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Taking the theory into reality: Camera Obscura

Last Wednesday, Class 7 headed up the Royal Mile with fingers crossed for a bright day ahead. Camera Obscura is a well known feature of Edinburgh which many of us only visit when we have a guest to entertain but Class 7 had work to do.
In the lead up to the trip the pupils had been learning about physics in their Main Lesson, looking at things they encounter regularly without thinking of the science behind it. For example what actually happens to water when we freeze and boil it, what is condensation and if it is a result of boiling water (the common answer) then why is it also on the side of a cold drink in summer? It’s amazing how many incredible things we take for granted!


Before each experiment the pupils must write down a hypothesis of what they expect to happen, this is then included in their write up of the experiment in their Main Lesson book the next day. This is a very different structure from the traditional writing in a Main Lesson book, as it follows the structure of scientific research, albeit on a reduced scale, which prepares them for reading research papers and Upper School science subject lessons. It also develops their skills of analytically thinking. “How does this work?” So by the time they reached the incredible, interactive exhibits in Camera Obscura, the Class were more than capable of understanding reflection and hypothesising how these tricks work.


The Class were incredibly enthusiastic about playing with every exhibit. They squealed with joy, collaborated on the best way to get a good outcome and analysed the science. Eventually they reached the very top of the five-storey building and were introduced to the “dark room” by our guide. We were lucky the clouds had lifted.


Several of the Class had played with pinhole cameras before and they had heard the theory in class but applying that to such a scale was a difficult concept. Seeing the whole of Edinburgh City Centre without their definition of a camera was mind boggling, they expected elaborate tales of many lenses working together with mirrors and electricity, not the simple reality of sunlight, one mirror and a dark room.


Taking the theory into reality really was essential to grasping what this 11th Century invention (our Edinburgh one was built in 1835) was capable of.

Camera Obscura was the aim of the trip but honestly, it was playing with all of the exhibits that will stick with the Class. Their joy of sharing an experience and laughing while learning was the highlight. The buzz of chatter all the way back to School is testament to this.
Words: Ms Karen Ford, Class 7 Teacher