I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here!
I'm a Scientist aims to bring real science to life for students, helping them to engage with science and develop discussion and critical thinking skills. It is designed to cover key concepts in How Science Works and is supported by lesson plans, information sheets and resources for different ages and ability levels, between years 7-13
The specific objectives of I'm a Scientist were to run the event (website, competition and supporting materials), to run at least 50 zones (250 scientists, 1,000 classes & 20,000 students), to evaluate the project throughout and to secure funding to continue the event post 2011.
Summary of activity:
We ran 54 zones with 270 scientists, 769 classes and 15,888 students taking part. 21,000 questions were asked, and there were 333 live chats where scientists and students wrote over 100,000 lines of live text. £27,500 was distributed to the zone winners to spend on science communication. We evaluated throughout, producing an interim evaluation report and sending each scientist a mini zone evaluation report in 2011. We’ve developed this since into a summary zone report to send to all scientists and teachers in each zone since. We’ve secured funding to run the event up to 2014.
Being online, the project collects megabytes of data and we used this data to capture statistics based on students taking part in the live chat sessions, asking questions and casting votes. We also collected feedback surveys from teachers, students and scientists. Using both statistics and feedback, we produced short summary evaluation documents for each zone to help scientists illuminate the impact of taking part.
What went well:
1. 80% of students were actively engaged - asking a question, chatting or voting
2. Funders considered this a value for money engagement project
3. Students were engaging with the scientists - 84% now know more about what scientists do
4. Scientists want to do more public engagement - 98% were positive about taking part
5. Teachers thought it was beneficial for their students - 96% think their students now have a more positive view of science
What was learned:
1. There is a drop out rate among teachers especially if an event is free - for us it's around 33%
2. You get more input from quieter students using online engagement, as typing a question is less intimidating than standing up in class
3. Young people are used to 'socialising' online, so it seems like a friendly space to them.
4. Getting students talking to REAL scientists makes it much more engaging then textbook exercises.
Top tips and advice for others
1. Previous participants word of mouth is your best marketing, if you focus on making the experience a great one.
2. Twitter is a great way of spreading the word about your event and 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. The % of scientists on twitter has increased in more recent events.
3. If you are developing resources for teachers, consult some actual teachers early on, and repeatedly! We recruited a teacher panel and they were invaluable and 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!