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.

Blogs and social media at the Assembly – tune in to the conference action

Blogs and social media at the Assembly – tune in to the conference action

With hundreds of oral presentations, PICO sessions and poster presentations taking place each day, it can be difficult to keep abreast of everything that is on offer during the General Assembly.

As well as finding highlights of interesting conference papers, lectures and workshops in the daily newsletter at the General Assembly, EGU Today, you can also keep up to date with all the conference activities online.


GeoLog will be updated regularly throughout the General Assembly, highlighting some of the meeting’s most interesting sessions, workshops and lectures, as well as featuring interviews with scientists attending the Assembly.

Writers from the EGU Blog Network will also be posting about interesting research and sessions during the Assembly, so you can catch up on any sessions you’ve missed and get a feel for what’s going on in the press room through them!

As in previous years, the EGU will be compiling a list of General Assembly related blogs (the blogroll) and making them available through GeoLog.  You can add your blog to the blogroll here.


Participants can keep updated with General Assembly goings on by following the EGU twitter account (@EuroGeosciences) and the conference hashtag (#EGU15). You can also direct questions to the EGU communications staff and other participants using #EGU15, or by tweeting to @EuroGeosciences directly. If you’ve got the Assembly app, you can share snippets of great sessions straight from there!

This year, each of the programme groups also has its own hashtag. If you’re in a Geomorphology (GM) session, say GM2.1, you can tweet about it using #EGU15GM, or if you’re in one of the Educational and Outreach Symposia (EOS), use #EGU15EOS – just add the acronym of the respective programme group to #EGU15! A full list of conference hashtags is available here, and in the programme book. Conveners are welcome to add their own hashtags into the mix too! Just let everyone know at the start of the session.




The EGU communications staff will be advertising General Assembly sessions and will post about research being presented at the Assembly on Facebook. Just type European Geosciences Union into the Facebook search bar to find the EGU official page, and like it to receive the updates.

And more!

While these will be the main media streams during the Assembly, you can also search for European Geosciences Union on Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to keep up with us there!

GeoEd: Education vs. Communication


Van for Pacific Science Center school visits. Credit: Arthur Hu (Wiarthurhu) distributed via

In this guest blog post, Sam Illingworth, discusses the perceived differences between science education and science communication in light of a recent publication on this very subject. If you are involved in either of these, we’d love to hear your opinions on how you think they differ (if at all) and how the approach to engaging the public might differ too! We look forward to your comments.

The Journal of Research in Science Teaching recently published this extremely interesting special issue on Bridging Science Education and Science Communication Research. The issue is worth reading in its entirety, but it is a discussion of the editorial and some of the issues that are raised in it that I would like to discuss in this GeoEd post.
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