sun, answering as many questions as she could. She talked about its tremendous size and importance as a source of light and energy for Earth. The children were fascinated by the infra-red camera. She explained how it has lots of sunspots when it’s active and fewer when it’s calmer. She also talked about NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which was launched in August. It will go very close to the Sun and collect data about its activity. The questions and answers continued all day!

Christabel and Clare then introduced approaches to making artworks using coloured marks, shapes and collaging paper, like the French artist Henri Matisse. He made a work called Icarus about a man who flew too close to the Sun. The children then closed their eyes and imagined they were travelling through space. What it might feel like? What special powers or equipment they might need? Where would they go?

They each made collages about travelling in space or creating their own universe. Using coloured paper, pre-prepared marble paper and pastels. Everyone also had a go at making marbled paper in small groups. This involved adding a few drops of marbling ink into a tray of water, swirling it and placing the paper on the surface of the water, taking it off, and leaving it to dry. The marbling inks created wonderful effects like the surfaces of the Sun, moon and planets. The children loved this activity, but it was messy, so they needed full apron shirts.

After lunch, Neville Hollingworth, a geologist who works at STFC, had a very special treat for the children. He showed them some rocks from space, including a meteorite and sediment samples from the moon collected on the Apollo Missions. We were all excited to hold a small piece of the moon in our hands. For many children (and teachers!) this was the highlight of the day, something they are unlikely ever to forget. These rock and moon samples can be borrowed from STFC, so look on their web pages. A great booklet ‘Hands on the Moon’ is also freely available from STFC.

We finished the day with a ‘show and tell’, where children were asked to talk about the artworks that they found most interesting and why. Then those who had made the artwork explained them. One girl had travelled through space on an asteroid. Others had travelled to other planets or even to other stars. The children said the Sun made them think of fire, hot things, holidays, summer, stars, planets, playing outside and sunsets.

The feedback from the teacher was very good ‘Everyone had a fantastic day and learnt lots about the Sun and space. The workshop was fully interactive and involving, so no-one was left out. It met the needs of the children and teachers fully in my opinion and was fun. The children also learnt some science. They learnt more about the Sun and solar system than they would through formal teaching.’

One of the children said on the feedback form: “The Sun makes me think about all the people I love and the ones who have passed away. My grandad liked to sing a song about the Sun”.