In 2021, The Portal Trust awarded £30,000 over three years to Scarabeus Aerial Theatre for their ‘Flying Into Physics’ programme – an exciting science project helping disadvantaged 9-10 year olds learn about physics through aerial theatre.
We visited a session at a primary school in North London to see students flying through the air and learning about gravity, air resistance and friction.
Continue reading below to learn more about the project and hear what the students thought about the experience.
Scarabeus Aerial Theatre is a charity using aerial theatre to ‘creative transformative and accessible’ experiences and ‘increase self-confidence and encourage a positive sense of community among children, young people and families’.
As part of this mission, Scarabeus offers a ‘Flying Into Physics’ programme that teaches physics to year 5 students through exciting and creative aerial techniques. These sessions are particularly targeted towards those who may be disinterested in learning or find it difficult to concentrate and sit still, as it allows them to experience science first hand in a creative and accessible way.
In the workshops, students participate in a collective floor-based warm up session and then complete fun and challenging partner exercises that demonstrate the effects of friction and gravity on their bodies. They are then safely strapped into harnesses and fly through the air from ropes suspended from the ceiling. Whilst they fly, students explore and discuss the effects of air resistance, gravity and friction and also have the chance to use pulley systems, exploring how they work and discussing where they are used in real life.
Executive Director, Søren Nielsen, discussed with us the benefits of the session and explained why it makes such a difference to children.
‘Children learn in many different ways and some struggle to engage in the classroom setting as they may learn better by actually doing things or find it difficult to sit still. These children can come to our session and do something where not only are they rewarded for moving, but they are actually learning things through moving.’
‘We always ask for the teachers to be present in all the sessions too as this helps them to see certain students in a new light or see a different side of them that they may not have seen before’.
Søren also explained how the sessions really help to boost children’s confidence by allowing them engage in a common, non-competitive experience with their peers.
‘We had one session where a girl was very nervous and unsure of trying new things. She put her harness on but then started to block off from wanting to do it, however the other children who had flown in the first group explained to her how fun it was and really encouraged her to give it a go. She did and became a real role model for the other children in her group.’
Importantly, the sessions help children to better understand scientific concepts and mechanisms that may be difficult to abstractly explain in class.
‘Teaching physics can be very difficult as you cannot see gravity, you can only feel the effects of it. Being in the harness lets you feel the effects as it pulls you down. This helps the children to understand it and allows them to think about science in a different way and relate what they’ve experienced to other things in their lessons.’
In fact, one of the teachers commented that ‘the students have been learning about parachutes and air resistance in class before this, so it ties in so well with the curriculum and really helps them to understand it better. It’s utterly brilliant.’
After the session, we were also able to hear from some of the students about their experience.
Many of them shared that they were very scared before, however it got much less scary the more they did it and that they felt very proud of themselves afterwards.
Students were also able to relate what they’d learnt in the session to other things they do outside of school, with one student commenting that they compared ‘feeling the air resistance whilst flying to what I feel when I ride my bike outside’.
Additionally, several students were surprised by how much they enjoyed flying and learning about physics in this way. ‘It was a really fun way to learn about forces, I had no idea how fun it actually could be.’
In particular, the children were able to better comprehend and understand the concept of gravity after flying. One child commented that ‘it really helped me to better understand gravity as I could really feel it in my harness. I knew about it before, but I had never really felt it. Hearing about how everyone felt it in different places depending upon what harness they were wearing also really made me think about how it affects you.’
We were delighted to attend the session and loved hearing how much the students enjoyed it and learnt so much.
If you’d like to learn more about Scarabeus Aerial Theatre, check out their website here.