educational resources

GeoEd: Planet Press – geoscience news for children

GeoEd: Planet Press – geoscience news for children

Inspiring children to be interested in the geosciences isn’t always an easy task. While dinosaurs, volcanoes and earthquakes are a sure hook (rightly so!), there is also much more to the Earth, ocean and planetary sciences!  Not only that, but new developments happen much more quickly than the lifetime of a textbook, meaning that breaking science is often underreported in the classroom.  However, distilling the complex science behind ocean dead zones, how scientists measure the height of ice sheets and the history of European droughts, into children friendly language which captures the imagination isn’t plain sailing.

In September 2014 the EGU developed the Planet Press initiative – engaging and bitesize press releases for kids, parents and educators to help them get to grips with the latest geoscientific research going on across the world. Planet Presses are primarily aimed at 7 to 13 year olds, but can be used by children in other age groups too!

How are Planet Presses made?

The starting point is a press release – a statement released to journalists to alert them about exciting and newsworthy research published in one of the EGU’s open access journals.

Example of a Planet Press Release: Studying glaciers with animated satellite images, published September 2015.

Example of a Planet Press Release: Studying glaciers with animated satellite images, published September 2015.

A Planet Press (PP), is then written in-house by a member of the EGU’s communication team (mostly by the Media and Communications Manager, Bárbara Ferreira), based on an existing EGU press release.

It is reviewed by two scientists, as well as an educator to ensure the science content is accurate and the writing is appropriate for the target age group. In addition, fun printable versions are then made for classroom use.

Because Planet Presses are intended for use across Europe, the final step of the process is to have them translated into various languages. This is done by volunteer scientists and educators.

Planet Press, two years on

Since the start of the project, 36 PPs (out of 36 press releases) have been published. You can download copies of all the existing texts on the EGU website. The texts have been translated approximately 220 times, including into Serbian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and many other languages too. This truly herculean task has been accomplished by a team of over 60 volunteers, without whom the Planet Press project wouldn’t be the success it is today. (All figures correct at time of publication of blog post).

“This is one of the most exciting and rewarding projects I work on at the EGU,” says Bárbara. “Planet Press has received incredibly positive feedback from both scientists and educators, and when I presented it at the EGU 2016 General Assembly, many in the audience gave constructive and useful suggestions for improvement, which we’ve since implemented in the most recent texts. Further, whenever we put out calls for volunteers on our social media channels, I always receive plenty of emails from people interested in helping out with Planet Press, and who are extremely keen to dedicate some of their time and energy to getting geoscientific news to kids around Europe (and further afield).”

Lessons learnt and challenges

The coordination of the volunteers is time consuming and one of many side projects and tasks the EGU’s Media and Communications Manager works on. Despite this limitation, the project has received praise from scientists who enjoy seeing their work being made accessible to a younger audience, as well as educators who use the PPs in the classroom.

But it is precisely distributing the texts to a wide number of educators and ensuring it reaches an extensive demographic of children which remains one of the main challenges of the project. Currently, newly produced releases are advertised on the EGU’s social media channels, as well as the EGU’s website and amongst the educators part of the EGU’s GIFT programme. However, many of those who receive the announcements are not the target audience of the Planet Presses, though we are working to change that and get Planet Press to reach more schools kids across Europe.

Not only that, once the texts have been produced and distributed, measuring their impact: how well they do, how useful educators and children find them and how well they achieve their aim of engaging children with the Earth and planetary sciences, remains very difficult to establish and quantify. This is something we are planning on improving in the future.

Languages into which Planet Presses have been translated into so far (figure correct as of April 2016). Credit: Bárbara Ferreira / EGU

Languages into which Planet Presses have been translated into so far (figure correct as of April 2016). Credit: Bárbara Ferreira / EGU

A final hurdle is the dearth of translations in a number of languages including Slovenian, Russian, Dutch, Croatian and Swedish. So, if you feel inspired to contribute to the effort of translating existing releases, or indeed reviewing the scientific or educational content of the PPs, please contact Bárbara Ferreira.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

This post is based on ‘Planet Press: an EGU initiative to bring geoscientific research to children’, a presentation by Bárbara Ferreira, at the EGU 2016 General Assembly in session EOS4 – Communication and Education in Geoscience: Practice, Research and Reflection. You can download a copy of Bárbara presentation here.

Planet Press, has the support of the EGU Committee on Education. We are grateful for the help of Jane Robb, former EGU Educational Fellow, with launching the project. Planet Press is inspired by Space Scoop, an initiative by UNAWE, the EU-Universe Awareness organisation, that brings astronomy news to children every week.


GeoEd: For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!

GeoEd: For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!

This month’s GeoEd post is brought to you by Dr. Mirjam S. Glessmer. Mirjam, is a physical oceanographer and now works as Coordinator of Teaching Innovation at Hamburg University of Technology. Mirjam blogs about her “Adventures in Teaching and Oceanography” and tweets as @meermini. Get in touch if you are interested in talking about teaching and learning in the geosciences!

“For the best hands-on outreach experiences, just provide opportunities for playing!” I claim.

Seriously? You wonder. We want to spark the public’s curiosity about geosciences, engage the public in thinking about topics as important as sea level rise or ocean acidification, and provide learning experiences that will enable them to take responsibility for difficult decisions. And you say we should just provide opportunities for them to play?

Yes. Hear me out. Playing does not necessarily equal mindlessly killing time. Kids learn a lot by playing, and even grown ups do. But if you prefer, we can use the term “serious play” instead of just “play”. Using the term “serious play” makes it clear that we are talking about “improvising with the unanticipated in ways that create new value”, which is exactly what outreach should be doing: getting people intrigued and wanting to understand more about your topic.

So how would we go about if we wanted to create outreach activities which gave the public opportunity to play in order to lure them into being fascinated by our field of science? There are several steps I recommend we take.

  1. Identify the topic nearest and dearest to your heart

Even if your aim is to educate the public about climate change or some other big picture topic, pick the one element that fascinates you most. If you are really fascinated by what you are showing, chances are that the excitement of doing the activity will carry over to your audience. Plus, once you have this really great activity, you will likely be asked to repeat it many times, so you had better pick one that you love! J

Me, I am a physical oceanographer. I care about motion in the ocean: Why and how it happens. Consequently, all of my outreach activities have people playing with water. Sometimes at different temperatures, sometimes at different salinities, sometimes frozen, sometimes with wind, but always with water.

  1. Find an intriguing question to ask
An experiment melting ice cubes in water. (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

An experiment melting ice cubes in water. (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

Questions that intrigue me are, for example, “do ice cubes melt faster in fresh water or in salt water?”, “how differently will ice look when I freeze salt water instead of fresh water?” or “what happens if a stratification is stable in temperature and unstable in salt?”. Of course, all these questions are related to scientific questions that I find interesting, but even without knowledge of all the science around them, they are cool questions. And they all instantly spark follow-up questions like “what would happen if the ice cubes weren’t floating, but moored to the ground?”, “what if I used sugar instead of salt?”, “wait, does the food dye influence what happens here?”. And all of those questions can be investigated right then and there. As soon as someone asks a question, you hand them the materials and let them find the answer themselves. That is why we talk about hands-on outreach activities and not demonstrations: It is about actively involving everybody in the exploration and wonder of doing scientific experiments!

  1. Test with family, friends and colleagues

Many, if not all, the outreach activities I am using and promoting have been tested on family, friends and colleagues before. You know that you have found an intriguing question when your friends sacrifice the last bit of red wine they brought at a Norwegian mountain cabin, to use as stand in for food dye in an experiment you just told them about, because they absolutely have to see it for themselves!

By the way, this is always good to aim at with outreach activities: always try to keep them easy enough to be recreated at a mountain cabin, in your aunt’s kitchen, at the beach or anywhere anyone who saw it or heard about it wants to show their friends. People might occasionally have to get a little creative to replace some of the materials, but that’s part of the charm and of the inquiry we want!

  1. Bring all the materials you need, and have fun!

And then, finally, Just Do It! Bring all your materials and start playing and enjoying yourself!

But now they can play with water and dye. That doesn’t mean they understand my research!

Playing with water and dye (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

Playing with water and dye (Credit: Mirjam Glessmer).

True, by focussing on a tiny aspect you won’t get to explain the whole climate system. But you will probably change the mindset of your audience, at least a little bit. Remember, you studied for many years to come to the understanding you have now, it is not a realistic expectation to convey all that in just one single outreach occasion. But by showing how difficult it is to even understand one tiny aspect (and how much there is still to discover), they will be a lot more likely to inquire more in the future, they will ask better questions (to themselves or to others) and they will be more open to learning about your science. Your activity is only the very first step. It’s the hook that will get them to talk to you, to become interested in what you have to say, to ask questions. And you can totally have backup materials ready to talk in more depth about your topic!

But what if it all goes horribly wrong during my activity?

The good thing is that since you are approaching the whole hands-on outreach as “get them to play!” rather then “show them in detail how the climate system works”, there really isn’t a lot that can go wrong. Yes, you can mess up and the experiment can just not show what you wanted to show. But every time I have had that happen to me, I could “save” the situation by engaging the participants in discussing how things could work better, similar to what Céline describes. People will continue to think about what went wrong and how to fix it, and will likely be even more intrigued than if everything had worked out perfectly.

But what if I am just not creative enough to come up with new ideas?

First, I bet once you start playing, you will come up with new ideas! But then of course, we don’t need to always create outreach activities from scratch. There are many awesome resources around. EGU has its own large collection in the teacher’s corner. And of course, Google (or any websearch of your choice) will find a lot. And if you were interested in outreach activity in physical oceanography specifically, you could always check out my blog “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. I’m sure you’ll find the one activity that you will want to try yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon. You will want to show your friends when they comes over to visit, and you’ll tell your colleagues about it. And there you are – you found your outreach activity!

If you want to read about how the four steps above pan out for one of my favourite outreach activities – come back to this space next month for my next GeoEd post and I’ll walk you through it! In the meanwhile tell me in the comments below – what is your best advice for doing outreach activities?

By Mirjam S. Glessmer, Coordinator of Teaching Innovation at Hamburg University of Technology


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