Just One Spark Remote Learning Activity

Remote Activity, £60 per class, KS2

Discover the science behind the safety lamp and learn about the history of coal mining in the North East with this explosive remote Just One Spark learning activity.

Remote Just One Spark is a live demonstration of the effects of explosions in coal mines in the 1800s. The activity explores the miners’ safety lamp and the history and science behind the revolutionary invention.

The children will be introduced to the context of the activity through the Felling Mine Disaster in 1812, which led to the discovery of the miners’ safety lamp. During this disaster, 92 men and boys died down the mine after two explosions occurred. It was later found that the cause was a candle which set alight the methane gas that had built up in the mine tunnels. This explosion then lifted coal dust found on the floors of the mine, which in turn ignited and caused a further explosion. Both of these types of explosions (gas explosion and dust explosion) will be demonstrated to the pupils.

As a result of this disaster, the Reverend John Hodgson set up a fund to establish the “Society of the Prevention of Accidents in Coal Mines”. They pushed the design of a mining safety lamp. It is widely reported that there were three men who were involved in the design; Sir Humphry Davy, George Stephenson and William Reid Clanny. Both Davy and Stephenson realised that using gauze would stop an explosion from leaving a lamp, thus making it safe. The pupils will explore these technologies and learn about how they prevented explosions from leaving the lamps and causing further disasters.

  • Target Age: Key Stage 2/3
  • Cost: £60
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Group Size: Full class (has been delivered to more than one class at the same time)
  • Season: All year round

Objectives of the activity:

  • To encourage the development of problem-solving skills.
  • To understand how coal mining explosions took place and how engineers designed and made miners’ safety lamps to solve the problem.
  • To have an understanding of coal mining in the 1800s and the history of the region.

Please note that the supervisor with the children will have an active role to play to support the children as they solve the problems.

Outline of activity:

The presenter (in period costume) will deliver the session as a demonstration in the Board school in The 1900s Pit Village.

An outline of how coal was mined in the 1800s and of how explosions underground caused the death of the coal miners will be provided. The presenter will talk through the Felling explosion of 1812 and the effect on the community. They will explore the Penitent Man and how he tried to mitigate the explosion and how the boys used flint wheels to make sparks for the miners to see, in the hope that this would not set off the explosions.

Then a blast bottle will be used to show how the methane gas caused explosions underground and the presenter will use lycopodium to illustrate how the coal dust made a secondary explosion.

Students will then discuss and design their own safety equipment given the outline of the problem. It may be necessary to discuss the fire triangle with them in this section. Students can bring their design to the camera and explain their designs.

The presenter will explain how the problem was solved, introducing the engineers of the period and how they tackled the problem, specifically George Stephenson, William Reid Clanny and Sir Humphry Davy.

Further demonstrations will take place to illustrate their findings and a final explosion will be undertaken to illustrate how the problem was finally solved.

Ideas for pre-visit:

The activity is based on the Felling Mine Disaster in 1812, and the development of the mining safety lamp as a result of this, so children could carry out research into this disaster, covering when and where it happened, who was involved and why mining explosions occurred. The Durham Mining Museum has an excellent website, with resources about Felling Mine on the Durham Mining Museum website.

Pupils may also wish to design their own version of the miners’ lamp, either on paper or they can build one. These can then be discussed during the activity and compared to the designs from the three scientists who worked on the lamp.

Ideas for post-visit:

Pupils could carry out literacy activities linked to the disaster (writing newspaper reports or obituaries). They may also want to design posters or other marketing material to encourage mine owners to adopt the use of mining lamps down their mines as miners were responsible for buying their own lamps. They could also investigate the people who died and the jobs that they did down the mine.

Children could create their own devices linked to the findings illustrated in the talk and explore alternative means of modern day power.

There are additional resources to support the Just One Spark learning activity. The names of those who died are included in this resource and children could organise the individuals by those who are related. Patterns of fathers, sons and brothers who died can be seen.

Guidelines for teachers:

Preparing for this remote activity: It is strongly recommended that supervising staff should test the connection between the museum and classroom before the session. Contact Simon Woolley, Head of Learning via email simonwoolley@beamish.org.uk to make arrangements for this. The Beamish presenter only needs to be able to hear the children in order to make the activity work. Some classes have used the chat facility to ask questions and give answers, which can be typed in by the teacher as the activity progresses.


  • Use of an effective microphone has been beneficial but not essential to the success of the Zoom activity, otherwise children can come up to the laptop to ask a question or make a suggestion as to what to do, or the chat facility can be used. The supervising adult can communicate on the children’s behalf.
  • The presenter will set the problems and then give time for the children to solve them. The presenter will listen in to the conversation taking place in the classroom and will give hints and explanations according to how the children are responding.
  • There may be localised school rules that the presenter may not be aware of regarding online activities for the children, it is important that these are discussed beforehand so everybody is clear about how the session will be delivered.


If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us. Telephone Simon Woolley, Head of Learning, on 0191 370 4011 or email simonwoolley@beamish.org.uk.


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