Science Outreach in Europe – Horizon2020 bid

One of the great things about I’m a Scientist as a science outreach event is its ability to bring together scientists and students from around the world.

This March we had scientists from Barcelona, Paris and CERN in the same event as pupils from the UK’s most northerly school on the tip of Shetland. A place so remote that Oslo is closer than London. National boundaries are ignored.

The word scientist across Europe

The event is currently running in Malaysia. After that Australia will be live. In the autumn a pilot will run in Kenya.

In June a spin off event I’m a Geoscientist, Get me out of here! will bring together geoscientists from Oklahoma to Paris with schools from Peru, South Africa, Romania, Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria.

It has long been an ambition of ours to do more with the event in Europe, but our timing was not great. The FP7 framework was coming to an end as we were ready to move forward. But now Horizon2020 is here and the Science with and for Society Programme has been announced. Part of that programme includes Making science education and careers attractive for young people (SEAC).

Our vision for I’m a Scientist in Europe is twofold. Firstly individual countries can run the event with schools in their area talking to both scientists working in the country and natural born scientists working abroad. Secondly we’ll run transnational events where scientists from a particular field of science engage with students from a range of EU countries. As part of that the students will have the chance to communicate with other students from around the continent. Our partners in the event will initiate their local events and commit to providing schools for the transnational events which they’ll also have the chance to create.

We are going to co-ordinate a bid under this programme and we are starting to build a network of partners from across Europe, so that we can present a strong case for funding. If you are interested in being part of the network please contact Shane McCracken via email or on +44 1225 326892.

Posted on April 11, 2014 admin in International | Leave a comment

I’m a Scientist zones for primary students

We’ve had plenty of primary schools take part in I’m a Scientist zones in the past, nestled in among secondary schools. Feedback from primary teachers and students shows they get a lot out of taking part. Primary schools are looking for science enrichment activities too, and talking with real scientists is exciting at primary school as well as secondary. Scientists often wouldn’t know the students were Year 5 & 6, not Year 7 & 8, if we didn’t tell them.

caesium

This March we decided to run 2 primary school only zones, for Year 5 & 6 students. In part to avoid possible situations of primary students reading questions on non-primary-friendly topics asked by secondary students in their zone (think sex, drugs, rock’n'roll). Partly to open up I’m a Scientist to a wider group of UK schools and students. And importantly because one of the conclusions from the ASPIRES project about young people’s science and career aspirations, is that STEM education projects need to begin earlier, at primary school.

xenon

The 2 primary zones - Caesium Zone & Xenon Zone - were general zones, each with 5 scientists from a range of research areas, but avoiding any non-primary-appropriate topics (no IVF experts for instance).

What we learnt:

  1. There is demand for primary zones. We had too many teachers wanting places and had to turn some away. We’ll be running more primary zones in future events. 
  2. Primary zones aren’t that much different to secondary zones. They felt like just any other zone. We don’t need to change the format for primary students. The main difference we saw was that the questions were often more factual than conceptual, live chats were less disruptive than with older students, and students left lots of comments thanking scientists for their answers.
  3. Being in a primary zone didn’t seem to affect the scientists’ experience of taking part. When we offered them a place we mentioned it was in a primary zone but that shouldn’t change how they approach engaging with the students.
  4. Online safety is more of a worry for primary teachers and parents. We need to be clearer about how secure the site is and giving advice, such as students not using their first and last names in their username. This is true for secondary zones, too.
"Did you always like science when you where in primary school"

“Did you always like science when you were in primary school”

Posted on April 10, 2014 Moderator - Rosie in Evaluation, News | Leave a comment

How does I’m a Scientist affect students’ attitudes to science?

We know anecdotally that participating in the I’m a Scientist event has a positive effect on students’ attitudes to science. Teachers tell us that their students were buzzing, and that they understood more about science. Students thank scientists in live chats for an interesting lesson. They tell us that it is “better than Facebook”.

But being data geeks that isn’t good enough. We wanted to know just how much we were affecting the students. Were we affecting them all by the same amount? Girls, boys, year groups? Did being more active in the event mean a greater change in attitude?

Questions we ask students

Thanks in part to the pilot work by Robin Longdin, then a SciComm masters student at UWE, we ask every student registering for I’m a Scientist a set of 4 questions:

  • How does school make you feel about science?Registration Questions
  • Are you planning to choose a science subject at the next stage of your education?
  • Do you think jobs involving science are interesting?
  • When you finish your education, how likely are you to look for a job that uses your science knowledge and skills?

We also ask the same questions towards the end of the event and ask for the username so we can match against their initial answers, their gender, year group, zone and activity levels within the event.

Measuring attitudinal change

The important thing for us is not the answers they give but the difference between the beginning and end of the event. We want to know if after two weeks of being exposed to our scientists they feel differently.

Each question had a five point answer scale. We intentionally wanted a neutral middle answer. We can’t expect students to all feel passionately about science. We then allocated a numerical value to each answer. 2 for the most positive, -2 for the most negative. We then simply subtract the starting answer value from the end of event value to give us a value for change in attitude for each of the four questions for each of the student who answered.

Do more active students see a greater change in attitude?

There is a lot of data generated and one of the challenges is to consolidate it into meaningful clusters. For example what do we mean by levels of activity? Some students are lively in live chats. Others ask a lot of questions. Some do both. We looked at the 3 main types of activity: ASK, CHAT, VOTE and scored each student between 0 and 3 depending on how active they were. We then totalled the individual scores to give each student a score between 0 and 9 overall. That is the X-axis below.

The first thing to note is that the overall trend is that the more activity on the site the more positive the change in attitude. Secondly the change in attitude to the final question: “When you finish your education, how likely are you to look for a job that uses your science knowledge and skills?” is much lower than the other questions, and in fact sometimes negative even for those students who made the most of our erstwhile role models.

We need to investigate this further. It could be a flawed question? What does it really mean to 13 and 14 year olds. Do school students consider a PhD studentship to be a job? Are half our role models not helping with that question? The next graph perhaps helps answer that.

The greatest effect is on girls and Year 10 & 11 students

This graph shows the average change in attitude for 6 groups by question asked. It clearly shows that the event has the greatest effect on girls and on students in Years 10 & 11.

This is based on a total of 853 valid responses from students across 3 events from June 2013 to March 2014 in the UK. The n for the groups in the second chart are:
All: n=853
Girls: n=475
Boys: n=333
Primary: n=90
Years 7-9: n=589
Year 10 & 11: n=130

They don’t all add up to 853. Sometimes it is a group of girls and boys who register. We also had 21 6th formers respond, but that is too small a sample to use. And sometimes the default “Please choose” answer remained. Yes there are disproprtionately more girls than boys, but yes, more girls than boys do participate.

Leave a comment and start a conversation!

Finally, we do this analysis for our own sake so that we can better understand our event, but we publish it for your sake, whoever you are. We want other practitioners to share in our knowledge. Please leave a comment to say “thanks”, or to ask for clarification or for more information.

Posted on April 9, 2014 admin in Evaluation, News | 3 Comments

Evolving Science Communication Conference

Last Friday, Rosie and I went to the “Evolving Science Communication” Conference organised by the Science Communication Unit of University of West England (UWE). We recognised some familiar faces, met a few new ones and enjoyed a varied and interesting event.

evolving

The conference kicked off with a plenary about the international perspectives and opportunities for Science Communication, a master class from Frank Burnet; founder of UWE’s Science Communication Unit, co-director of Cheltenham Science Festival, and international Science Communication consultant. I took home several messages from his talk, but the main one was that we should work internationally to explore new cultural dimensions, face new professional challenges and access alternative funding streams.

The core of the conference was built around the experiences of different graduates from UWE’s Science Communication Master Programme, who covered a variety of topics: from the image problems around engineering, to the use of playful approaches to public engagement or how to engage with “hard to reach audiences”.

For the first time, we encountered the PechaKucha presentation format, which ended up working particularly well. We loved it, maybe a little bit stressful for the presenter, but undoubtedly more engaging for the audience.

Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, lead the final plenary entitled “Science; not just for scientists” in which he made several very good points, my favourite one being that presenting science as dynamic, tentative and emergent – rather than static or indelible – may increase citizens’ trust in it.

Poster conference

I’m a Scientist poster

After the closing remarks, it was time for wine, and talk… and poster presentations. It was nice to present our latest results on how I’m a Scientist positively changes students’ attitudes towards science, and increases scientists’ involvement in public engagement. We got questions about how we reach students from people starting new communication projects, a couple of scientists asked about how to sign in to take part in future events, and someone suggested creating an new project called “I’m a Mathematician, Get me out of here!”.

Before we realised, it was already time to leave. A full new weekend was ahead of us, and plenty of things to share on our Monday catch up at the office.

 

If you want to read more about this conference, we have created a Storify of it.

Posted on April 8, 2014 modangela in News | Leave a comment

I’m a Scientist, Get me in there!

In a little over a month’s time, we’ll be selecting the scientists to take part in the June round of I’m a Scientist. Of all the emails we get from prospective scientists, the most common are probably: “how will I know if I’ve been selected?”, and “how does the application process work?”.

So — in our never-ending benevolence — we wanted to give you a peek at the how we choose scientists, and what happens once you send us your application.

When do we select scientists?

I’m a Scientist runs in March, June, and November every year. We select scientists around a month before each event.

The next event will be the 16th–27th June, so we’ll start around the beginning of May.

What’s the most important part of the form?

The most important part is the box that asks for a summary of your work; the part into which all your creativity and communication skills should be poured.

One sentence summary of your work

One sentence summary of your work

We email the summaries to students and teachers who’ve taken part before and they rate the scientists. They get is a survey containing only the summaries. So it’s really important that it (a) concisely says what kind of research you do, and (b) is going to be interesting to a 13 year-old student.

We read through all the summaries, seeing who fits the themes for the zones that we’re running in a given event (e.g. “I work at CERN”, won’t get you into the Animal Behaviour Zone, but might get you into the Particle Physics Zone).

Then we pick the best group of people for each zone, taking into account the students’ ratings, scientists’ summaries, as well as trying to get a good mix of institutions and research levels. (At this point, “I work at CERN” probably doesn’t get in, because someone else might have had a similar, but better description, e.g. “I use the biggest machine to search for the smallest particles of the universe”.)

Keep your summary short and to the point, but make sure it grabs the students’ attention!

…so the second most important part?

When would you prefer to take part?

When would you prefer to take part?

Arguably this part is equally as important as your summary… The most important part: Section B, then…

At the bottom of the form you will be asked when you want to take part. This tells us whether you’re registering to take part, or just want to join our mailing list for now.

When we select the lists of scientists to consider, and to send to the students, we only look at those who’ve selected to take part in the next event.

If you’re selected…

If you’re selected to take part, we’ll email you asking you to confirm your place. Please reply to that email as soon as possible, whether or not you still want to take part; saves us having to chase you.

…and if not…

If you’re not chosen, we’ll email to let you know a couple of weeks after the application deadline.

Once you sign up to the list you stay there, so if you don’t get in selected for the next event you’ll be considered for the following one. If you’re not selected in June, you will be considered for November, the following March, and so on until you update your preferences to say just keep me updated. (All the emails we send out have the option to update your preferences.)

Sometimes, if we know we’re running a specific zone in a later event, we might choose not to offer you a place in the next event, but save your application for the later round of I’m a Scientist.

From time to time, we might also email you about taking part in one-off events, like the recent Christmas Lectures Zone, or an I’m a Scientist, Live event.

Apply now!

Find the application page here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
The application deadline for the June event is Friday 9th May 2014.

Posted on March 28, 2014 Moderator - Josh in Scientists | Leave a comment

March, June or November?

When teachers ask me what aged students they should bring on I’m a Scientist, my answer is often something along the lines of “well, it’s developed for Year 9 students but all ages get something different out of taking part, so take your pick”.

The good news is that our data supports this. When students register we ask them what year group they’re in. There are Year 5s. There are also Year 13s. Around two thirds of the 30,000+ students registered so far are KS3 (Years 7, 8 & 9).

The bad news? It’s not really bad news as such, but it looks like I should also be advising teachers on the time of year they should take part with different year groups.

March and June are great for pre-GCSE students. Teachers tell us they’re looking for something fun to do with students at the end of the year. They’re less good for GCSE and A Level students who have mocks, coursework and shock horror, actual exams to contend with.

November is slap bang in the middle of careers time for older students, and who better to speak to about possible careers in science than 5 practicing scientists online?

Different year groups take part at different times in the year

Different year groups take part at different times in the year

And just in case you’re wondering why there are a suspiciously high % of Year 5′s – that’s the registration form’s default option. So you might even expect it to be higher!

Posted on March 14, 2014 Moderator - Rosie in Evaluation, News | Leave a comment

Girls vs Boys

I was asked recently what the gender split was for students taking part in I’m a Scientist. I replied that we’d never looked on the assumption that since teachers took their students online it would reflect the school population.

I’m never one to turn down the chance to crunch some numbers so I took a look. And was surprised. At registration we ask if the person registering is a Boy, Girl or A group of students (where more than one pupil is sharing a log-in). We have data going back to June 2012 and nearly 15,000 respondents to the question.

IAS Gender Split

Surprisingly it wasn’t a straight 50:50 split. So I then decided to look at it by year group.

IAS Gender by Year Group

What we saw was that year 9 & 10 were significantly skewed towards girls. And that bias continued through to 6th form.

Is that common for science outreach events?

Posted on March 11, 2014 admin in Evaluation | Leave a comment

I’m a Scientist so far in numbers

How many zones have we run? How many students engaging with how many scientists? Asking how many questions? What year group are they? Where in the UK are they?

The first slide of the I'm a Scientist summary so far...

The first slide of the I’m a Scientist summary so far…

These are some of the questions we get asked a lot, and until now haven’t had all the answers in one place to roll off the tip of our tongues. We’re pulling together some slides summarising I’m a Scientist to date and once they’re done we’ll post them up here.

In the mean time, I’ll be posting snippets that show just how far we’ve come since our first big Wellcome Trust grant in 2010.

To start us off (and to set the scene for the graphs and maps to come in future posts) here are some of the numbers so far, up to February 2014:

Zones: 118

  • 51 general science zones, 67 themed zones
  • Spread across 10 events, in March, June & November each year

Scientists: 590

Students: 36,225

  • % of students that actively took part: 84%
  • Average number of students per zone: 307
  • From 462 schools

Number of questions asked: 86,645

  • Number of questions approved: 38,836
  • Number of answers given: 84,890

Live chats: 1,616

  • Lines of live chat: 528,035

Visits to imascientist.org.uk: 1,592,016

  • Unique visitors: 1,306,978
  • Page views: 4,958,725
  • Average visit duration: 3:02 minutes
Posted on February 14, 2014 Moderator - Rosie in Evaluation, News | Leave a comment

March 2014 Moderator Job Vacancies

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an award-winning online event allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists. We’re looking for 3 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 10th March to the 21st March 2014. We will also be running a zone in I’m an Engineer at the same time, which will also need moderating.

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 and will 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.

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 3rd March 2014), to Emily at emily@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 10th – 21st March (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £7.50/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: imascientist.org.uk and imanengineer.org.uk. You might also want to read this – on what kind of thing we’re looking for.

Posted on February 6, 2014 Moderator - Emily in Event News, IAS Event, Science Engagement | Comments Off

Visits to IAS by technology type

As part of a review of what we need to do over the next 5 years with I’m a Scientist, we looked at how visitors accessed the site and how that has changed year by year over the last 4 years. We also looked at how visitors registered as students differed from All visitors. The Student visitors probably give a fair reflection of school IT capabilities. In the graphs the student data is represented by dashed lines. We only have student data from 2011 when we started tracking registered users separately.

IAS by device
It was no surprise to see that visits from mobile and tablet devices were increasing but having 23.6% of visits from mobile devices in 2013 was a shock. Delving deeper it is clear that it is mostly questions that mobile users visit. Tablets tell a different story. For student tablet users there is little difference in content visited when compared to student desktop users. And it is interesting to see that the levels of tablet use are the same for students as for all users at just under 8%.

We need to adapt our design for the question page so mobile users get a better experience.
We also need to be more aware of how easy it is for registered tablet user to interact with the site.

IAS by browser
Browser usage tells an interesting story. Unsurprisingly Internet Explorer is plunging. But at over 60% it is still the most popular browser in schools. More surprising was the drop in usage of Firefox. The rise in other browser is mostly due to mobile and tablet browsers with Android, Blackberry and Opera featuring.
IAS by IE
Finally the web developers enemy – old versions of IE. IE6 has just about disappeared. Yay. IE7 hangs on at 4%, but IE8 remains popular. The surprise for us in this graph was that All visits and Student Visits differed little in respect of IE version.

If you have any questions or would like more data. Please let us know in the comments or via email.

Posted on January 22, 2014 admin in Evaluation | Leave a comment