GeoEd: Why So Serious?

In this edition of GeoEd, Sam Illingworth, a lecturer in science communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, explores the benefits of a more informal teaching style and how the incorporation of play into everyday teaching can help to engage and enthuse students who oterhwise struggle to connect with the sciences. Despite the hard work, there are some real perks to being a scientists: field work, conferences, travelling, collaborations, etc… to name but a few. The key is to show school aged children the fun side of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) realted subjects too!

Flying 50 m above the Arctic Ocean at over 300 km per hour or flying a drone around a school playing field. These are fun activities; fun activities that are related to my research and that have genuine scientific significance. Yes, my scientific career has also involved countless hours sat reading technical documents and debugging code, but ultimately science is an extremely engaging and exciting career. If that element of fun is something that we are failing to communicate to children studying science at school, then it is no wonder that so many of them are turning away from science before they have had the chance to do something truly spectacular.

Science homework: fun? (Photo Credit: Richard Phillip Rücker)

Science homework: fun? (Photo Credit: Richard Phillip Rücker)

The classroom is not the only place where learning can occur (Wassermann, 1992), and it is important for students studying science to be able to explore for themselves some of the intrigue, wonder and even bemusement that science can present. In other words, it can be beneficial for the students to be given the opportunity to peel back the curtain and look at science outside the constructs of the taught curriculum. One way that this can be done is through serious play.

Serious play is so called so as to distinguish it from the negative connotations that might otherwise be associated with play. In essence serious play can be thought of as improvising with the unanticipated in ways that create new value (Schrage, 2013, pp. 2). In the context of the sciences, this may be a series of open-ended experiments that encourage students to try out their own ideas and hypotheses, without any end goal or risk of failure.

Despite the use of the term ‘serious’, this type of play is still sometimes frowned upon, as it can be seen to simplify the educational approach, by failing to acknowledge the complexities of teaching and learning (as eloquently pointed out in this excellent article). However, done correctly, play has an important role in the learning and discovery cycle. Play has ultimately been shown to be beneficial in terms of cognitive, language and social development (see e.g. Mann, 1996). Aside from these benefits it is also important to remember that play can help to communicate an often under promoted element of scientific endeavour: fun.

Flying low over an Arctic wetland: fun! (Photo Credit: Michelle Cain)

Flying low over an Arctic wetland: fun! (Photo Credit: Michelle Cain)


By Sam Illingworth, Science Communication Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University


Mann, D. 1996. Serious play. The Teachers College Record, 97, 446-469.

Schrage, M. 2013. Serious play: How the world’s best companies simulate to innovate, Harvard Business Press.

Wassermann, S. 1992. Serious play in the classroom: How messing around can win you the Nobel Prize. Childhood Education, 68, 133-139.

GIFT at the Assembly: Mineral Resources

GIFT at the Assembly: Mineral Resources

The EGU’s Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) programme offers teachers attending the conference the opportunity to hone their Earth science skills. The General Assembly workshop is one of GIFT’s most important activities of the year, combining talks on current research with hands-on activities presented by educators. What’s more, scientists can also come to the sessions – here’s what’s in store…

The theme of this year’s GIFT workshop (EOS1) is Mineral Resources – the event will explore one of the most important challenges faced by modern society: access to raw materials, including base and strategic minerals, in a rapidly developing and growing world. Featuring talks by leading scientists in the field, the workshop will kick off with a discussion on raw materials and their sustainability in the 21st century (at 8:45 in Room G10). This is followed by two great talks on where do minerals come from and how they get there, by Laurence Robb of the University of Oxford, after which you can learn about the role of inorganic chemistry in the formation of ore deposits at the hands of Kliti Grice from Curtin University, Australia. This is just a taster, though – you can find out more about the workshop here.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: