For two weeks students read about the scientists’ work, ask them questions, and engage in live text chats with them. The students vote for the scientist they want to get the money. The scientists with the fewest votes are evicted until only one is left to be crowned the winner. The event is supported by carefully developed and tested resources which develop students’ skills and deepen their understanding.
The purpose of the event is to bring science to life for school students and let scientists experience the benefits of public engagement.
- Get inspired and engaged with real science
- Realise that scientists are human beings!
- Feel empowered to debate and discuss science issues
- Develop their communication skills
- Can take part without leaving the lab
- Get practice discussing the social and ethical implications of their work
- Have fun!
Results and outcomes
What worked well
“This is by far the best science engagement activity I've been involved with, and I rank it as amongst the most rewarding and fulfilling activities of my professional career.” Dr Tom Hartley, York University
"I kept finding that I'd ask a question, and they'd give me an answer, and then I'd have loads more questions, and then more, and then more!" Student, West Thames College
“They worked really hard during this event, but they didn't seem to think of it as work.” Liz Howell, teacher, Ysgol Tre-Gib, South Wales
- Growing the event gradually and ironing out problems as we went
- If you make it fun people want to take part more – but fun doesn't have to mean trivial or dumbed down.
- Online environment: you get more input from quieter students as typing a question is less intimidating than standing up in class and young people are used to 'socialising' online, so it seems like a friendly space to them
- Getting students talking to REAL scientists makes it much more engaging then textbook exercises
- Giving students a say over something (they vote for which scientist gets a prize of £500) means they engage, because they feel valued and listened to.
- Having carefully designed lesson plans that got students thinking about how to judge scientists, before they started, but gave them ownership of the criteria they came up with. This meant students had thought about the issues and weren't just picking the scientist with the nicest jumper. Teachers commented that students who'd missed the introductory lesson were markedly more flippant in their approach to the scientists.
What didn't work well
Schools can be chaotic places – a higher number than we would like dropped out of the event at the last minute due to various organisational issues (eg staff absences, timetable changes).
A small number of scientists didn't react well to the students' questions – seemingly they expected a much higher level of discourse. Most students were 13/14 and from all across the ability range.
School firewalls! Many blocked the chat room. This can be unblocked (usually by contacting the local authority), but only if the school checks in advance of the lesson.
To take part, just a computer and a willingness to engage. To run the event – years of practice, lots of money and endless patience:-)
The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on or becoming involved with similar activity.
- Ask teachers for their mobile numbers so you can contact them in a hurry without playing phone tennis with school switchboards
- Make clear to scientists that low ability 13 year olds will ask misspelt questions about bogies and if they don't want to deal with that then maybe this isn't the event for them.
- Overbook schools because some will drop out
- If you need schools to do IT checks (eg that your site isn't blocked) you have to remind teachers a lot that it's important. Our biggest breakthrough came when we realised that instead of asking the teachers to do the checks, we should ask the teachers to get their IT person to do them. Teachers are more likely to get round to this and the IT people are the ones who'll have to sort it out anyway.
- Previous participants' word of mouth is your best marketing, if you focus on making the experience a great one.
- I'd strongly recommend Twitter as a way of spreading the word about your event, but also keeping in contact with your potential audiences and with participants. In the 2010 events, perhaps 20% of our scientists were on twitter, which helped build a buzz about it, but it also gave us a real time feedback mechanism if there were any problems
- If you are developing resources for teachers, consult some actual teachers early on, and repeatedly! We recruited a teacher panel and they were invaluable – we were able to develop resources that met real teaching needs and worked brilliantly in the classroom. It's about what they want, not what you want to give them!
- In fact, formative evaluation is key all the way through. Consult your end-users and involve them in the process as much as possible.
Name: Shane McCracken
Name of organisation: Gallomanor
Telephone: 01225 326892