50th Anniversary Blog
Watch out for our monthly blog postings throughout the year as we celebrate our 50th anniversary. We hope to bring you a mixture of memories, new perspectives and a few interesting facts from our staff and customers over the course of the year.
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November 2012: Postcard from Uganda – molecular models in action
Guest blog: Jean M Johnson reports from a recent visit trip running courses for chemistry teachers and students in Uganda
Presence of the Marburg virus (similar to Ebola) prevented expansion of molecular model use at our main chemistry training centre at Bukinda, Kabale district, SW Uganda (not far from Rwanda) so we tried out the models with the first ever group of girls about to sit A level chemistry in Kihihi, not far from Congo.
Our training has always included making a polyalkene chain by having various students (or teachers) make ethene models, then break the double bonds and form polythene or PVC as in 219. Now that we have many more C and H atoms, and appropriate bonds, we shall use larger alkene models, such as propene, for polymerisation. Students, even at undergraduate level in England, can find it difficult to draw the correct repeating unit when larger alkenes are polymerised and use of these models will help a lot. We also have enough atoms for students to compare single, double and tripe bonding of carbon, and to study structural and geometric isomers of simple hydrocarbons.
Large quantities of atoms and bonds enabled us to make models of graphite (see picture below) and diamond, Janati (left) who we hope will act as technician from February, certainly got the idea of the graphite layers sliding over one another! Having seen the graphite rings it followed on naturally to make an S8 ring, and to revise the simple shape of H2S.
Teacher Bahati made a model of an inorganic complex (see picture), but we realise we need to reassess which extra atoms are needed to make more complexes!
It is our intention to develop use of models in Kihihi in February/March. Also, I made a fleeting first visit to a girls’ school in Lira, in the north, and left one box of models there. Hopefully, a team of us, with Regina, who has just done A Level, and started secondary education in a school run by Sr Clare, who is now in Lira, will be helping us.
Jean Johnson runs chemistry teaching courses in Africa funded by the Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund (ACTF) which is part of RSC. You can see more of her pictures on our Facebook pages.
October 2012: Kite making – for lifelong learning
Karen Purvis reports on the recent use of prismatic box kites for a corporate team building project
Most of our kite making sets are sold to schools or activity clubs for design and technology activities – ranging from primary schools to GCSE projects. They are an excellent, relatively inexpensive, DT project that can be varied to match pupil ability combining research, drawing, model making skills together with detailed design, manufacture and evaluation.
We were interested therefore to learn more from a customer wanting to use the kits as a team building activity for adults. Understanding the requirements helped us to identify which kite project would provide a suitable challenge for them to work on in the time available and what additional tools may be required with the aim of getting the teams to produce a kite that would fly.
A few weeks later we heard back from the customer – an HR manger for a company with in excess of 4000 staff.
On the training day, four teams of four had three hours to build a kite to meet the client’s needs using only selected materials provided and limited guidance from our Kite Projects for Design & Technology book. Teams were required to interpret customer requirements and work out how best to construct the required model. Desired outcomes from the day included meeting customer requirements, problem solving in teams, effectively working as a team, the need for planning and leadership.
Our customer reports: “Overall the team event well very well, some frustration with equal measures of team work, problem solving and fun ... it’s much harder and more complicated than it sounds! Had great feedback from the teams with some kites now proudly residing in the office as a reminder.”
It’s always good to hear back from our customers - please send any feedback on how you are using our models to email@example.com.
September 2012: Getting creative with maths and art
Mathematics and art have a long relationship – from the building of the pyramids to more contemporary art by Eschler and Salvador Dali.
This relationship is often explored in the classroom from basic tessellations to more complicated structures. We were very interested to hear of a large scale primary math’s project run last year by the Devon Learning and Development Partnership in association with Sculptor Simon Thomas. More than 15000 straws plus various joiners were used by pupils in a number of primary schools to create structures incorporating mathematical concepts. For example, one pupil made a sculpture which combined squares and triangles which involved decreasing the straws by 10% as it grew taller.
We received the following feedback on the project from the Head of Key Stage 2 at Two Moors Primary School, "The math’s and art side fitted into the curriculum well, but also the children have had to work collaboratively in teams and solve problems together which are really important life skills”.
We also like the fantastic structures made by students at Thomas Tallis School during a workshop with Simon and in their lessons. You can see these here and explore others including a Goldberg polyhedron via the links on the MakeMaths website.
We’ve created a starter pack of straws and connectors if you want to have a go at making your own creations or you can order different coloured straws and connectors separately.
Please send us photos for our website and facebook pages.
View Devon LDP Maths and Art website
July/August 2012: Orbit Material for Mathematics
From the early pioneers of mathematics education to the current curriculum
We’re updating our math’s set! Originally launched in the early 1970s, we thought we’d share a little of what the early promoters of mathematics education had to say about the very first version.
Looking back though the archives from the mid 1960s there is interesting correspondence from Dick Tahta of the Department of Education at Exeter University. A pioneering math’s teacher of his generation, he is cited by Stephen Hawking as the teacher who inspired him.
Having purchased a set of Construct-o-straws, Dick Tahta immediately recognized their potential for teaching mathematics. He writes: “I have recently bought a set of your excellent Construct-o-straws. It turns out these are a type of educational aid that would be of great interest for mathematics teachers.
There is great potential for this sort of equipment in the classroom though at the moment the actual use could be confined to a few pioneers. I have been using a few sets in a local secondary modern and a primary school and am very excited about the possibilities. It is more than just making simple shapes. Very important mathematical activity takes place when certain questions are asked within some restricted range.”
The resulting Orbit Material for Mathematics has been used in schools throughout the UK and overseas for more than 40 years and remains a favourite resource for many teachers.
The latest revisions for the new version include a complete reworking of the work cards – now with colour photographs – to include current topics and methods of teaching. In essence though the product aims to provide the same inspiration and practical method of learning to pupils as when it was first launched.
Children use the straws and joiners to construct models of geometric shapes in both two and three dimensions . The interactive nature of the product engages children of all ages and helps both to develop fine motor skills and teach children to follow instructions and work together. The work cards provide suggested activities within core curriculum topics. In the early years, children discover the number of corner pieces required, how many edges a shape has and what shape its base is. More challenging activities for older children include the construction of more complicated shapes, including stellated polyhedral and the study of duals. The set is also a useful addition for extra-curricular activities such as engineering clubs with some models included in the work cards.
June 2012: DNA models: building the ‘secret of life’
John Cochrane looks back at another event from 50 years ago...
Fifty years ago, 1962 also saw the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Harry Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material".
Widely acknowledged as the discovers of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, Watson and Crick used ball and stick molecular models to test their ideas on the structure.
The original DNA model by Watson and Crick
Photo: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives
The origin of our DNA models have their own history: The researcher from UCL who had first approached us about developing a molecular building system from our construction toy was a biochemist. Not surprisingly, he advised us to provide the parts to make complex biochemical models of which DNA was an obvious choice.
On account of its size (15 base pairs) we made it from our Minit system (right) that could build at 2cm per 100 picometres. In order to be able to see through the model to get a true picture of its double helical structure we spent time designing an elaborate support system that was almost transparent: this employed 10 strands of nylon fishing line on which to hang the model. In early models of DNA the support structures were often more visible than the molecular structures – Watson & Crick used laboratory clamps to hold theirs together - and this support system overcame that.
From this initial spectacular looking model came smaller teaching models to show the basic structure of DNA and to model transcription that students could build more quickly as part of the lesson.
It also became apparent that for A-level students the Orbit building system was the easier system to use and so we developed our latest model - the Orbit Proview DNA model with 12 base pairs using these larger sized pieces. This version also uses the nylon wire system for maximum visibility of the helical structure but can be positioned on a support stand if required.
We continue to make tweaks and developments to enhance these models and they remain some of our most popular teaching models. I am sure Watson and Crick would have liked us to have been in business ten years earlier!
May 2012: Promoting the value of a STEM education
How you are using our models to inspire the next generation...
The STEM subjects are at the forefront of the skills required to address some of the important challenges facing our society. A good science and math’s education provides students with valuable concepts, life skills, and career options.
We’ve been watching with interest then a lot of the positive things you are all doing to encourage and support STEM education here and overseas via some of the outreach activities our models get used for including:
We are trying to keep track of some of these for our Facebook page and website so please send details of yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll upload them.
- a great math’s in art project for primary schools in Devon
- chemistry outreach for secondary pupils at university open days
- training courses for chemistry teachers in Uganda
- crystal structure lectures via the Institute of Materials
- 3.5m of DNA for The International Year of Chemistry
Picture credit: Ruthin School at Bangor University School of Chemistry’s Chemistry Pharmaceutical outreach event
April 2012: Five decades of change - Keeping pace with new trends
How much have our promotion methods changed over the years? Karen Purvis finds out...
Our previous blogs have provided a brief history of the company and given some insight into the product range you see now. This month we thought we’d take a look at changes in how we have promoted our products – from the very early days to the recent launch of our first promotional video for the Orbit Tellurium.
One of the nicest things about working for a small company such as Cochranes of Oxford is that the history is all on hand - either in files waiting to be archived or in the memories of the earlier generation of Cochranes. When I asked about promotion methods in the early days of the company, two enormous files of clippings were promptly deposited on my desk. These contain lots of photos and press clippings going back going back to the early 1970s – a few of which are included below.
In the early years, getting the word out about the innovative product range was achieved mainly by attendance at international exhibitions and trade fairs coupled with advertising and some highly successful nationwide PR campaigns. Today we still use these traditional methods of promotion – but we have a wealth of new communications tools at our disposal. Via our website we can sell 24/7 across the globe, we tweet and we blog and showcase our models in action via Facebook and YouTube. Hopefully our message gets through – that we still make the same fantastic products only now you can find out more about them from the comfort of your office, school or home – even on your mobile phone.
Of course, all this has not replaced the value of meeting our customers face-to-face which is why you’ll find us at WorldDidac this October – trying to match some of those fantastic stand designs from the 70s! Hopefully we will see you there - you can follow our activity in the meantime via our Facebook and Twitter accounts – or just give us a call!
Don’t forget to watch our new video!
||Exhibiting at the Didacta Exhibtion |
in Hannover in the early 1970s
||John Cochrane at the International Audio Visual Aids Exhibition in London in 1974 demonstrating an early version of the Helios Planetarium|
Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, then Director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, described the model as a “unique contribution to the education in astronomy of people of all ages”..
March 2012: From big models of small things to small models of big things
Tom Cochrane takes a look at how models help teaching science
Pop down to our despatch area and you’ll see DNA alongside the solar system and buckyballs alongside a ferris wheel. Big models of small things and small models of big things to aid teaching at primary, secondary and university level.
The use of models for science teaching was the focus of a 2008 UK Government Study Guide as part of its Science and Innovation Investment Framework agenda. This was written to highlight aspects of interactive teaching and to give teachers practical and innovative tips and advice to ensure that pupils enjoy their science experience.
According to the guide’s summary a good teaching model:
You can read the whole report here.
- helps pupils visualise an object (too big, too small), process or abstract idea
- has clear similarities with the scientific idea
- makes clear what each part represents
- uses analogies based on something well known to pupils
- is suitable for pupils’ abilities and for their culture
- has more strengths than limitations and does not itself create misconceptions
One additional feature we would like to add to the above list is that of participation. The physical construction and hand-on interaction with the models activates other parts of the brain and helps children to better understand what is being taught by being actively involved – in building parts of the DNA structure, in putting together a buckyball or in demonstrating an eclipse.
Research shows that active learning is much better recalled, enjoyed and understood. A quote frequently cited in research into active learning is from the Chinese philosopher Confucius “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” We tend to agree!
February 2012: Where two strings have led us...
John Cochrane remembers the early days of kite making
It all began when my father chanced upon Don Dunford putting his famous Flying Machine through its paces on an early evening 1970s TV show.
Don, a retired RAF engineering officer, had spent fifteen years perfecting the Flying Machine, often referred to as the first two line stunt kite. Made from inexpensive sticks and cotton shirt material the Flying Machine could be controlled with amazing precision. In the TV clip, Don removed his wife’s hat from over 50 metres with the wingtip of this kite.
However, my father wasn’t the only one watching and following the TV report, which was aired just before Christmas, demand for the kite far outstripped his manufacturing capability. Don was making his kites in Oxford, not far from us: we thought we could help and were keen to grow our fledging business in toys and kites. We approached him to help with manufacture and distribution and so began our long term relationship with Don and with kites in general.
This led us to many interesting places and associations - from the use of delta kites in aerial photographic surveys of penguins in the Antarctic to demonstrating 6 red Flying Machines in a replica formation of the Red Arrows at Fleet Airshow. In 1977, a team of our delta kites flew for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at Greenwich.
A request for a kite to simulate a hovering hawk and capable of flying day and night led to the development of the Twin Keeled Delta and our interest in birdscaring techniques. We are still developing new kites for this market.
Kite enthusiasts will remember these early models as important in the history of kites and may even have owned one. Our production peaked at over 200,000 kites, but toys are subject to the whims of fashion and demand dropped as competition from other toys and cheaper imports increased. Meanwhile, the focus of our business shifted to the education market. We still sell kites and actually have some of the Dunford Flying Machines amongst our old stock. Importantly, we continue to produce and sell a full range of kite making kits for schools and clubs – hoping to encourage the next generation of Don Dunfords!
January 2012: Export or Die
John Cochrane reflects on 50 years of trading
1962. It was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the year Marilyn Monroe died and the Beatles released their first single. Brazil won the World Cup and Britain and France entered an agreement to build Concorde.
It was also the year that our family business Cochranes of Oxford commenced trading. Triggered by Harold Wilson’s ‘Export or die’ speech as he tried to fend off yet another need to get an IMF bailout, we decided to set up a company to manufacture products aimed at the export market and to use untapped local village labour.
An inauspicious start saw us launch our inaugural product, a razor blade sharpener, in the same month that Wilkinson launched a new stainless steel razor blade. Whilst our sharpener worked a dream on the existing carbon steel it quite simply wrecked the new stainless steel blades.
Shortly afterwards we began to manufacture Construct-o-Straws – a fun construction toy with excellent educational qualities which was quickly adopted by playgroups and primary schools. This began our long relationship with the education market. Construct-o-Straws remain one of our best selling products and can be found in school catalogues all around the world.
A little later we received a letter from a research biochemist at University College London who was using Construct-o-Straws to make a model of Transverse RNA. Could we help? From this initial enquiry came the first Orbit Molecular Building System for Biochemistry and from that additional sets aimed at organic and inorganic chemistry.
From here the company continued to grow, acquiring and developing new product lines and exporting to new regions to become the company you see today. Our success has been largely due to our ability to adapt and take advantage of any opportunities which have arisen over the past 50 years. We remain very much a family business and like to think we have remained true to our original values: that we respond to customer needs, seek to export widely via our international distributor network, provide employment for local people and aim to develop and manufacture interesting and unique products.
Of course, none of this happened overnight,
funds were scarce and costs had to be kept under control, cars were
the smallest that could do the job, a second hand ambulance visited our
outworkers in the surrounding villages, myself and Margaret, my wife,
slept in a tent on the wrong side of the tracks in Copenhagen when
exhibiting at an international trade fair. But our save up and then
spend philosophy quickly took us out of the clutches of the banks,
whilst we saw many of our competitors brought down by the sheer size
of their expense accounts. Chance conversations took us into new areas
of activity which I shall describe in later postings. With the Company
now firmly under the direction of Tom Cochrane, the third generation is
in control - bringing in new ideas but still keeping to the old philosophy.
Looking ahead, 2012 is an important year for the UK as we welcome the Olympics back to London and celebrate our Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Plans are also being hatched for ways to celebrate our 50th anniversary, so watch out for some special events during the year – albeit on a slightly smaller scale.