BIG enews
Winter 2014 edition – Issue 28

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Happy New Year BIG members! The festive season is well and truly behind us and we look forward to the exciting BIG year ahead, including the BIG Event 2014 which takes place 23-25 July at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

It provides an unmissable opportunity to squeeze the skills and ideas out of all the STEM engagement people you can in a short space of time. It's like power juice for STEM communicators.

If you have a project you would like to share with others – because it's brilliant, because it's in progress or because it needs love and support from like-minded people – then get it out to your peers.

This is the chance to meet people who can help you in your STEM engagement work, partner your project, solve your problem, help you get funding, teach you skills, find you a new job, or simply feel your pain.

Don't just sit in the kitchen – join the party proper by proposing a session of your own. The BIG Event is all about sharing skills and experiences so why not share yours?

The call for session proposals is open until 24 January. Suggest yours here.

Sarah Vining, BIG Administrator


Science in a Suitcase in Ghana

Selwyn Van Zeller, Science in a Suitcase

I cannot quite remember who got in touch with who but it was around the time I was seeing my daughter off to do some volunteer teaching in Ghana. Dr Jacob Ashong was looking to add an exhibits workshop to his planetarium. It has to be said that Jacob and his wife Jane are both remarkable characters. They are both in their 70's. Jacob is remarkable for wanting to build a planetarium and Jane is remarkable for letting him!

Sometime in July we met in the garden at Thinktank. I took him for a visit to my workshop at the back of our house where I was able to demonstrate what could be achieved in a small space with some very basic tools and a creative use of materials. Jacob was aware of the peaks and troughs of the freelancer and immediately identified the 3 week period before Christmas where earnings can be bleak.

I will not go into too much detail regarding visas etc. but the Ghana High Commission should have a health warning. My role in Ghana, as I interpreted it was to set up a space where hands on interactives could be made, to produce a number of interactives and demonstrations, to support a few Planetarium Saturdays, and to visit a few local schools to trial the kit. I spent the first few days, as some Face bookers will know, under the shade of my thatched rondavel, putting together a range of hands on activities – my tools comprised a plastic picnic table, a Leatherman multi-tool and a Stanley knife.

Four days later I was in front of a class of 15 year olds, all sat at desks worthy of the Black Country Museum. After a 30 minutes show, I invited all the children to get up and a have a play. They and their teachers had not done anything like this before. This was repeated.

In the afternoon it was back to the Plantarium for a visit by 75 teenagers which grew into 150 teenagers from the Sowa Din School. Two one hour long shows later I felt the kit (and I) had been tested!

Seven schools, 25 classes, 3 Saturday shows provided opportunities for further refinement and to demonstrate the possibilities for this kit to enrich and enhance the services provided by Jacob and staff.

The same kit was both an extensive menu of demonstrations, but could also transform any space including a classroom into a science centre – and the kit also fitted into two cases!

It also became clear to me that the space allocated for a workshop could, in fact, serve as an exhibition space –so while I was there I had the privilege of launching the first science centre in Ghana!

I have come away with a mixed bag of memories – picking mangos off the tree, vultures watching my every move, the swarming fruit bats at dusk, the children's big eyes, big smiles, big hearts and open minds.

I am hopeful that what I achieved in a relatively short space of time is just a beginning. I am hopeful that Jacob and the team at Ghana Planetarium will not only use the various activities and demonstrations, but will create their own ideas. I am also hopeful that I may continue to be involved with the project, but having said that there is also an opportunity here for other BIG members to volunteer some of their time and expertise. I am sure Jacob would be happy to hear from anyone who may be interested in supporting this worthwhile project.

Learning outside the classroom Innovator Award

Wendy Sadler, science made simple

Back in 2008, a love affair began between one man, and one performance technique. Fuelled by a BIG bursary in 2009 to study the art of street performers and by a never-ending passion to bring out the best in the people he trains, David Price became the daddy of science busking in the UK.

Not content with just performing he went on a mission to get the whole world trained up to have a go at busking. A random twitter connection recently led me to a picture of someone I don't even know science busking in an inflatable sumo suit. It wasn't David himself – but I know where that idea came from! And who can forget the police warning in London to the strange man in the elephant hat?

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom shares the passion of BIG in terms of showing school students that learning doesn't just happen within the curriculum. science made simple have been awarded the LOTC Quality Badge for 3 years now which we find is useful tool to help you assess your own customer practice as much as a badge of quality for schools to ‘mark' you against. David was nominated this year for the Innovator award in partnership with teacher Catherine Purvis Mawson from Framwellgate School for the work they have done building a legacy of community science buskers which is now an integral part of the school system for Framwellgate.

Beyond Framwellgate, he has trained over 1500 buskers over the years for numerous Universities and Scientific Societies. He was even been employed to work as a street performer to promote the release of the Big Bang Theory on DVD – which meant him having to learn the theme song (don't ask him about that job!).

With a growing number of STEM buskers appearing on the UK scene, maybe we're heading to a time when BIG could host an annual busking extravaganza? It's such a great way to engage students who might not join in with more traditional science club activities and David has worked with a number of PRU (Pupil Referral Units) on building the confidence of students who for one reason or another have fallen foul of the traditional education system. On receiving the award, David said:

"It's a huge honour to receive this award on behalf of the wonderful (and growing) band of people who believe in busking and its ability to inspire society over an ever-expanding range of STEM topics"

He then proceeded to entertain the awards dinner with a live demonstration of the Wallis Grid. My thighs weren't quite up to the job I fear...

If you ever meet David – you can be sure that he will have some busking gizmo up his sleeve, so if you have 5 minutes to spare, do stop him and ask what science busking is all about. He won't just tell you - he'll show you first hand!

(David Price features in our BIG People section at the end of this enewsletter)

Engineering: The Missing Link?

Bridget Holligan, Science Oxford

There are some fantastic programmes in the UK that support the development of engineering skills at the primary school level such as Primary Engineer and Young Engineers, and now another initiative has arrived which is based on a very successful US programme called ‘Engineering is Elementary' (EiE).

EiE was developed by the National Centre for Technological Literacy (NCTL) at the Boston Museum of Science (BMOS) in Massachusetts, USA. This programme is now sold to schools in 50 US states, so far reaching more than 4 million pupils and over 60,000 teachers. The NCTL at BMOS was the brainchild of Ioannis Miaoulis, who became the President of BMOS in 2003. As an engineer with a passion for education, Ioannis noticed that over time the development of the US school curriculum had led to a startling omission – that of basic technological literacy. Although we live in a human-made world, immersed in technologies, pupils did not learn about the engineering design process alongside the work they did on the scientific inquiry process. To Ioannis, understanding how an engineer designs was just as important as understanding how a scientist thinks.

In addition, as in the UK, there was growing concern about the shortage of skilled scientists and engineers and its impact on innovation, and to Ioannis the solution seemed obvious – the US needed to make an effort to teach pupils about engineering early and to present the engineering profession in a realistic light. There would be a lot more engineers if young people really understood what engineers do. The NCTL and the EiE programme was a consequence of his belief that engineering education was particularly important at the primary school level and that engineering is the missing link that can bring science and maths alive, making the subjects relevant to pupils and sparking future innovators.

Science Oxford is currently the UK partner for a European project across ten countries that is based on the EiE programme and which aims to introduce engineering into European primary schools as a new approach for inquiry-based science education. Supported by BMOS, ten museums or science centres have worked with ten partner primary schools to develop ten practical design challenges which enable 8-11 year old pupils to apply their scientific skills and knowledge. For each design challenge pupils follow the Engineering Design Process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create & Improve) to solve a problem – and topics include gliders, musical instruments, mini-vacuum cleaners, footwear, floating platforms and plant watering systems. A teacher guide has been developed for each unit and teacher training is now underway in each country, with an initial goal to train 1000 teachers (and reach 27,000 pupils) by October 2014.

As part of the ENGINEER project, Science Oxford is currently funded to train both teachers and science centre/museum staff in how to use and adapt the design challenges as part of their curriculum teaching or family/education programmes, and the support includes free kit as well as a full set of electronic resources. If you are interested in having Science Oxford run a hands-on course for your staff or local teachers then please contact us.

More information about the project can also be found here.

Science Action Centre

John Williams

Two years ago I retired as Head of Science from Bishop's Stortford College a leading independent school. When I was appointed part of my brief was to promote science not just within the College but also in the local community.

To help achieve this I decided to build an interactive science centre that we called the Science Action Centre (Phys. Educ. 43 580 2008). When completed it was used by our own pupils who are aged 4-18, local primary schools and other interested groups. No charge was made for visits. When designing exhibits we tried to produce interactive displays that would be fun, inspiring and educational for children of all ages as well as adults. Our aspiration was to ensure that visitors of different ages and intellectual abilities would all have a memorable experience. The overwhelming feedback we received indicated that we succeeded. I am convinced that our strategy of making learning exciting and fun, epitomized by the Science Action Centre, contributed significantly to our increased numbers of A level science students.

I was therefore particularly disappointed to read the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment which indicated that the UK has generally made little progress and remains among the average, middle-ranking countries, and in particular we have slipped from 16th to 21st place in science. My concern is politicians will simply look to copy the strategies used by countries above us in the league tables. I am sufficiently old to believe that the purpose of change is to produce improvement. Goodness knows there has been plenty of changes to the science curriculum over the years but disappointingly few improvements. Specifications need to be relevant and engaging, supported by examinations that test understanding and are differentiated. I firmly believe the standard of learning would enhanced if there was more emphasis on learning science by actually doing science. This would involve significantly increasing the amount of experimental work undertaken by pupils. Current specifications and textbooks fail to do this.

However the BIG community can also contribute in a very significant way by helping to make learning about science exciting and stimulating with the sort of activity it promotes. One of the really key factors necessary for academic success is having pupils who want to learn and even more importantly want to understand what is being taught. In my experience giving people of all ages and abilities access to interactive displays, to inspirational demonstrations and lectures and even the opportunity to participate in original scientific research hugely increases interest and consequently achievement in science.

We have always produced more than our fair share of great scientists and I for one am confident that we will continue to do so. Lets make 2014 a BIG year for science in schools!

The Dangerous Science of Mining

Rachel Ayrton, Snibston Discovery Museum

Snibston Discovery Museum launched a new science show, ‘The dangerous science of mining', earlier this year.

400 school children visited the Museum to see the show over National Science and Engineering week. Since then the show has been running for school groups and family groups throughout term time and over the holidays.

The show, which takes place in the Museum's Century Theatre, looks at how science and engineering have helped address some of the many dangers involved in mining beneath ground. A scientist on stage investigates the science behind important inventions such as the Davy lamp, with the help of our very own virtual miner on screen, and the audience – who play a very active role in this show.

One aspect of the show which helps to make it so interactive are the individual ‘snap tins', (a miners lunch box), handed to each audience member at the start of the show. Each ‘snap tin' contains a selection of items to help the audience to take part in the experiments.

The show is targeted at KS2 and KS3 groups, and was developed with the help of a grant from Thinktank, to complement the existing colliery tours the museum offers. The show links to the science curriculum and explains some of Snibston's mining heritage, whilst at the same time showing the audience just how much fun can be had with science!

Experiments demonstrate how a Davy lamp allowed miners to work safely by the light of an open flame in the presence of explosive gases, (and just how explosive some of those gases are!). Our scientist explains how coal dust can be explosive and demonstrates the difference between igniting dust in an open space and in a confined space, (there are quite a few explosions in the show!). The show also looks at how important it is to keep fresh air moving around the mine and, with the help of some giant smoke rings, demonstrates just how quickly a fire could spread underground.

Feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive, with both adults and children alike enjoying the ‘snap tins' and the explosions. After a successful launch during NSEW, the show is now available for schools groups to book during term time and for the general public on selected dates during the school holidays. To find out when the next show is taking place, find out here.

Music in the Space Time Continuum

Robert David Rusconi, London Composer Conductor Curator Educator

This year, with a team of composers, performers and educators we are organizing the second Music in the Space Time continuum series of concerts masterclasses and lectures.

OENM Salzburg and Contrechamps Geneve will be invited in UK with support from EU foundations plus Austrian and Swiss Cultural Forum in UK.

We are looking to organize the two planned events (set to happen in Spring 2014 between March and June or July) in innovative venues in London or in UK through a partnership with the organizers. Last year Music in the Space Time Continuum successfully spread its wings for the very first time at Kings Place with Klangforum Wien and Kairos Quartett with Experimentalstudio des SWR. This year the two Ensembles will present a ground breaking programme of Composers from Switzerland and Austria always related to the thematic science vs sound vs memory.

The Concerts will be paired with Educational outreach and lecture events. Masterclasses for composers and performers on extended techniques, lecture on new poetics and educational outreach for new audiences and young students with hand in the works that will be performed.

Find out more here and here.

Theatre of Debate

Adele Geddes, Y Touring Theatre Company

Our specially commissioned Theatre of Debate productions throughout the UK, using a rich mix of live performance and digital technology to engage audiences in an informed debate around the outcomes of the latest scientific research. Y Touring's work explores themes and questions that will shape our futures and that we all need to have a say in.

In spring 2014 Y Touring celebrates its 25th year with a national tour of Hungry, a specially commissioned play by acclaimed playwright Sarah Daniels. The project targets pupils aged 14+ and will engage its audiences in an informed debate about the ethical and social issues around food and behaviour change. Hungry is the third Theatre of Debate® play, part of a Five Year Conversation, generously supported by the Wellcome Trust and Central YMCA. It will tour to Sussex and the South Coast, Cornwall and Dorset, Liverpool, Lancashire, Birmingham, The Midlands, London, Manchester and Lincolnshire.

The play, a comedy, tells the story of two very different UK families whose lives are interlinked, exploring the themes of under nutrition, diabetes, obesity and the recent debate around sugary drinks.

Food and the way we produce food are at the heart of the social, environmental issues and health challenges we face today. Humanity faces profound questions over how our planet can sustain and feed 9 billion people by 2050. There is a global nutrition crisis with a dual problem of hunger and obesity and increasing recognition that what and how people eat is intrinsically linked to factors such as poverty and wellbeing, whilst also impacting on the world we live in.

Each performance is followed by a thought-provoking, facilitated audience debate, featuring the actors in character, enhanced by electronic voting technology which will capture and map what the next generation of young people throughout the UK think and feel. It engages pupils and their teachers in an informed discussion, exploring the social, moral, scientific and political questions posed by advances in scientific research linked to human health.

Hungry has been researched and developed in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, Association of Medical Research Charities and an advisory group of experts from including Professor Angela McFarlane, Director of Public Engagement and Learning at Kew Gardens, Dr Susan Jebb OBE, Head of Diet & Population Health at The Medical Research Council, Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University of London, Professor Alan Dangour, MSc PhD Nutritionist Senior Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Rob Moore, CEO Behaviour Change, Kath Dalmeny, Policy Director at Sustain and Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer and Head of Mission at the Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network in South Africa.

For further details about the tour please contact us.

Visitor Studies: It's all about Relationships

6 - 7 March, 2014 St Martin-in-the-fields, Trafalgar Square, London

As scientists, we make hypotheses, devise methods to test them, gather evidence and make inferences to draw a conclusion. Visitor studies is no different!

It uses different approaches and methodologies to get clues that will help us learn more about our audience, their motivations and interest, as well as the impact of our hard work.

Many of us are already engaging in formative evaluation as a matter of course such as testing prototypes or piloting shows with audiences. But visitor studies can help us so much more. Whether we are in exhibit development, science show presentation or management, visitor research and evaluation can inform strategic thinking, help us make good choices and improve our practice. It may sound like yet another task to be added to an already long to-do list, but a little bit of visitor studies goes a long way to helping us make our work more relevant, appealing, and valued by our audience, partners and funders.

At the upcoming annual Visitor Studies Group conference 2014, we explore the role of visitor studies between cultural organisations and their visitors and the equally important relationship between visitor studies and stakeholders. We consider the question of how can visitor studies have a real impact on our work as well as the work of our colleagues, funders and other decision makers.

Join us at the conference to make the most of the collective experience and enthusiasm of our membership. Gain exposure to different techniques, gain more awareness of how fellow practitioners are employing visitor research and the range of research questions our academic colleagues are exploring in informal learning environments.

BIG members may be particularly interested by how fellow science communicators are using visitor research. London Science Museum, Chester Zoo, Zoological Society of London and Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum are sharing their experiences of how visitor studies have informed and influenced their organisations. Others may be keen to uncover the parallels of collaborative practice based research between museums and universities in the field of social science research and that of science centres and STEM departments in universities in the area of public engagement. And of course, there is much to learn from informal learning colleagues from other cultural institutions focusing on art and heritage. And if you're still sitting on the fence about the value of evaluation, join in the discussion of the ‘Evaluating evaluation' study funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Bookings for the conference can now be taken here.

The Visitor Studies Group is a membership organisation for anyone who puts visitors at the heart of cultural experiences. We promote dialogue, facilitate debate and through skills-sharing opportunities provide continuing professional development.

National Women in Engineering Day

Dawn Bonfield , WES Vice President

23 June 2014 sees the launch of National Women in Engineering Day - the first event of its kind, aimed at raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering, and encouraging more girls to consider engineering as a career.

The organisers of the day are calling on government, companies, schools, engineering organisations and individuals to get involved, and we are aiming for as many people as possible to spread the word and organise their own events on or around this day.

Currently less than 10% of the engineering workforce are women, and with a large skills gap in the sector looming, and the additional need for a more diverse engineering workforce, it has never been more important to encourage girls to choose a career in engineering.

Like International Women's Day, which is now widely adopted and used as a way of drawing attention to issues affecting women, this Day will give an opportunity for all parties to consider how they are able to focus effort on supporting women and girls in the engineering sector.

A Register of Women Engineers is being compiled for use by schools who would like to invite in a woman engineer to talk about her career, and this list will also be available to the media for their use to find women engineers who are available to represent the industry in the press. If you are a woman engineer, please add your name to this register.

A list of possible ways of being involved in the day can be seen on the website and we would like anybody who supports this day to register their interest.

Funds are currently being sought to support the administration and cost of this day, and we welcome any potential funders to get in touch via the website.

BIG People: David Price

Job: Manager science made simple north

A typical day at work consists of: Looking into potential funding applications, observing my colleagues doing shows in schools, busking or busking training somewhere in the world and getting up VERY early in the morning to do shows in schools!

What got you into this career? Conversation with my first manager in sci com:

“So all those years ago when you first interviewed me why did I get the job?”

“Well David to be honest your explanation of how an electric kettle works (for a 5 year old) was one of the worst I have ever heard, but you were so bloody enthusiastic about it I had to give you the job”

What is the best thing about your job? I get paid to tell inspirational stories about science and engineering, paid to investigate the science of everyday objects and paid to work at becoming the best communicator I and our wonderful science made simple team can be.

... and the worst? Admin

What is your favourite meal? Grilled salmon, chips and peas

What is your favourite smell? That incredible “growing” smell that you get on the first few warm sunny days of spring, you can literally smell nature kicking into gear.

What talents do you possess? On my day, I am a really good shot

What talents would you like to possess? I can cast an effective line with a fly rod but I would give a lot to be able to cast an elegant one

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? Not sure but an actor I have a great deal of time for is Kevin Spacey

Which living person do you most admire and why? Ray Mears for simply and devastatingly effectively telling stories about the things that he is so very passionate about

Most beautiful place on earth? Glen Avon (pronounced ann) Speyside Scotland

What is your Motto for life? That which does not kill us makes us stronger

With best wishes from the BIG Executive 2013-14...

James Piercy, Chair
Bridget Holligan, Vice Chair
David Porter, Treasurer
Ashley Kent, Secretary
Ben Craven, Ordinary Member
Stephanie Sinclair, Ordinary Member
Rachel Mason, Event Organiser
and Sarah Vining, Administrator

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