An update on widening participation

In September last year we wrote about Widening Participation. We’ve refined our criteria a little since then; below is our definition of a widening participation school.

We’ve decided on these criteria because they match, in broad terms, the kinds of criteria universities use to identify widening participation students.

A widening participation school is…

In England and Wales

  • A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
  • A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
  • A school where the % of students achieving 5 grades A*–C at KS4 is below 45%, or…
  • A school where the % of students level 4 in reading, writing, and maths at KS2 is below 45%, or…
  • A school more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI.

In Scotland

  • A school in a remote rural area, or a remote small town

Where an independent school matches the criteria it will not be counted as a widening participation school.

Distance as measure

The Aspires project, from King’s College London found that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to a science-related career. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).

We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. This is where an online activity, like I’m a Scientist, has a great advantage. There is no distance barrier, no travel time. A scientist in central Manchester can have a live chat with a school in Cornwall followed immediately with a school in the Highlands.

To this end, we’ve added to our criteria: A school will count as distant if it is more than 25 miles from a major research higher education institute (HEI).

Starting with England and Wales, we took all of the schools, mapped the distance to the top 70 institutions by research output, and worked out the shortest distance between a school and a university. The map shows the schools which are more than 25 miles from one of these institutions.

We did not include smaller institutions, or those with more focused research areas as contact with scientists working in a wide variety of subjects and fields is important.

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

In Scotland the Department for Education lists schools with an urban/rural classification. Largely this covers what we are looking to achieve with the distance analysis in England and Wales (though we do plan to add HEI distance data for Scotland and Northern Ireland).

In Scotland, a school in a remote rural area, or remote small town will count as widening participation.

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

This measure excludes schools in accessible and urban areas; in effect the schools accessible from universities.

What about the most recent event?

In June 2016, by prioritising places for widening participation schools (meaning teachers at those schools are more likely to be given additional classes), 27% of the students taking part in I’m a Scientist came from widening participation schools.

21% of the schools taking part in June 2016 were widening participation schools.

Last year, in June 2015 we reported that 16% of the classes taking part were from schools meeting our criteria.

What’s next?

  1. Targets — By 2020, our aim is that 30% of the schools taking part meet the widening participation criteria.
  2. More data — We’re missing criteria for schools in Northern Ireland, and we’re missing attainment data for schools in Scotland. We need to add this.
  3. Improving the definition of schools in relation to their nearest HEI — Do we need to look at creating a more nuanced definition of distant schools in England and Wales? The current definition looks at distance rather than travel time. Travel time is likely a better measure but more difficult to assess. We would also like to look in more detail at the level of outreach different schools are receiving.
  4. A new database — We’re in the process of building a database of all UK schools which will be integrated into the teacher application process. This will allow us to more easily identify and allocate places to priority schools. It will also open new reporting features to teachers, giving schools more data on how their students are using the projects.

June 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the June Winners had to say…


Jonny, Antibiotics Zone

I was super nervous in the run up to the the result because I really didn’t think I would win! Originally, I thought it was going to be difficult to juggle my time in the lab and devoting time to answering questions and participating in live chats. With some careful organisation things worked out really well and as soon as the questions started pouring in, I became addicted! I hope you all learned as much as I did!

Read more

Laura, Catalysis Zone

The questions all the schools asked were incredible! There were so many that I was taken aback by as they were all so fantastic, everything from catalysis, chemistry, biology, physics and my views on various political and topical issues were asked; I think you all should be very proud.

The whole event was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone.

Read more

Matt, Cells Zone

The past two weeks have been a great experience for me, and one I’ll remember for a long time!

Being able to explain your work to students of all ages is a very valuable skill and one that I am always glad for an opportunity to practise with, so I found myself booking into every live chat I could and eagerly sitting at my laptop while waiting for the questions to come. I didn’t know what to expect for my first live chat, but when the questions started coming thick and fast I knew I was in for a challenge! The questions were smart and varied and I greatly enjoyed answering them, half an hour flew by so quickly that I couldn’t wait for the next chat, and I looked forward to the rest of them over the event.

Read more

Joanna, Ecosystems Zone

I would like to thank you for your excellent questions. Some made me rack my brains, some forced me to ask my colleagues about their thoughts, a few made me laugh – and then think quite hard. Some I still have no idea how to respond to… Which is exactly what makes them great questions, because research is all about asking, and trying to learn more about the unknown. Therefore well done everyone for having amazing and inspiring scientific mindsets!

Read more

Koi, Parasites Zone

It would be hard to pick a favourite question but one of my favourite moments was when I was asked about the most disgusting parasite, I said what I think can be “visually” disgusting and there was a mixture of “Ewwww” and “Wowww” in the chat. Thanks moderators for not kicking me out of the chat for doing that :).

I’m humbled to have played a little part in showing how science and scientists can be like and I hope this has inspired people to find out more about science and keep asking questions!

Read more

Angus, Mercury Zone

I’ve really enjoyed answering the questions you guys have had about science, but also about ourselves, our jobs, what we did at school, stuff like that. It’s been really fascinating to find out what YOU guys want to find out (even if we did never manage to answer where astronaut poo goes…)

Read more

Dawn, Thallium Zone

The live chats were the most fun part of the competition for me, and I tried to sign up to as much of them as possible. I did have to rearrange some labwork to fit in the live chats, but that’s part of the beauty of being a scientist – I can be flexible with my time. And I’m so glad that I did! The live chats were hectic and chaotic and I applaud the mods for keeping everything running smoothly. The breadth of questions from the students was amazing. I forget how many burning questions kids can come up with and it reminds me to keep the same spark of curiosity alive during my career!

Read more

Euan, Lead Zone

I was amazed by the variety of questions that the students asked during the event, and in particular with how insightful they were. I did not expect there to be any questions relating to my research that I hadn’t been asked before, but in fact there were many. It’s really changed my perspective on some aspects of my research area, and I have really learnt a lot from the questions.

Read more

Elliot, Bismuth Zone

To the students, the passion you’ve shown and the energy with which you asked your questions was really incredible to behold. The diversity (and sometimes, just plain oddness) of your questions had me racking my brains and scratching my head. I have really enjoyed the chance to talk about what it is I do and speculate a lot on topics from the possibility of X-men powers and zombie apocalypses to the adorableness of red pandas.

Read more


Are you up for the challenge? Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

APPLY NOW TO TAKE PART

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Demand vs. Capacity — An update for June 2016

Any avid readers of our project blog — there must be at least one of you — will have noticed we’ve written a lot recently about our increasing demand for classes, and our over-subscription rates.

In January, we published some numbers. Since then we have run the March 2016 event, and finalised class places in the June 2016 event. Here are some updated numbers:

Graph of I'm a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

I’m a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

In January, we wrote about the decreasing popularity of the June events, with more teachers moving to November and March.

With the spectacular growth in November 2015, we speculated that teachers may be moving from March and June to earlier in the academic year. If that was true, then we would have expected a lower demand in March and June this year.

What we see is a steady increase in demand in the June events. The growth in March 2016 was perhaps less than may have been expected given that of previous years. This could support the idea that teachers are opting to take part in November instead of March. The narrative is not entirely clear though and we need to look into this a little more.

As was true in January, what is clear is the decreasing capacity for classes in all of the events. Though this does though coincide with an increased capacity in our other projects; with the demand for classes increasing we need to increase the capacity. We need more funding.

For the past year or so we have been charging international schools wishing to take part, generating a few hundred pounds. This June we began asking the same charge of independent schools. Overall, the response has been positive — which to be honest has been a pleasant surprise. There’s a separate post to come on that, but the fact that teachers are willing to pay shows they value the activity, and that this could be a valuable funding stream in the future.

On student activity and simplified registrations

TL;DR: We made the site easier for students to access and the proportion of our audience engaging increased.

Like any company, we have a set of Key Performance Indicators which we use to keep an eye on how well we’re doing. One of those KPIs (professionals use abbreviations) is the percentage of active students during an event, what we will call, %AS.

%AS shows the number of students who log in to the site, and go on to — at the very least — ask a question, write a line of text in a live chat, cast a vote, or leave a comment. Basically, it shows the proportion of our audience who are actively engaging with the activity.

In July 2014 Rosie posted a message on our project management app of choice, pointing out that the %AS for the previous events had been falling to the level it was at during the project pilot.

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

So, what did we do about it?

If you looked at the graph, you’ll see that we’ve already given the game away (but this is a one-graph-blog-post, and we’re not about to pad this out with multiple views of the same graph).

We started pre-registering students.

By visiting schools to observe students taking part, we saw that asking students to create their own accounts was taking way too long, was way too complicated, and largely, unnecessary.

We completely stripped down the process students go through to first get access to the site.

Previous and updated student access process

Previous and updated student access process

Previously, students would use an “access code” to get to a registration page, where they create a username and password, give us an email address, answer some other questions including some evaluation questions on their views of STEM. Now, students are given a generic username and password which gives them instant access to the site. From there, they can choose to go in and answer the evaluation questions, create a display name, and fill in their profile. But if they choose, they can get instant access to the live chats, to the question page, to scientists’ profiles.

The moral of the story then… By observing students use the site, we learnt that the registration process was too complicated. Pre-registering accounts for students does add a little more time and admin to the running of the event than not; but effort that pays off by making the site simpler to use and access for the students taking part.

Moderator Vacancies June 2016

Hello! It’s that time again! We’re looking for a couple of moderators for our June 2016 events! I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer are award-winning online events allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists and engineers. We’re looking for 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 13th to the 24th June 2016.

First rule of moderator club… This is a paid, 10 day job, if you can’t do the 10 days, please don’t apply.

Your key responsibilities will be:

  • Checking and approving questions
  • Adding appropriate keywords and tags
  • Logging and keeping track of questions, comments and dialogue
  • Checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and usernames
  • Moderating live chats
  • Helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing, am I right?!

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail (THIS IS IMPORTANT)
  • You enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Extra bonus things we’d like, but aren’t hugely important..

  • A sense of humor
  • The ability to multitask
  • Openness in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 30th May 2016), to Michaela at michaela@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 13th – 24th June (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £8/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: I’m a Scientist UK and I’m an Engineer UK.

You don’t need to..
Phone us because that’s what your careers officer said you should do.
Send a CV comprising more than 2 pages, with font smaller than 10pt or 2mm margins.

Increasing demand and charges for independent schools

Demand for our activities has been slowly increasing. We regularly have more classes requested than we are able to accommodate and we have to limit the number of classes we offer teachers. In November 2015, for the first time we had to start turning down teachers, unable to limit classes to a point where every teacher who applied could be given a place.

This increasing demand for classes has lead us to prioritise schools where we believe our activities can add the most value, where online STEM engagement can make the most difference.

Most of our funders are prioritising underserved audiences. For us that means schools that traditionally don’t send many students on to Higher Education or are located disadvantageously for STEM engagement activities. Sadly this means that some schools who have been able to take up places in the past will not be able to take part without additional funding.

Beginning with the June 2016 events, fee paying schools can choose to pay £100, for every class of students, in order to guarantee participation in the event. This money will go towards providing additional zones.

We’re aware that some of the teachers who have participated the most in the past will be affected by this change. We truly hope that you will be able to take part. In order to guarantee your spaces please email josh@gallomanor.com.

 

March 2016 Winners’ Blogs

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the winners from March’s zones had to say…


Chris, Biochemistry Zone

I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’d leave chats with a big smile from your questions and aching fingers from trying to keep up with them. Your questions made me laugh, groan, and think. I had to research quite a few of them. I’d start every morning going through and answering your questions. There’s going to be a sad hole in my mornings now that we’re done.

Cat, Climate Change Zone

I genuinely couldn’t have imagined how much fun taking part in IAS was going to be – thanks so much for all the brilliant questions you guys sent in. Many of the questions made me think about things that I haven’t thought about for years and reminded me why I became a scientist in the first place 😀

Majid, Fat Zone

I have worked with children before, but never in a sense where I am teaching them about science and my research. So, this was like walking on new ground for me. But I quickly learnt to adapt the language I was using and shaped my approach to make the science easier to digest for the young students. So taking part in this event has helped me to grow as a scientist and it has inspired me to continue working with young children in my role as a doctor and a scientist, and I kind of feel somewhat like a role model now.

Emma, Gravity Zone

The Gravity Zone had some amazing scientists – Alice, Steve, Christian and Bose. It was very interesting to see how each scientist answered the different questions. This really helped me develop my communication skills.

Paul, Medical Physics Zone

I particularly enjoyed all of your sci-fi related questions, talking about time travel, aliens, Death Stars and superpowers is always good fun and I love to look at the science behind it. Questions like that are one of the main reasons I got interested in science, so it’s great to see school kids asking similar kinds of questions I was at that age! I also liked some of the more obscure questions as well, like ‘Why do tapeworms show on 100 year old x-rays but not new ones?’ which had us all baffled until the student unearthed a 100 year old paper on the subject.

Lauren, Toxicology Zone

Although my schedule is now significantly less jam packed without daily classroom chats, I am straight back into the lab and researching hard. I am genuinely looking forward to organising more STEM outreach events using the award, and interacting with yet more enthusiastic young scientists like you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to recreate some of the I’m a Scientist experience for others!

Scott, Iridium Zone

I really enjoyed the entire two weeks and every question really made me think. I’m so impressed by the depth and breadth of all your questions! I got very excited seeing new ones come in and answered them as quickly as I could, but also in a way that would inspire you and make you want to know more. I particularly enjoyed thinking about a ‘neutron star bullet’ and finding out about the most flammable thing in the world!

Lowri, Platinum Zone

I’m so happy that you’ve all taken an interest in science, even for a little while, and seen that not all scientists have crazy white hair and wear lab coats! I’ve had some really interesting (and some really strange!) questions over the last two weeks, from how do certain things affect students behaviour in school, to the surprising “would we all float away if there was no gravity?”

Hayley, Gold Zone

What was mind-blowing was the intelligence and ingenuity of all of the questions. From asking me what brains of autistic children look like, to asking me who my favourite footballer was! There was such diversity and passion behind every question. I have also learnt a tremendous amount! I have learnt so much about space! Some of the questions have truly inspired my research especially ‘do twins sleep the same?’ That was an outstanding question! I now don’t really know what to do everyday. I am going to have to pester my friends and colleagues to ask me questions and just talk at them about science!! I am excited to get on with my research and integrate all these questions. It has been so inspiring and I can now go into other schools and communities and tell them about the amazing people I have interacted with over the past two weeks.

If you think you can handle the challenging questions…Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Reaching widening participation schools. Does it work?

Fair access has been at the heart of what we do at I’m a Scientist. One of our long term goals is to increase the number of widening participation schools taking part in our projects. To do this, the first question we asked ourselves was: What is a widening participation school? But now we have yet another question: is it worth it?

Our instinct tell us it is, but is there any evidence that bringing STEM activities to those hard to reach students improves their attitudes to science or the likelihood to enrol in a STEM career?

mente

You can click to download the full report by FECYT.     Only in Spanish.

We’ve looked for this evidence and we’ve found a very nice piece of research carried out by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT, by its Spanish acronym) with the help of 1,565 Y10 and Y11 students from 36 schools in Barcelona and Madrid.

The students came from different socioeconomic sectors: 12% were from a high socio-economic background, 60% from a middle one and 28% were from lower socio-economic background.

Half of the students participated in two science communication activities: a workshop and a talk, and the other half were the control group. The students in the experimental group filled in a questionnaire, then took part in workshop, took a second survey, listened to a science talk, and filled in a third survey at the end. The students in the control group took the same 3 surveys at the same time as the other group, but didn’t take part any of the outreach activities.

Impact of outreach on attitude towards STEM subjects is highest among students from vulnerable backgrounds, and those with lower grades

When they look at the change in the interest on studying STEM, they found out that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds improved their interest by 9.5%, whereas those from high socio-economic backgrounds improved it by 3% only.

socio

Modified from “Mente Científica” report.

Moreover, when they look at the changes in the interest on studying STEM depending on the students’ school performance; they found out that the interest increased the most (almost 13%) in those with the lowest grades. The interest for studying STEM actually decreased for the excellent students achieving high grades at school.

grade

Modified from “Mente Científica” report.

This tells us we are on the right path. We need to make sure we make our events available to everyone, especially those schools with more students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds and lower grades because it looks like outreach has the greatest effect on them.

Our definition of a widening participation school includes those where over 41% of students are eligible for free school meals (more likely to come from a vulnerable background), as well as schools in which less than 45% of students achieve A*–C grades in 5 of their GCSE exams.

In June 2015, 16% of the classes taking part in I’m a Scientist were from a school meeting the Widening Participation criteria above. In I’m an Engineer, 17% of the classes. In the following events we are going work to reach 30% of classes taking part meeting the WP criteria by the end of 2020. As usual, we’ll keep you updated on this.

Have you observed any of the above? Do you know any other related research? Please share your comments and let us know what you think.

Moderator Vacancies: March 2016

Hi again! It’s us again! It’s that time again! We’re looking for a couple of moderators for our March 2016 events! I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer are award-winning online events allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists and engineers. We’re looking for 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 7th to the 18th March 2016. We will also be running I’m an Engineer Ireland and I’m an Astronaut (which is very cool).

First rule of moderator club.. This is a paid, 10 day job, if you can’t do the 10 days, please don’t apply.

Your key responsibilities will be:

  • checking and approving questions
  • adding appropriate keywords and tags
  • logging and keeping track of questions, comments and dialogue
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and usernames
  • moderating live chats
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing, am I right?!

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail (THIS IS IMPORTANT)
  • You enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Extra bonus things we’d like, but aren’t hugely important..

  • A sense of humor
  • The ability to multitask
  • Interested in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 22nd February 2016), to Emily at emily@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 7th – 18th March (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £8/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: I’m a Scientist UK and Ireland and I’m an Engineer UK and Ireland.

You don’t need to..
Phone us because that’s what your careers officer said you should do.
Send a CV comprising more than 2 pages, with font smaller than 10pt or 2mm margins.

Demand for classes

Column chart showing demand for classes outstripping supply

When we started I’m a Scientist we used our March events to allow teachers to test the event and for them to come back in June with more classes. That time after school exams when teachers looked for something to inspire kids was the ideal time.

Times have changed since then. March remains popular as teachers look for activities to coincide with British Science Week, but June is no longer the most popular time of year. We think this is due to increasing numbers of schools starting the next year’s timetable and curriculum after exams and that fallow period is no longer fallow.

November is where we saw some spectacular growth in 2015. We’re not sure what has driven this – we’ll investigate and we’ll rebalance when in the year we run zones.

The other clear narrative from this graph is that excluding the lower than expected level of requests in June 2014, demand for I’m a Scientist is increasing and outstripping demand. The past four events have been oversubscribed and March looks like going the same way as November 2015. There are some advantages in terms of zones being busy, but we need a balance.

November 2015 – Bigger than ever

We’ve just published the latest batch of zone reports for the recent November 2015 round of I’m a Scientist. You can find them here, or at the bottom of this post, but before you dive into the pretty pie charts and wicked wordles, we felt it would be useful to provide some context to keep in mind as you read:

We had an inkling that November’s eight zones were going to be big. As we reported beforehand, due to extremely high demand from teachers, it was the first time ever that we had to turn schools away from I’m a Scientist. We also had to limit the number of classes of those taking part to one or two per zone to fit as many schools in as possible. Without doing this we would have had to run double the number of zones to cover the demand.

So, after the hype, exactly how big were the zones in November? Here are some headline figures:

  • 481 students, on average, logged in to each zone. Compare this to the historical average of 353, and a target of at least 300 per zone.
  • Students submitted an average of 956 questions per zone and half of the zones saw well over 1000. The event average is 717 questions.
  • 20 live chats per zone was the average number in November. This is also usually the maximum number we allow.
The averages for the November 2015 event and the averages over three years of I'm a Scientist UK. '% of students active' is percentage of students who logged in and used ASK, CHAT or VOTE. Asterisks denote new record averages for an event.

The averages for the November 2015 event and the averages over three years of I’m a Scientist UK. ‘% of students active’ is percentage of students who logged in and used ASK, CHAT or VOTE. Asterisks denote new record averages for an event.

While the figures above are incredible in terms of numbers of students interacting with the site, high zone numbers aren’t everything. In fact, what’s best for both students and scientists is running smaller zones and more of them.

We still had great feedback from the students, teachers and scientists in November, but the bigger a zone gets, there are potential consequences. Scientists can only do so much in two weeks and with so many live chats happening, we did see slightly less scientists per chat in some zones. There’s also less chance for students to come up with their own ASK questions that haven’t been asked before, and then receive answers made just for them. The lower proportion of approved questions to submitted questions reflects this.

We don’t want these consequences. We want every student to have their own high quality, personalised interaction with a scientist. An increased number of smaller zones would make this easier for everyone.

The situation we’re in also means we have to choose which schools take part, and in an effort to reach those who lack regular STEM engagement, we’ve started prioritising places for Widening Participation and rural schools. Ideally, however, we want all schools who register for an event to get a place in a zone.

Thanks to our current funders, and the sterling efforts of the scientists, November was a success. But if we’re near the limit of zone size now, what’s next? Luckily, the high demand for I’m a Scientist represents a huge opportunity for organisations to reach the public. Being oversubscribed means we can show there are hundreds of schools ready to engage with hundreds of keen scientists. All that’s needed is the funding for the zones to let them get on with it, and we’re going to try our best to make that happen.

November 2015 Reports:

“The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding”

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the winners from November’s zones had to say…


Sara, Ageing Zone

I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here was a continuous surprise. I was surprised I was selected, I was surprised I wasn’t evicted and I was amazed I won!

I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t think kids will be so interested in my work; I work with animals and I was scared a lot of people would be against it and they would be aggressive about it. But no, I had amazing and clever questions I didn’t even expect.

It’s an experience that everyone should do!

Jack, Extreme Pressure Zone

You all had so many questions; some of them were jokes, some of them were intriguing, most of them were genius and they pretty much all made me smile. I’m so grateful you decided I was worthy of winning this event. *prayer hands emoji* from the bottom of my <3

Cristina, Heart Zone

I found myself chuckling in the office and typing away until my fingers hurt. I ended up looking forward to them a lot, talking to the students in real-time has been so much fun, and has definitely made me want to share science and engage with students in more ways.

Jesus, Spectroscopy Zone

I would recommend the experience to both scientists and students as I think that both can get a lot from it, there is no better way to test how much you know about something than trying to explain it to someone with a more limited background on the topic. Also, I think the students can benefit from talking to scientists and getting to know a bit more about student life from people that have been there not that long ago (Yes, we are still young and have a social life!).

Natalie, Osmium Zone

It gave me the opportunity to reach more schools than the ones I’ve had time to visit in the South West of Great Britain. For instance, without this competition, there’s no way I could have talked about my work with pupils in Scotland… The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding.

Nicholas, Rhenium Zone

I had a brilliant time on I’m a Scientist and really enjoyed the opportunity to try and explain a huge variety of scientific topics to all you guys, from black holes to bacteria… Thank you very much to all the students who took part – the depth and range of your questions was phenomenal, and seeing just how interested and enthusiastic you all are when it comes to science really shows how useful events like this are!

Ashley, Tantalum Zone

I now have some money and more importantly the responsibility to do something cool, fun and engaging to get guys like you more involved in our world. This is a really exciting opportunity that I never expected to have, and I already have a thousand hair brained ideas.

Ross, Tungsten Zone

What was so astounding was the range of questions that were asked of all of us – it is so clear that the students who took part were interested in such broad areas of science and keen to understand what the life of a scientist is like. I hope you all learned as much as I did – I knew very little about space before I’m a Scientist and now I feel like an expert! Also huge thanks to students asking if a balloon can be inflated by a fart – I am now making this a research priority 😉

 

If you think you want to discover new ways to communicate your work… Or want the funding for a your own harebrained schemes… Or just want to gain a new fart-based research priority…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

3 words to describe a scientist

Survey results from a Year 6 student - Swanmead Community School

Survey results from a Year 6 student – Swanmead Community School

In March 2014 we started running zones for primary students only, increasing the number of primary school students who take part in I’m a Scientist. And we wanted to know more about how the event affects them.

This time, we drifted away from our usual online environment and sent printed surveys to teachers taking part in the Colour Zone and the Thulium Zone, the two primary only zones we ran in June 2015.

We also wanted to check if the response rate to printed surveys was higher than the response rate to digital ones, and it is. We got pre and post event results from roughly 40% of the students who took part in the two primary zones. Usually around 10% of students who take part in the events fill in both the pre and post event digital surveys. Analysis and interpretation of online surveys is quicker and more efficient that printed ones, but getting teachers involved in the evaluation process definitely made a difference.

We asked students which 3 words they would use to describe a scientist, before and after taking part. We got responses from over 300 students from 9 different schools.

  • The students used more that 230 different words to describe scientists. They used 188 different words before taking part and 127 after, maybe indicating that they are clearer about what a scientist is after taking part. Awesome, cooperative, inquisitive, life-saving… are just some examples of the words they used.
  • ‘Intelligent’, ‘clever’ and ‘smart’ were the most popular describers, although students used them less often after taking part – 46% of students used at least one of these words pre-event compared with 40% post-event.
  • Students described scientists as ‘awesome’, ‘epic’, and ‘cool’ twice as many times after taking part in I’m a Scientist– 9.7% of students used these words post-event compared with 4.4% pre-event.

We grouped words in synonym clusters, and we represented the relative pre to post-event difference on word use by gender:

new graphOnly words that were used at least 10 times are represented.

From the graph you can see that girls and boys equally use less negative stereotype words like ‘crazy’ after taking part.  Emotional descriptors – like ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’ – are mentioned more frequently after the event. You can also see that boys are more likely to use the word ‘fun’ after the event than girls. However, girls were more likely to use the word ‘awesome’ after taking part.

What do you think? Is there anything that particularly calls your attention? We asked a primary schools teacher and she told us:

I’m not surprised by the ‘awesome’ leap – I don’t think children really understand what is involved in the daily work of scientists until they interact on I’m a Scientist. My own students have been blown away by talk of live sheep spines, looking at volcanoes in space, etc.” – Tracy Tyrrell

If you are a primary school teacher and you want to evaluate your students’ attitudes to science before and after doing I’m a Scientist, you can download PDF version of them here:

If you are an academic (or, really anyone!) and you are keen to see and analyse the raw data of these printed surveys, please let us know in the comments and we’ll share them with you.

Please leave a comment, let’s continue the dialogue.

Special thanks to Dr Jessica Hamer, for her advice on the the printed surveys design.

Which browsers and devices are schools using?

Every year (see 2014) we take all our data, and look at how schools use the site; looking at how visitors access the site and how much that has changed in the past couple of years.

We’ve made a lot of changes in recent events, especially when it comes to registering accounts and using the site on mobile devices. We now pre-register all teachers and students, giving them usernames and passwords, so they can start asking questions immediately.

We can assume that the student visitors give a fair reflection of the general school IT facilities and system capabilities.

The graphs show the student data represented by dashed lines.

Device

We saw last year, that visits from mobile and tablet devices were increasing. and no surprise they continue to grow, while desktop usage drops slightly. For student tablet users there is little difference in content visited when compared to student desktop users.

We’re currently right in the middle of an overhaul to make the site more responsive and mobile friendly- which should make the user experience a lot smoother for all users. Allowing students who use tablets and mobiles the same experience as desktop users.

Browser

If desktop usage is going down somewhat, it’s unsurprising that Internet Explorer is also sinking,  with Chrome taking a the lead and Safari jumping up (a lot of tablets and mobile devices being Apple products, where the default browser is Safari). The rise in other browsers will be down to mobile and tablet browsers using Android, Blackberry and Opera.

IE versions

And finally the bane of web designers and developers lives.. The old versions of Internet Explorer. A collective sigh of relief, IE6 has finally drifted out of favour (available since 2003!!!!), IE7 is on the out, IE8 is dropping, as is IE9, even IE10 is dropping.. But IE11 has taken a big leap. Understandably when a new version is released, it will lead to older versions not being used, but the jump in the graph is still quite dramatic, compared to last years.

¡Allá vamos! I’m a Scientist goes to Spain

We always like to spread the I’m a Scientist love. The event currently runs in Ireland, Kenya, Malaysia, the United States, and of course here in the UK.

This school year we are adding another country (and language!) to the I’m a Scientist map: Somos Científicos (We Are Scientists) in Spain!

This picture makes perfect sense in the Spanish version of this blog post, honest. Click to test your GCSE Spanish! | Image by Wikimedia

The first “Somos Científicos” event will run 11th – 22th April 2016, involving Spanish schools and scientists. The project site is already live, so head to somoscientificos.es for more information or if you just want to test out your ‘conversational’ (according to your CV) level of Spanish.

Now any fledgling project needs both schools and scientists to be a success. We know we have Spanish friends who have taken part in I’m a Scientist UK in the past, and we have a small favour to ask of you: Please spread the word about Somos Cientificos to your colleagues, friends, family and even strangers if they are scientists or teachers!

If you’re a scientist who would like to be part of this new event, find out more and apply at: somoscientificos.es/cientificos

If you’re a teacher and want to get your students talking to real scientists in their own language, find out more and register to take part at: somoscientificos.es/profesores

You can also follow @S_Cientificos  on Twitter for updates about the project and what Angela assures us are Spanish science puns.

Yes, April may seem a long way off at the moment, but as some people say, “¡La paciencia es la madre de la ciencia!”

Moderator Vacancies: November 2015

Hello! It’s us! We’re looking for moderators for our November 2015 events! I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer are award-winning online events allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists and engineers. We’re looking for 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 9th to the 20th November 2015. We will also be running I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer in Ireland.

Your key responsibilities will be:

  • checking and approving questions
  • adding appropriate keywords and tags
  • logging and keeping track of questions, comments and dialogue
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and usernames
  • moderating live chats
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing, am I right?!

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail (THIS IS IMPORTANT)
  • You enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Extra bonus things we’d like, but aren’t hugely important..

  • A sense of humor
  • The ability to multitask
  • Interested in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 26th October 2015), to Emily at emily@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 9th – 20th November (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £8/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: I’m a Scientist UK and Ireland and I’m an Engineer UK and Ireland.

You don’t need to..
Phone us because that’s what your careers officer said you should do.
Send a CV comprising more than 2 pages, with font smaller than 10pt or 2mm margins.

Too many teachers

Hands up those who want to take part in I'm a Scientist.

Hands up those who want to take part in I’m a Scientist.

Being popular is a nice problem to have.

We’re running a total of 10 zones in November in the UK. It’s the most we’ve done at this time of year. But it is not enough.

As the new school year started we asked our list of over 2,000 teachers how many classes they would like for our November events. 202 teachers requested a total of 537 classes. The problem is we only have space for 250 classes. Up to 8,500 students will be missing out on science engagement this November.

We spent an uncomfortable afternoon last week working out how to allocate the spaces we had. Should we prioritise teachers who been regular supporters and taken part in lean times? Or new schools so that more teachers get a chance to experience our little bundle of joy? Or rural schools? Or schools in deprived areas?

In the end we capped the number of classes at 2 per school. Despite loving the energy that comes from entire year groups participating it would mean excluding too many schools if we didn’t. We also left off schools that previously had spaces but failed to take them. We did prioritise rural schools and schools from deprived areas. And sadly restricted and left off those schools where through location and parental connections they have more opportunities to connect with scientists and engineers. That meant many fee-paying schools who’ve previously taken part have been left without places this November.

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not nice. We are in the envious position of being relatively well-funded, and very over-subscribed with schools and scientists wanting to take part. I do want to avoid the situation in March. We’ll be reaching out to potential funders to fund more zones: companies, research councils, universities.

Apologies to those students and schools who’ve missed out this time. With a bit of good fortune we’ll have more space in March.

Widening Participation

One of our long term goals is to increase the number of Widening Participation schools taking part in our projects, but to do this, there’s a fairly fundamental question to ask first: What is a widening participation school?

Without establishing what would count as a widening participation school, it’s difficult to target these schools, and even more difficult to evaluate how well we’re doing in increasing the number taking part. Time then, to set out some criteria.

A Widening Participation School is…

  • A school where the % of students achieving grades A*–C at GCSE is below 45%, or…
  • A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
  • A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
  • An SEN School

Independent schools will not be counted.

In 2013, a school with more than 41.6% of students eligible for free school meals would put that school in the highest quintile for primary schools. For secondary schools, the boundary was 44.3%.

What about the most recent events?

In June 2015, 16% of the classes taking part in I’m a Scientist were from a school meeting the Widening Participation criteria above. In I’m an Engineer, 17% of the classes.

What’s next?

We want to reach more widening participation schools, and we’re looking for new ways to do this. We’re going to pay extra attention to these schools, making sure they get the most out of taking part, that they get a live chat booked, and that the teachers are aware of other things they can do to get all the potential out of taking part. A lot of this is about sharing other teachers’ experiences which will be useful for any teachers taking part.

  1. Now we have a set of criteria we will be able to measure more accurately the numbers of Widening Participation schools we have taking part.
  2. Priority places will be given to schools meeting the criteria above.
  3. We need to improve our definition. What we have now is a placeholder definition. We believe that the schools we should be targeting are schools in rural areas where it will be difficult for the students to have contact with scientists and engineers. We want to look at schools and create a list of schools far away from research institutions. These are the schools we should focus on getting to take part.

Research vs Evaluation

Science Learning+ is a significant funding scheme provided jointly between the Wellcome Trust and the National Science Foundation.

Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school.

The second aim of the scheme is to

“bridge the practice and research gap”

At a seminar in July aimed at providing an update on the Phase I project an interesting conversation developed about that gap between Science Communication practitioners and researchers.

I heard one speaker talk about practitioners wanting to know if a hypothetical red headline would give a 3% uplift in visitors. I responded on twitter:

Not all practioners agreed with me. Some felt each project would be unique enough to warrent a rewriting of expectations

Others simply disagreed and place efficacy as something for researchers:

In the end 140 characters felt underpowered.

For me research and evaluation are different, but very related.

I expect research to tell me if an approach to science communication works and how it works. I expect evaluation to tell me how well a project is working and how it can be improved. I would like evaluation to draw upon the research to extrapolate that particular  activities will lead to particular outcomes.

For example using I’m a Scientist:

The feedback we get from our participants is that connecting online with scientists improves their attitude to science, and to jobs in science. We seem to find the changes in attitude among girls is greater than it is for boys.

I want some research to tell me why those conversations are improving attitudes and if those changes are persistent. I want the research to be telling me how online activity compares to offline activity and why.

I want research to tell me what characteristics of engagement deliver the best and most persistent improvements in attitude and achievement.

Then I want my evaluation to examine our work against those characteristics and to suggest ways to improve them.

Research  = why something works

Evaluation = how well something works

What do you think?

Harwell Open Day Zone Report

HRWL LEGO PosterOn Saturday July 11th the Harwell Research Campus opened its doors to the public. 10,000 people were expected to come and see some of the most complicated and cutting edge science equipment in the world. Hundreds of volunteers working with that equipment were on hand to speak with the public and show them what happens.

We created a Harwell Zone to allow visitors to text in questions. It was promoted using posters as above.

The logic was that with 10,000 visitors some would not get to ask their questions, or may think of it later, or possibly be too shy to ask in person. It was a family day.

Working with the over-worked (understatement klaxon just sounded) outreach team at Diamond and Harwell we set the zone up and promoted it to exhibitors.

It wasn’t a great success. A mere 14 questions were sent.

However in the interest of continual improvement let’s look at what worked, what didn’t and most importantly what would be do differently if given the chance.

What worked?

The technology did. Visitors were able to text a question, get a response to manage their expectations and a notification when someone answered the question. We also had an enthusiastic response from exhibitors who signed up. However the enthusiasm was far far greater amongst I’m a Scientist alumni. It seems that we didn’t really reach many new scientists. It was in the main scientists we already knew who happened to be already exhibiting.

What didn’t work?

We didn’t reach new scientists. The vast majority of scientists there were not aware that they could have taken part. This meant that the online offering was very patchy. As you wandered around the trained eye (mine) occasionally picked out a poster. The only exception was the RAL Cyrogenics Lab where Vicky Bayliss had printed out extra posters and placed them all around the lab.

We didn’t reach the public. There simply was not enough publicity.

What would we do next time?

  • An online Q&A offering needs to be an integral and supplementary part of the open day. Exhibitors should be opting out not in. Taking some questions online should be seen as part of the overall experience. We need to brief potential participants better.
  • The online experience needs to match the offline experience. At Harwell some participants were running a desk, others signed up the entire lab. It was disjointed. It would work at the lab level better.
  • We should pay more attention to the offline visitor flow. At Harwell many labs had a distinct flow from start to finish. We should have been making sure as people left they not only handed back their lanyards but took away a leaflet offering the chance to ask follow-up questions.
  • Use the online zone to supplement the offline experience. At Harwell visitors were invited to view the Diamond Light Synchotron but there were explainers in there. It was a prime spot to publicise the zone.
  • Programme notes. People tend to keep the programme notes with them throughout the day and on the way home. That’s the time to mop up any unanswered questions.
  • Make more of the online zone. We could take feedback, promote new open days, communicate campaigns, point to more resources. The point is that if someone asks a question online they are in effect asking to engage in conversation. Same as offline. The difference being that online you have the ability to invite the visitor to restart that conversation at any time in the future.