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science education

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

The General Assembly (GA) is not only for researchers but for teachers and educators with an interest in the geosciences also. Every year the Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) is organised by the EGU Committee on Education to bring first class science closer to primary and high school teachers.

If you are an educator attending this year’s edition of the GIFT workshop –the topic of which is ‘The Solar System and beyond’ and is co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA) – you might be asking yourself what to expect. If so, read on, as this post should go some way towards showcasing the important take-home messages which come out of taking part in the workshop.

Anna Elisabetta Merlini, a teacher at the Scuola Dell’infanzia Alessandrini, near Milan in Italy, attended last year’s edition of the GIFT Worksop at the 2015 General Assembly in Vienna. Following the workshop she wrote a report about her time at the conference. Below you’ll find a summary of the report; to read the full version, please follow this link.

“My experience to GIFT workshop 2015 has been a real opportunity to find the connection between schools and the geoscience world,” explains Anna in the opening remark of her report. The 2015 GIFT workshop focused on mineral resources and Anna felt that “the GIFT workshop gave all teachers a new awareness of the presence of minerals in our daily routine” and equipped participating teachers with tools to tackle important mineral ores related topics, carrying out practical and productive activities with students.

As a teacher with a geological background, Anna found that the GIFT workshop allowed her to achieve mainly three different goals:

  • Realisation of new didactic ore related projects

Following the workshop, Anna took some of the things she learnt during her time in Vienna and applied them to ongoing teaching projects she was involved with prior to the GA. In particular, she

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

adapted existing teaching activities to highlight the practical connection between daily life and minerals found in objects. For instance, the youngest pupils in the Milan based school enjoyed a more hands on approach to learning about soil by exploring the areas just outside the building gates!

  • New interconnection to other teachers and scientific institutions

During the workshop in Vienna, Anna realised “how important is to involve young generations in geoscience topics in order to grow a more eco-aware generation in the future.” This notion inspired the primary teacher to start the Geoscience Information for Kids (GIFK) programme  to be implemented throughout local schools.

  • New ideas for my professional future within educational area

The GIFT workshop is not only an opportunity to develop new skills and develop new ideas, but also a place to network.  Through interactions with the teachers she met at the GIFT workshop, Anna felt empowered to “improve my skills in teaching geoscience, learning new tools and new strategies to involve students in the best way.”

For example, fruitful discussions with a Malawi based teacher meant she now better appreciates the differences between teaching in two, so vastly different, countries and how that impacts on students.

Anna concludes that the GIFT

“experience opened my eyes about the future, enforcing my conviction that children are our future and educational programs need to involve students at all levels, starting from the beginning.”

The EGU 2016 GIFT workshop ‘The Solar System and beyond’, co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA), is taking place on April 18–20 2016 at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 17 to 22 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

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

GeoEd: Education vs. Communication

Sci_Comm_Header

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

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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