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GeoEd: Announcing the winner of I’m a Geoscientist!

3 Jul

The last two weeks have been action-packed, with ten schools from seven countries heading online to ask five fabulous geoscientists questions about anything from how the Earth works to what it’s like to be a scientist in the first ever I’m a Geoscientist, Get me out of here! competition.

Find out more about the event at http://imageoscientist.eu.

Find out more about the event at imageoscientist.eu.

The aim of this thrilling fortnight was to let school kids interact with real geoscientists and challenge their knowledge in a competition to find out who was the best geoscience communicator. The scientists (from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Malta and the USA) fielded questions on earthquakes, climate, floods and more to share their science and win the favour of students taking part. And in the last few days they narrowed their favourites down to a final two, who battled it out on Friday for the champion’s title.

After almost 150 questions and over 450 answers we had a winner! Congratulations to Anna Rabitti, an Italian oceanographer working at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)! In a post on imageoscientist.eu she explains how the Earth and space sciences can inspire great curiosity, whatever your background: “our Earth still has the power to amaze and question each and every one of us, from young students to geology professors.”

Anna at sea on RV Pelagia – the rocks were collected some 2300 metres below the surface, not far from the Atlantic’s Rainbow hydrothermal vent field (Credit: Roald van der Heide)

Anna at sea on RV Pelagia – the rocks were collected some 2300 metres below the surface, not far from the Atlantic’s Rainbow hydrothermal vent field (Credit: Roald van der Heide)

Anna will be awarded 500 euros to use on science outreach. She hopes to spend it improving the way scientific data is shared on the public ferry that doubles as a research boat and connects the island of Texel in northern Holland with the mainland. The data collected by the boat (ocean temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and more) is currently displayed on big screens for all passengers to see, but Anna hopes to set up something more interactive to inspire the next generation of geoscientists. In Anna’s words, “There are many ways to be a scientist, if you wish you can find your own.”

By Sara Mynott, EGU Communications Officer

GeoEd: Get ‘em when they’re young

24 Jun

There’s a lot of emphasis on outreach to older students, i.e. those who are contemplating further education and may well wish to pursue a career in science, but shouldn’t we also target our efforts at the younger generation? Sam Illingworth highlights the importance of outreach to primary school kids – and of catching them at an age when they’re most likely to be inspired…

From my experiences working in schools across the UK, there has been a rather biased drive to deliver educational outreach to students that are either coming to the end of their compulsory education, or who are about to decide what to study at university.

However, to me this appears to be a somewhat backward approach. Yes, it is important to target students with stimulating outreach activities that inspire them to study a geosciences-related degree at university, but many of these students will already have had to make some selections regarding the speciality of their education, even at this early age.

In the UK, at the age of 16, students are asked to choose (usually) between 3 and 5 subjects to study for a further two years, a decision that will have major implications for their university education. In reality, for many students the choice of pursuing a broad scientific education occurred even earlier, with many UK students given the option at 14 of replacing some of their science lessons with those from other subjects.

Because of this early selective branching, it can often be very difficult to change the mindset of a teenager that has already taken the decision to less actively pursue the sciences in their studies. Whilst this model is not in place across the whole of Europe, it is certainly true that there is more of a focus on depth rather than breadth as a student’s education progresses. Furthermore, research suggests that for many pupils the dissatisfaction with science sets in at the end of their primary school (10-11) years.

The brain is far more impressionable in earlier life than in maturity, and with increasing age, the ability to learn and to be influenced declines. Peak impressionability is between the ages of zero and three, and it begins to taper off significantly after the age of eight. Therefore, in order to encourage as many students as possible to actively pursue a broad scientific education it is important to instil a fascination and desire to do science at an early age.

The impressionable youth. (Credit: Sharon  Peters)

The impressionable youth. (Credit: Sharon Peters)

Targeting students between the ages of 5 and 11 requires a slightly different approach to working with teenagers, but many of the core principals remain the same, with the students needing to be both educated and engaged.

In educating the students, it is very important not to work with a deficit model, an idea that focuses on the students’ lack of knowledge, rather than a student-centeredness approach based around the understanding of the learner and the learning process. In my opinion the use of a deficit approach to outreach is akin to the feeling you get when a car mechanic sighs at your understanding of spark plugs; it is not a very positive experience to be told that you do not know something!

Instead, if we use an approach that focuses on what the students have already learnt in class and on concepts and items that they understand and are familiar with, then this can reinforce the work we are doing, and will leave the students feeling empowered and therefore far more willing to contribute. For example, in a recent activity that I ran for a group of seven-year old pupils I wanted to teach them about how to conduct a scientific experiment. Knowing that the notion of a fair test was a part of the curriculum I developed an activity that saw the students squashing bananas, weighing them before and after, and recording their results in a scientific manner. The students were then able to build on their knowledge base of what constituted a fair test to learn about the scientific process, using equipment (bananas and weighing scales) that they were familiar with.

Outreach activities that build on a previous knowledge base can be far more engaging than those built around a deficit model. (Credit: Louise Bousfield)

Outreach activities that build on a previous knowledge base can be far more engaging than those built around a deficit model. (Credit: Louise Bousfield)

In order to engage with younger students it is advisable to make the outreach activity as practical and interactive as possible. A recent report from the UK’s Wellcome Trust found (not surprisingly) that young people enjoy practical activities in which they can actively get involved rather than just watch. That being said, from personal experience there is still room for traditional assembly-style presentations, providing that the students are kept involved and that there are lots of opportunities for questions!

I recently gave a school assembly to around 150 students, between the ages of five and eleven on the subject of ‘Who is a Scientist?’ The assembly lasted for about an hour, including twenty-five minutes of open-ended questions, and could have gone on for much longer; in fact, I only had to stop taking questions so that the students were able to leave school on time!

School assemblies are a great opportunity to engage with a large number of students. (Credit: Sam Illingworth)

School assemblies are a great opportunity to engage with a large number of students. (Credit: Sam Illingworth)

Working with younger children can be a liberating and exhilarating experience. They are yet to develop the cynicism and awkwardness that can sometimes make engaging with older children so energy zapping. They can also surprise you in the most wonderful ways; in the assembly that I mentioned above one softly spoken student asked me ‘Why, if human[s] evolved from monkeys are there still monkeys?’

Carefully developed outreach activities can educate and engage younger students, thereby instilling a love of science at this early and impressionable age. Such activities can have a large influence on the degree to which they decide to sustain their scientific educations, which will ultimately have a profound effect on them far beyond the confines of the classroom.

By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

References:

Clemence, M., N. Gilby, J. Shah, J. Swiecicka, and D. Warren: Wellcome Trust Monitor: wave 2 tracking public views on science, biomedical research and science education report, Wellcome Trust, 2014

Osborne, J., & Dillon, J.: Science education in Europe: Critical reflections. London: The Nuffield Foundation, 2008

UNICEF: The Importance of Early Childhood Development, 12 October 2008. Accessed 5 June 2014.

Ziman, J.: Public understanding of science, Science, Technology & Human Values, 16(1), 99-105, 1991

Job opportunity at the EGU Executive Office: Communications Officer

18 Mar

The EGU is seeking to appoint a Communications Officer to work with the EGU Media and Communications Manager in maintaining and further developing media- and science-related communications between the EGU and its membership, the working media, and the public at large. The Communications Officer will also work under the direction of the EGU Executive Secretary on activities related to the promotion of the organisation. The position will be based at the EGU Executive Office in Munich, Germany.

More information about this vacancy, including main tasks, requirements, application materials, and salary and starting date, is available in PDF format or on the EGU website.

Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the Media and Communications Manager, Dr Bárbara Ferreira (media@egu.eu, +49-89-2180-6703). Applications should be submitted by e-mail in a single file to vacancy@egu.eu by 8 May.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in this position? The EGU would be grateful if you shared this opportunity widely.

EGU social media

Scientists are humans

19 Feb

The title of this article may come as a bit of a shock, but it’s true. Scientists aren’t born scientists; they start off just like any other person and one day decide that the natural world is fascinating enough to them that they want to make a career out of figuring out its secrets. But, sometimes it is hard as an ‘outsider’ to see into science, especially academia. Sometimes it can seem like science by itself is just a mass of complicated figures explaining something so small it is hard to understand why anyone would care. Pair that with the monster that is the world of academia and you can have a rather inaccessible field.

But, for those that describe themselves as ‘outsiders’ to science, or those that are still deciding on their future career pathways and currently find science daunting, there is hope. And yes, there is also hope for all those scientists who really are normal people and just want to help people realise that and share their wonderful research with the world. We call it I’m a Geoscientist – Get me out of here!

IAG logo large

The EGU has teamed up with Gallomanor, a UK company that runs the events I’m a Scientist (Get me out of here) and I’m an Engineer (Get me out of here) to fund a European-wide sister project called I’m a Geoscientist – Get me out of here! where we provide school students with the opportunity to meet and interact with real scientists.

This is the chance for school kids across Europe to meet geoscientists, and ask them any questions they want. This could mean finding out that to be a scientist you don’t have to know everything, many scientists are just experts in their own very small, niche area. It could mean finding out why those scientists are interested in something so niche, and realising that, actually, the subject can be fascinating, it could change the world – or both!

And for those who are not still in school and can’t ask questions themselves, you can view all the questions and answers online while the event is going on. If you are a class or teacher not formally taking part in the event, you can still download the free teacher resource packs and take part at your own pace by discussing the questions and answers provided.

For scientists, this is the chance to get your research out there, to show the world what awesome stuff you do on a daily basis. And also, crucially, to let kids see that you also are a normal person as well! It’s a great chance to get some public engagement time logged for your project and discussing it with kids will help you communicate what you do in new and insightful ways that could help you see your research in a new light.

The entire event is held online, so that scientists and school classes across Europe can talk to each other without having to leave their labs or classrooms. So, if you are a teacher with a busy class schedule you can plan one or two hours of preparation time well ahead of the event and if you are a scientist all you need is a few breaks away from your fieldwork or experiments to respond to some questions on your laptop. So, why not get involved?

This opportunity is open to teachers who have taken part in an EGU Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) event in the past and scientists that are members of the EGU. If you are a GIFT teacher then you can register your classes (up to two per teacher) at http://imageoscientist.eu/teachers. If you are a scientist you can register to take part (and also sign up to become an EGU member if you are not already) at http://imageoscientist.eu/geoscientists

By Jane Robb, EGU Educational Fellow

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