EGU General Assembly 2019 GIFT Workshop
Practical questions, making people think (Credit: EGU/Foto Pfluegl)
The General Assembly is not only for researchers but also for teachers and educators with an interest in the geosciences. Every year the Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshop is organised by the EGU Committee on Education to bring first class science closer to primary and high school teachers.
EGU General Assembly 2019 GIFT Workshop. Jean Luc Berenguer (Committee on Education member) leading practical session (Credit: EGU/Foto Pfluegl)
The topic of the 2020 edition of GIFT is ‘Water in the solar system’. This year’s workshop will be taking place on 4–6 May 2019 at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.
Teachers from Europe and around the world can apply to participate in the 2020 edition of GIFT, and to receive a travel and accommodation stipend to attend the workshop, by November 30. Interested teachers should apply using the online application form.
Scientists attending the EGU General Assembly 2019 Geoscience Games Night, where scientists could gather, socialise, and play some geoscience-related games. In this blog post, Skinner gives a recap of the EGU Games for Geoscience experience. Credit: Rolf Hut.
At the EGU General Assembly 2019, more than 16,000 scientists came together in Vienna to present their research, discuss the latest advances in their field, and engage in workshops. On the Wednesday evening of the EGU conference, hundreds of researchers also came together to play geoscience-based games!
Games can be great tools for geoscience outreach and education, as they have the ability to simulate different settings and decision-making opportunities that you may not experience in your every day life.
The General Assembly Games for Geoscience session, convened by Chris Skinner from the University of Hull in the UK, allowed researchers to both listen to and share experiences on using games as a means for geoscience education and public engagement. The session was followed by a Geoscience Games Night, where scientists could gather, socialise, and play some games featured in the earlier session. In this blog post, Skinner gives a recap of the EGU Games for Geoscience experience.
Phew, that’s another General Assembly of the European Geoscience Union (EGU) done. What an astonishingly busy week of sharing science, networking, catching up with colleagues from all over the world, and gorging ourselves on käsekrainer. In total there were 16,273 people at the meeting in Vienna, with 683 unique science sessions.
This year we started with our poster session and again it was busy and more interactive than the usual poster session. A poster session involves researchers producing a poster detailing their work and pinning it up on a board. During the day a couple of hours is set aside where they stand next to their poster and people can discuss the work with them. The Games for Geoscience session also involves sharing elements of games too; for example, I had a poster about the Earth Arcade and also had a VR set with Flash Flood! Vol 2. being demoed.
After the posters was the oral session – these are talks where we had six presenters each with a 12-minute talk and a few minutes for questions. The room we were in quickly filled up and latecomers had to stand! The quality of the research was extraordinarily high, showing that when it comes to geoscience, games are a serious business.
Credit: Josh Ahmed and Sam Illingworth
As Sam guided the crowd through the games submitted to the Geoscience Games Night, Liz, Rolf, and myself ran down to basement to set up the area for games, which included Rolf rather abruptly turfing people out of the area! Remarkably we turned this around in less than 15 minutes and soon around 300-400 geoscientists descended for two hours of gaming – we ran out of tables quickly and games were played on the floor! It was incredible.
Credit: Annie Ockelford, Chris Skinner, Rolf Hut, and Sam Illingworth
I was testing a card game I’m developing called Resilience – it has little bit of complexity so isn’t suited for this type of event and needed a lot of explaining – and I am indebted to Hannah Williams for running Flash Flood! Vol 2. demos for two hours solid. Thank you Hannah! At the end of this blog is a list of all the games – if I’ve missed any, let me know and I will add them in!
Credit: Simon Dixon and Sam Illingworth
These sessions were not the full extent of games at the EGU General Assembly 2019 though. Researchers from the Earth Observatory of Singapore were showing their utterly brilliant Earth Girl: Volcanogame, and its inspirational creator Isaac Kerlow presented on the work behind it in the Science and Art session. In another session, Laura Hobbs showed how the best in gaming and the best in museum curatorship were being combined to produce the Virtual Natural History Museum. I’m sure there was even more that I missed completely.
One of the things I hope to achieve through the Games for Geoscience sessions is to close the circle between games and research. I think games are seen as a useful tool for sharing research but I think they can also be used to drive and inspire research, and I was pleased to see a couple of examples of this at the meeting. One of last year’s presenters, Onno Bokhove, who built the awesome Wetropolis shared in a hydrology session how the activity led to a method they used to calculate flood excess volumes to assess the cost effectiveness of Natural Flood Management schemes. Rolf Hut shared a methodology for assessing public and researcher perceptions of ‘jargon’ related to rivers and flooding, a methodology previously used at last year’s session with Zelda: Breath of the Wild – read that research here!
So that’s it for the EGU Games for Geoscience sessions this year. If you came along, thank you so very much. Next year we will be back, bigger and better still, but first we have our eyes on conquering America.
If you are interested in being part of the Geoscience Gaming community, please follow @GeoSciGames on Twitter – we hope to make this into a full international network in the near future.
By Chris Skinner, University of Hull, UK
If available, click on an image to find out more about the games –
Philip Heron, one of the winners of a 2019 EGU Public Engagement Grant, shares his experience bringing geoscience education into prisons. Photo provided by Philip Heron
During the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, I caught up with Phil Heron, a Newcastle-born geodynamicist at Durham University, UK. Earlier this year he won an EGU outreach grant to engage young offenders with geoscience subjects and help improve their employability. He tells us how he started working in prisons and shares what we can learn from his experience.
How did the project start?
I realised there weren’t many science programs in England in prison. I wanted to try and build one that can be easily transported to different prisons. My original idea was to do a workshop or two on geodynamics, but then I saw there was a need for this – every person I spoke to, whether they were prison education officers or inmates was like “Ah, we love science.” There was a real appetite.
How do you make geoscience relevant to prison residents?
I was lucky enough to chat to inmates who had been part of a criminology course at Durham University called Inside Out. I could listen to their thoughts about my ideas, absorb their enthusiasm and their reservations. Some of the inmates said “the reason why the Inside Out criminology course works for us is because we’ve all committed crimes. It’s relatable.” That was a thunderbolt for me. How can I make volcanoes relatable? How can I make missions to Mars relatable?
I broke it down into thought processes. As scientists we have similar ways of thinking. What don’t we understand? What are we looking to solve? How do we get to a conclusion? By making experiments. It’s a thought process that we can apply, not just to science, but to everyday life. If you have a problem in your own life, you work through this way of thinking. It’s not necessarily about the scientific topics, but the scientific way of thinking.
How can we make missions to Mars relatable? Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
What motivated you to run the course, and what would you like it to achieve?
I see the course as a pathway to education and rehabilitation. Our first course was in a women’s prison and there was overwhelmingly positive feedback – lots of enthusiasm for education.
This year, I received the EGU Public Engagement Grant and will be using these funds to run something similar at a young offender’s institution. I’m trying to link up with employers and show that analysis, communication – the skills students learn in Think Like a Scientist – are the sorts of things employers are looking for. Employability is that one key thing that helps reduce the chances of reoffending. I want the course to help increase employability for residents on release.
A lot of prison employability comes from practical, manual roles, but it doesn’t have to. There’s a need for people to do STEM careers. If residents like science, this could be a way forward for them once they’re released.
What is a typical day in the course like for residents?
The first five days are very similar – for a reason. You need to build trust and consistency to really embed into the class. The classes themselves are broken down into 15-minute segments to keep it varied and engaging. The inmates come in, the door is locked and the next movement of the prison isn’t for another 2.5 hours. It’s a huge amount of time to teach.
There is no PowerPoint or anything like that, but I’ll bring lots of handouts: things for the students to read, discuss or work through. We’ll go over big, impactful case studies, like the year without a summer that followed the Krakatoa eruption or the 2010 eruption in Iceland, which everyone remembers. I’ll start with smaller eruptions that everyone can relate to, before moving onto supervolcanoes and the like. It gives people some perspective.
Ash plume from Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland Credit: NASA Goddard
What was the most enjoyable part of the project?
I’ve taught in various different environments over the past eleven years and the students I had in this course are by far the best I’ve ever had. It is a real joy to be in a room full of people who are just desperate to learn and to better themselves.
As a teacher, you up your game when the students are upping theirs.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do outreach in prisons, or with a challenging new audience?
Listen, listen, listen. Spend a long time listening. I took everyone’s advice and really analysed it for a long time. Science really grabs people’s imagination. If it grabs your imagination then it will definitely capture that of someone in a challenging environment.
Science really is for everyone. I’d encourage anyone who wants to conduct outreach with anyone from a more unusual background to give it a try.
Phil is always looking to learn from others. If you are an employer in STEM, let him know what steps someone would need to take to pursue a career in science after release. These practical tips will help support his work with prison residents and young offenders.
We caught up with Lucie Parsons, a ten-year old girl from Walkington, England, who is on a personal mission to save the environment from plastic pollution. She and her mother presented at the EGU General Assembly 2019 earlier this month. Credit: Maria Rubal Thomsen
Lucie Parsons, a ten-year old girl from the small village of Walkington, in England, is on a personal mission to save the environment from plastic pollution. After seeing on the BBC Blue Planet II documentary how litter in the ocean is damaging ecosystems, she decided to take action. Now she gives talks and is co-researcher in her mother’s PhD on climate change and the youth voice. Lucie has come to the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna with her mother, Katie Parsons, to tell scientists that children want to be involved in addressing environmental issues.
Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the world’s oceans is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come.
David Attenborough, The Blue Planet II: Episode 4, BBC One
How did you learn about the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans and marine life?
L: Through Blue Planet. I saw an episode about a whale and her calf, and how the contamination poisoned the whale’s milk. When I saw that I got really, really upset so I wrote a poster about it. Then I asked my mummy and daddy to photocopy it so that I might be able to put it around the village. I read and watched documentaries to learn more, and I found out that it is a big problem. I wanted to do something about it.
So you started giving talks…
L: Katy Duke, the head of the [aquarium] Deep in Hull, got in touch with daddy because she saw my poster.
K: I tweeted Lucie’s poster to show what she had done after she was so moved by the documentary. The CEO of the Deep saw that and contacted us to ask if Lucie would like to give the opening talk at the European Union of Aquarium Curators Conference, which the Deep were due to host.
What do you tell people in your talks?
L: I have done two conferences and talks, also at schools. I have also been interviewed for the radio and profiled by the Earth Day Network. In my talks I basically tell people how bad the problem is, what it is doing to the animals and what they can do to help.
Here at the EGU General Assembly people were really touched by your presentation. Do you think your talks make people take action?
K: Gilles Doignon, from the European Commission for Environment, was really moved about what Lucie had said at the Deep. He promised her that he would get the aquariums to sign up to a plastic pledge.
L: And he managed to do it.
K: He said that, thanks to Lucie, thousands of turtles will be saved. This is where she got her inspiration from to carry on. If she can talk and say the things she has done, even if just one or two people do something about it, that creates a knock-on effect.
Why do you think children should be involved in the fight against climate change?
L: Children are the next generation; when they get older they will take over the work grown-ups have done. So they should start now. Children can do the same things as grown-ups, there is not really a difference with helping, you need to get as many people to help as you can get.
K: Getting schools and individual children involved in science will make it real and manageable, part of life. Otherwise much science ends up in dusty journals. We need people to live it and understand it.
Are grown-ups doing enough?
L: I think they should be doing a tiny bit more. They are not really focusing on the problem, not as much as I want them to.
You have talked to politicians before, why do you think it is important to talk to scientists also?
K: When Lucie was affected by Blue Planet she luckily had me and her dad to help her. But other children will have their passion stopped unless they have an adult who supports them. Some schools don’t do environmental education, it is not within many curriculums, and some parents might not carry on informing their children.
There is amazing science going on and some scientists who communicate get through to the children. There is a youth rising at the moment. Children are interested, they want to know and they want to be involved. But, how? Scientists have to continue feeding the information to the children and involve them in citizen science so they will carry on with that passion.
What can people do to help?
L: Inform other people, go on litter picks and map the areas where they found the litter to help prevent more litter. With my friends and my family, we have cleaned three areas so far in my village and we are mapping them to feed in the data about where we found the litter. Also, stop using single-use plastics.
Is there any other documentary, book or podcast you would recommend to people who want to learn about plastic pollution in the oceans?
L: Drowning in Plastic. We have watched about three quarters of that.