This is part of a series of reviews of the sessions held by the Science Communication Group on 13th September, in celebration of 21 years of the Science Communication MSc at Imperial College. We will be putting up reviews of each session over the next couple of weeks. If you went to the celebrations and would like to have your say, please get in touch: @I_science_mag, or via the contacts page.
Engaging young people with science
Chair: Alice Bell (Senior teaching fellow, Imperial College).
Panel: Sophia Collins (editorial advisor, I’m a scientist, get me out of here!), Imran Khan (Director, CaSE), Roland Jackson (Chief executive, British Science Association).
This October marks the 21st birthday of the science communication masters at Imperial College, London. And what better way to celebrate that inviting students, old and new, to network, discuss and learn about engaging young people with science. Alice Bell, a science communication lecturer at Imperial, chaired the Engaging young people in science session. She was joined Sophia Collins, the editorial advisor forI’m a scientist, get me out of here!, Imran Khan, the director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and Roland Jackson, the chief executive of the British Science Association.
Collins started off the discussions, suggesting that the best thing to do is to let children “engage in a two way dialogue with scientists.” This brings a certain reality to science, rather than just being in the classroom. I’m a scientist provides a perfect platform for this: by letting the students ask the scientists about their work, they not only learn some real science, but also gain tools in critical thinking and sourcing answers.
Khan followed this with his thoughts on the gender gap in GCSE and A-level science: “Although it is still there, it is decreasing”, he said. He also voiced concerns about the shortage of physics teachers in the UK.
The “Brian Cox Effect” has provided a rapid increase in the number of students wanting to study physics, but the question of why we are still better at engaging boys than girls is playing on his mind.
He thinks the problem lies in the way in which science is taught. “Working scientifically should not be taught separately […] to the science itself”, he said. And we should welcome the principle of challenging the curriculum.
That is exactly what Jackson did. After doing research in chemistry he decided to teach, and after only one year he realised that there were some fundamental flaws in the education system. “There was very little room for creativity within the curriculum” he said. So he worked to change several national curriculum development programmes in science education.
Jackson wanted to offer students topics they found interesting, rather than just throwing information at them in the hope that some of it would be absorbed. He wanted to introduce cutting-edge science in the classrooms, and teach the appropriate theory alongside it.
The three speakers were asked many challenging questions by the audience; why people go into teaching? And what teaching methods are currently used in schools? One interesting observation was that science communicators rarely go into teaching. But no one could conclusively say why.
One important question remained unanswered, and I shall leave it as an afterthought:
What are people’s reasons for engaging young people in science?