EXPRESS & ECHO Saturday 4th September 2010, report
Mike gets excited about the appliance of science
IF YOU see a grown man in Heavitree Park setting off water rockets, don't be alarmed — it is just Mike Coles trying out some experiments ahead of the launch of the Westgate Science Club this Friday. Mike, who runs a travel agency in Exeter, has decided to use his lifelong love of science and astronomy to, as he describes it, "make science cool for kids". Aimed at primary school children from seven to 11, he aims to combine enthusiasm with participation to get children interested in the fun aspects of science.
A member of the Norman Lockyer Observatory complex in Sidmouth, he has developed "Journey Into Deep Space", a multimedia presentation, and it was a chance discussion at one presentation last autumn that his idea for a science club was sparked. "I asked friends at the church what they thought of the idea and got lots of positive feedback. A friend who is a teacher told me that the problem is for her that they don't get the time to do hands-on practical experiments in school so I thought I would give it a go.
"I have always been interested in science and astronomy — I was very proud to be introduced to Patrick Moore at the age of 12 — so when I was asked again this spring when I was going to set a club up, off I went. We are going to have lots of mess," he says, with a note of excitement in his voice. "Most of the experiments we have been testing out at home — there needs to be lots of practical work for the kids to do. I have spent hours researching and testing things."
Mike's enthusiasm is contagious — even I start getting excited at the prospect of making a kitchen volcano and getting electricity from an orange. "I have got a computerised microscope, so they will be able to magnify the skin on their arm 200 times and we will project it on to the wall. Participation by the kids is so important," he says. "It is all simple stuff that they can do at home, but we will also have a couple of demonstrations each time which are not safe for them to do at home, but will be great fun for them to watch and see the possibilities of science."
The science club will run once a month for four months in the Lower Hall at Westgate Church in Bartholomew Street West, plus there will be astronomy evenings where Mike will set up telescopes for the children and parents to observe the stars. The cost is just 10 for the whole course and children will also get worksheets with fun quizzes, facts and things to try at home to take away.
"A friend is a senior scientist at the Met Office, so there will be a field trip for kids and parents there. I have got a room full of things to experiment with that I have been collecting and people have brought me chemistry sets and microscopes when they have heard I am setting this club up," he says with a smile. "I have also been asked about a club for older children, so watch this space."
He admits that he will enjoy the club as much as the children and there is perhaps a part of him that has never grown up. "I don't like the phrase but it's true," he laughs. "You have got to be like that. Me and my wife have worked with kids for years — we used to run a youth club.
"You have got to identify what they react to, what makes them enthusiastic — you can't just stand there like stewed prunes and teach them science — you have got to be excited with them. I am 60 now, but this is payback time — people spent time with me as a kid doing stuff like this and I really enjoyed it, so now it is my turn to be able to do that for someone else."

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