Tag Archives: teaching

Speaking to… Sarah Weldon

It’s quite ironic, that technology and things like the World Wide Web mean that we have more access than ever to the world, yet we have also become disconnected to the planet. We take it for granted.

sarah-weldon-speaking-of-science
Image courtesy Sarah Weldon

Name: Sarah Weldon, CEO of UK Charity Oceans Project

Based: live in the Lake District, from Henley-On-Thames, and doing a PhD part time at Roehampton University, so I’m pretty much all over the UK, especially as I run talks for schools through School Speakers. 

What is your background? I originally trained as a neuropsychologist, so I’m excited about the biology of the brain affects our behaviour. This led to a 17-year career in the NHS and social services, as well as abroad, mainly working with young people.

As a keen scuba diver, I also trained as an IMCA Diver Medic Technician at the Diving Diseases Research Centre in Plymouth. I was terrible at physics and chemistry at school, but loved human biology, its only now as an adult, learning about the electrics on my boat, and things like navigation and tides, that I’m really enjoying STEM subjects, in a real life context.

Why are you interested in science communication?

Probably because I just didn’t get it at school. I was in a mixed ability class, with lots of naughty boys and mainly supply teachers, so we were just given a heavy book to carry to lessons. It was only in later life that I really discovered science and all the different careers, so I wasted a lot of time. If we had been exposed to science communicators and STEM Ambassadors from the world outside of school, I think we would have been more excited and exposed to the opportunities available to us.

I love those moments when I meet young people, talk to them and just know that something has clicked, and their face has a complete look of excitement. That’s how learning should be, it’s about exploration of the world around us and being allowed to ask questions. As we get older, we often stop asking the question ‘why’. The world is changing so fast around us, that we need scientists to continue making progress. In my own lifetime, the World Wide Web was invented and that in itself has revolutionised the way we live our lives. Education really has to keep learning fresh and new.  Continue reading

Emily Coyte

Speaking to… Emily Coyte

Emily-Coyte-science-communication
Emily Coyte

“Do stuff that scares you, and don’t be put off by the fact it’s scaring you.”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Emily Coyte

Name?

Emily Coyte

Where are you based?

The lovely city of Bristol, England

Who do you work for?

I work as a teaching assistant in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol, where I graduated from. I help first year students in Biochemistry practicals, keeping them safe and enthusiastic about what they’re doing. Between practicals I give tutorials, maintain our interactive online laboratory manual eBiolabs and stay on top of all the marking! When the students are on holiday, I do various jobs such as developing new practicals and improving existing ones, and I’ve just finished constructing a massive scale-model of DNA to go in the teaching labs!

What type of science communication do you do?

My day job is a form of science communication. My goal is to make sure they understand the science, equipment and calculations to successfully complete the lab sessions. It’s especially lovely when I help a student understand about some aspect of their course they hadn’t considered before.

Beyond that, my main sci-comm love is writing.  I have a science blog with a nerdy twist called Memetic Drift which I share with Becky Brooks, a biochemistry PhD student at the University.

I also volunteer and have interned with the science and discovery centre, At-Bristol. Over three months I helped to develop and evaluate new events, experience behind-the-scenes workings of a science centre and even try out presenting in the Planetarium.

Just recently I did Science Showoff, which combines science with stand-up comedy. That was a scary but really great experience!

Who is your main audience?

Memetic Drift is a reasonably casual science blog. I’m not a fan of audience categorisation and I personally don’t have a particular demographic in mind. For this blog, Becky and I just want people to have fun and learn some cool stuff about science, nature and being a scientist.

A popular set of posts of mine is: “Real life species that look like they could be Pokémon”. I love writing these posts because it gives me a chance to learn about and share some fascinating facts about the natural world and get my geek on about video games at the same time!

How did you get into it?

I’ve wanted to write for a long time, even before I was an undergraduate. It was only in the last couple of years that I’ve had the confidence to really put myself out there. Volunteering at science and nature festivals and going to workshop days like the BIG Little Event were really helpful opportunities in meeting people and getting inspired.

Why do you do it?

On a personal level, I write because it keeps me learning new things. I think the universe is too amazing to pass up the chance to learn about it as much as possible during our lifetimes. If people want to read the stuff I’ve found out – bonus!

Why do you think science communication is important?

It’s undeniable that humanity has been transformed by past scientific and technological advancements accumulating into the modern world we see today. The fact is so obvious it’s actually quite easy to forget, so many people don’t see scientific literacy as the important skill it is. However, new advances are always around the corner; the boundaries are always being pushed. Rightfully, there are debates about the directions we should or should not be taking, and scientists and non-scientists ought to be involved. I believe science communication is important because if done right, it helps these debates stay rational and focussed on the evidence rather than being overpowered by fear-mongering and dogma. That’s my hope, anyway.

What do you love about science communication?

To be honest, I don’t think the information gap between researchers and everyone else should exist, but we currently live in a world where it does. Hugely expensive paywalls on journal subscriptions and biased news articles can prevent people from getting all the information they need and deserve.

Perhaps one day this gap will be small enough to cross easily, but until then I think science communicators are working hard to provide the stepping stones.

What has been your favourite project?

Usually the one I’m working on at the moment! So right now I’d have to say Memetic Drift. It’s only a few months old but it’s definitely gaining momentum and it’s really exciting watching it grow into the fun science blog I’ve always wanted to have.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Nothing new planned at the moment – I’m keeping myself busy enough as it is. I’m always open to new ideas, though.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Do stuff that scares you, and don’t be put off by the fact it’s scaring you. In terms of writing, just get yourself a free blog site and start. It’s really weird talking into a void at first, but push on and that void will fill! I’d recommend drafting up about three posts before you go “live” so that you kick off with a strong start and readers get to know what it’s all about right from the beginning. Good luck!

You can follow Emily on Twitter at @EmilyCoyte

bboysciencehallowback

Guest post: Dancing in Science Class

Dancing-in-science-communicationAlanna Orpen is studying Science Communication Msc at Imperial College. In this post she explores dancing in science and how the two could be integrated; how can dance help encourage those who are normally put off by science to enjoy it in a new way. She has also explored this subject on Refractive Index.

Science is one of the key learning areas within the educational curriculum, valued of great importance in every child’s life to aid them in their quest of exploration and to develop their understanding of the world around them. Stereotypically, science is a subject that children consider ‘boring’, but by adopting a suitable method, teachers should be able to encourage an atmosphere of enthusiasm and curiosity to stimulate a pupil’s interest.

Children learn in many ways, yet traditional schooling relies on a limited range of learning and teaching methods. The classroom and book-based learning caters for linguistic and visual learners, while kinaesthetic learners, who prefer learning using their body and hands in physical activity, struggle to understand class material. It is important to cater for all learning styles and abilities, thus innovative educators in America concerned with improving student achievement are seeking ways to create rigorous, relevant and engaging curriculum.

Dance and science may appear to be of two different worlds. The former considered merely as a form of exercise and entertainment, inhabited by artists and athletes, while the latter viewed as an academic discipline and a systemic enterprise, inhabited by researchers seeking to build and organise knowledge. However, a new movement has arisen, where dance and science unite raising students’ interest and helping them to achieve greater levels of competency in understanding scientific concepts. Teachers are leaping out of the classical routine to perform chemical ballets and explore the solar system through interpretive dance. They are realizing that dance is a powerful non verbal form of communication, which can be an important educational tool that not only motivates and encourages students, but is proving to be an excellent vehicle that promotes deeper understanding through experiential learning.

Dr Zafra Lerman, a former science professor at Columbia College in Chicago, has examined how a dance partnership with chemistry can enhance student comprehension. The chemical bond has become one of the most attractive subjects for dance projects, which helps students learn the chemical concepts as well as retaining the information longer than by traditional teaching methods. Similarly, a former science teacher, Jane Burke, helped children at Mount Everett School in Massachusetts dance their way to understanding. For two weeks, she shared her classroom with a professional dancer to explore the abstract ideas behind chemical reactions through movement. The students jumped, twirled and embraced one another to explore ionic, covalent and metallic bonding and the types of chemical reactions.

By depicting the subject through dance, the students reached a depth of exploration that would not have occurred in the regular classroom setting. Many found it helpful to think about the concepts in a different way, as dancing out the reactions provided a means to picture the invisible. The connection between the choreography and the science enabled the students to visualize the concepts that they originally found challenging.  Therefore, this shows that dance can aid in the deeper conceptualization of knowledge by providing ‘a way of doing’.

The integration of dance into core academic science classes is a creative and innovative approach that is gaining a foothold in public schools around America. Fostering imaginative and abstract thinking through movement helps students of all ages grasp a broad spectrum of scientific concepts, where primary school children enjoy dancing through the stages of photosynthesis and the water cycle, while more advanced students dance out chemical reactions.  These teachers who are pushing beyond the boundaries of traditional disciplines are witnessing the positive results of this interdisciplinary approach. The success of dancing in science class projects in America highlights the potential of integrated curriculum to act as a bridge to increase student engagement and achievement. Could the Americans be setting a trend that other nations will shortly be adopting? Will dance manage to waltz its way into British school laboratories?

Image credit: Tony Ingram bboyscience

Speaking to… Alom Shaha

This podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Alom Shaha.

Alom-Shaha-science-communication
Alom Shaha

This is a special podcast interview with Alom Shaha, a science teacher, science communicator and author of The Young Atheists Handbook.

Useful links:

Why is Science important?

Imperial College MSc science communication

You can follow Alom Shaha on Twitter at @alomshaha and visit his website to read his blog, and see what else he is up to!

Roland Jackson

Speaking to… Roland Jackson

“understand your values and motivations, be true to them and honest about them”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Roland Jackson.

Roland-Jackson-science-communication
Roland Jackson

Name?

Roland Jackson

Who do you work for?

I’m CEO of the British Science Association until 31 March 2013, and also Executive Chair of Sciencewise.

What type of science communication do you do?

In many ways I don’t do much directly, but I’m privileged to be involved in one way or another in a wide variety of types, given my day job. I also chair BBSRC’s Bioscience for Society Strategy Panel which gives a great insight into how the research community thinks about public engagement in all its guises.

Who is your main audience?

I try hard not to think in terms of audiences; that way lies one-way transmission modes and the standard deficit model. ‘Participants’ is much better. Not that these straight dissemination or inspiring modes of science communication aren’t valid – they most certainly are – but they are not where my interests lie, and they lull people into thinking that there are no other ways of thinking about how to develop socially connected science and technology.

How did you get into it?

Initially through teaching undergraduates when I was doing a doctorate. Then into science teaching and curriculum development; into ICI running a science-based company’s interactions with the education system; into the Science Museum as Head of Education and eventually as Head of Museum and then to the British Science Association. It looks much more logical in retrospect than it appeared at the time.

Why do you do it?

Because I think it is really important that developments in science and technology go with the grain of wider public values, and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to work towards that end.

What do you love about science communication?

The variety of different purposes and agendas which motivate people, and the sheer breadth both of the sciences and the associated issues that I get involved with. Most people are also extremely constructive, generous and friendly, though there are a few exceptions.

What has been your favourite project?

That is an almost impossible question to answer, so I‘ll give two.

In the science education field it would have to be CREST (the UK’s scheme for supporting student-led project work in science and technology) and the associated National Science & Engineering Competition. I have spent my time since my first year of teaching in a comprehensive school trying to subvert the science education curriculum and attempting to develop ways of offering young people a vision of science as a creative and open activity. I still believe we should teach science far more like we teach literature, the arts or music.

In the public engagement and science policy field it is Sciencewise, and the challenge of finding practical and useful ways of bringing more deliberative public discussion to the heart of policy-making involving science and technology.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m excited about continuing with Sciencewise as I leave the British Science Association; it’s a very interesting and somewhat challenging time to be advocating public dialogue in the broader context of open policy making. Also I’m very interesting in championing different aspects of citizen science (crowdsourcing and beyond), which I hope to have some scope to do, particularly through the Research Councils. And I’ll be doing some research, based at the Royal Institution as a Visiting Fellow with Frank James, on that outstanding 19th century scientist and science communicator John Tyndall, linked to the international Tyndall Correspondence project.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

The same as for any area of life; understand your values and motivations, be true to them and honest about them. In a practical sense, there are many routes in, from MSc courses to occasional volunteering to the sort of entry roles that organisations like the British Science Association offer from time to time, though is a field many want to enter at the moment.

You can follow Roland on Twitter at @Roland_Jackson

Sedeer El-Shawk

Guest post by Sedeer El-Showk: Inspiring Science

Sedeer El-Showk is a biologist whose love for language and writing led him to start a science blog, Inspiring Science. He is currently finishing his PhD at the University of Helsinki and hopes to become a professional science writer. You can follow Sedeer on Twitter @inspiringsci

Sedeer El-Shawk
Sedeer El-Shawk

When Julie asked me to write about why I think science communication is important, I started jotting down a list of reasons. Science has an undeniable impact and prominence in our world, which has benefited from the accumulated fruits of centuries of research. As citizens, we shape this world and are shaped by it, so it’s important to understand the science behind the questions we’re discussing, from antibiotics and GMOs to the value of a Mars mission or research in theoretical physics. This kind of understanding can also be important on an individual level. Knowing more about how your body works can help you make informed decisions about diet and lifestyle or medical procedures — or even what kind of birth control to use. These are important aspects of science communication, but they’re not really a source of inspiration to me or a guiding factor in deciding what I write about. Science communicators do have a responsibility to fulfil a role in mediating these discussion, and though I try to keep aware of that and contribute, it’s not where my passion truly lies.

What I really find exciting about communicating science is its ability to re-form our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, to broaden our horizons and defy our expectations. Science isn’t a collection of facts or beliefs, but a methodology for deciding what we believe is true. In principle, that methodology doesn’t care about our social norms, expectations and prejudices. Rigorously applied, it lets us test our suppositions and discard those that don’t match reality. I realize that this is an idealistic view. Although scientific practice may fall short of the ideal, it still serves a powerful source of motivation for me. I’m not naive enough to think that science is practised free from social influences, but it can and has dramatically upset our preconceptions and forced us to re-evaluate everything from the source of diseases to whether events can ever happen simultaneously. Over time, science has shown us that our planet is not the center of this solar system, let alone the Universe. We’ve learned that our solar system is only one of an innumerable multitude scattered throughout the cosmos, 84% of which is made up of a kind of matter we still barely understand. Our world is far older than we had imagined, moulded over billions of years by immense forces in vast, gradual processes punctuated by dramatic cataclysms. Science has uncovered the common thread that unites life on this planet, teaching us of our kinship with other species and our interdependence with them, each a unique passenger on spaceship Earth. It has helped challenge social boundaries and tear them down, undermining the illusion that any race or sex is inherently better.

Of course, science doesn’t only drive progressive ideologies — racists and others have also used it to support their ideas. Humans are profoundly social animals and our social fabric affects everything we do; science is no exception. Effective science communication should be a part of this process, making science accessible to non-experts and enabling an informed discussion about its implications and short-comings. Science education is probably more important than science communication in this regard; people who have learned to approach issues critically, to question and to reason, have wherewithal to challenge fixed beliefs and undermine authority. The strength of the scientific process comes from its rejection of a dogmatic world view and from the ever-present possibility of being proven wrong. Although science writing often focuses on new results and “breakthroughs”, it should always strive to communicate the nuance and absence of absolutes that is the core of science.

Unfortunately, these subtleties are often lost in the metaphors we use to communicate scientific ideas. Metaphors are a powerful way to make the incomprehensible accessible; a good metaphor is vivid and memorable, capturing the core of an idea and embedding it in the reader’s mind. “Silent Spring” shaped a generation’s views on the environment and remains an evocative phrase to this day. Despite everything we’ve learned from modern ecology and evolutionary biology, the “great chain of being” lingers on, a stubborn relic of more religious times. Effective metaphors outlast the story behind them, persisting long after the details have been forgotten. These metaphors color how we think about a subject, which can cause trouble if they eclipse important details. I always make an effort to retain these nuances when I write about science while still conveying the basic idea; I can only hope that I succeed more often than I fail.

Those are all great, practical reasons, but the fact is that I love talking and writing about science because it provides such a beautiful view of the world, which is full of countless mysteries from the mundane to the unimagined. Rob Dunn wrote an excellent post last year about an undiscovered order of life (for comparison, primates are an order of life) that’s been hiding in plain sight. We’ve only explored 5% of the oceans, although they cover 70% of the planet’s surface. We’ve known about spade whales for over a century, but saw them for the first time just two years ago — and then only because a pair washed ashore. The world is richer and stranger than my imagination ever dreamed. Science lets me learn about this everyday wonders and connects them in beautiful, elegant stories. Sharing those stories — and the numinous feeling with which they fill me — is really why science communication is important. That’s why I do this.

Dr Heather Williams

Speaking to…Dr Heather Williams

“Science it isn’t the preserve of geeks and nerds hiding away in laboratories, it is the means by which we grasp how our world works.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr Heather Williams

Dr Heather Williams
Dr Heather Williams

Name?
Dr Heather Williams 

Who do you work for?
Central Manchester University Hospitals, as a Senior Medical Physicist for Nuclear Medicine
 
What type of science communication do you do?
I’m a STEM Ambassador and often give careers talks, guest lectures, and speeches at award ceremonies in that capacity. I’ve also acted as a demonstrator on Lab in a Lorry and science busker for Bang Goes the Theory: Live. I’m also active in discussing science – including the science I do – on Twitter (@alrightPET) and drew on these connections earlier this year to found ScienceGrrl (@Science_Grrl), a network of predominantly female scientists who are passionate about passing on their love of STEM to the next generation.
 
Who is your main audience?
Mainly secondary school and college students, although there are also adults at some of the guest lectures I give.
 
How did you get into it?
I registered as a STEM ambassador after taking on responsibility for work experience placements in our department, which I was given as I was a volunteer youth worker at the time and therefore thought to be the best person to relate to young people! It all sprung from there.
 
Why do you do it?
I love being able to make science understood, and helping people understand that it underpins every aspect of life – it isn’t the preserve of geeks and nerds hiding away in laboratories, it is the means by which we grasp how our world works.
 
What do you love about your job?
I’m a Medical Physicist primarily, I look after imaging equipment and the associated software, and make sure it gives reliable results, so the medics interpreting the images can trust what they see and make the right judgements about what is wrong with their patients.
 
What has been your favourite project?
At work? My PhD, which proved conclusively that my idea for imaging cell multiplication rates in lung tumours was rubbish. Within science communication? Passing on a demonstration from one of my lectures to the producer of Bang Goes the Theory comes pretty close (they used it in episode 2 of the last series), but if I’m honest it was how well my speech was received at the launch party for the ScienceGrrl 2013 calendar.
 
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Start by trying to explain what you do in simple terms, but don’t patronise your audience. Imagine you are trying to communicate your work to the person sitting next to you on the train or the bus; you want them to get off at their stop thinking your work is brilliant – and you aren’t bad either.