We’ve just let down about 8,000 students. Their teachers, 84 of them, wanted to take part in I’m a Scientist this June and we simply don’t have room for them. We need more funding.
The graph shows the number of class places requested by teachers (box outline), against the funded places we were able to run (colour-fill) for each event. Demand has consistently exceeded places available for the past 9 events; indeed for the past 6 events, we could have run double the number of zones we did.
Double the number of young people seeing that scientists are normal people like themselves.
Double the number of scientists taking part in “the best crash course in science communication”.
The Wellcome Trust and the British Psychological Society are funding zones this June. If you are interested in getting more physicists, chemists, non-biomed scientists involved in outreach, if you think more students should get the opportunity to find out what science and scientists are like then please write to someone with an outreach or widening participation budget and ask them to consider working with us. Get them to have a look at fund.imascientist.org.uk and contact Shane.
Category Archives: Capacity
This afternoon we apologised to 47 schools, telling teachers that we have not been able to offer their students a place in I’m a Scientist this March.
The graph shows the number of class places requested by teachers (box outline), against the funded places we were able to run (colour-fill) for each event. Demand has consistently exceeded places available for the past 8 events; indeed for the past 5 events, we could have run double the number of zones we did. Double the number of young people becoming more enthused about science. Double the number of scientists taking part in “the best crash course in science communication”.
Our limiting factor is funding. We need more funding to run more zones and increase the capacity of the events.
Unfortunately the Royal Society of Chemistry has withdrawn their funding planned for this year and the STFC funding we had has not been renewed, meaning spaces for chemistry and physics classes are especially limited.
If there are any funders with leftover budget, who might want to give students the opportunity to put their questions to scientists, engineers, and researchers, please do get in touch: email@example.com
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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:
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.