BIG e-news:
Summer 2010 edition – Issue 15

This year’s BIG Event in Newcastle was another great success and almost half of those who came were attending for the very first time. There are some lovely images capturing the essence of the Event on Flikr so take a sneaky peek if you can.

We are now accepting Expressions of Interest for venues wanting to host next year’s conference so you’re interested please email for an information sheet. Deadline is 1st October.

Sarah Vining


BIG Event: Ten Great Moments (and Happy 10th birthday Life!)

Savita Custead, BIG Event Coordinator

Members old and new descended on the Centre for Life in late July who as part of their 10th year celebrations opened the door to the conference.

The Event has grown and changed since we last visited in 2005 – this year’s conference was the biggest yet - we welcomed the most number of delegates, the most number of new members, and the most number of sessions! In no particular order – here are my Ten Great Moments of this year’s event:

1. A welcome speech from Malcolm Love, a great embodiment of this year’s theme – Parallel Worlds, kicked off conference with a challenge to us all to think beyond our organisations and projects.

2. The Life Theatre opened the doors of their gallery theatre, and shows on each day showcased the best of UK’s science shows – with a chance for delegates to offer feedback and improvements.

3. Noel Jackson introduced us to the “Science of Alcohol” – and some weird and wonderful cocktails were concocted in the name of networking!

4. Guest speakers joined us from a range of “parallel worlds” – including history, art, debate, community engagement, theatre, busking and research.

5. A hugely popular decision moved the annual Best Demo competition to the Evening Event – congratulations to Farrah Nazir for grabbing the trophy by showing us how to start fire with water.

6. Masterclasses added in-depth discussion to the proceedings – on funding, evaluation, freelancing, marketing and exhibit building.

7. For the first time, the conference included a second venue – and nearly two thirds of delegates visited the multi-disciplinary Culture Lab with immerse technologies, exhibits, and a whole new way of thinking about “interactivity”.

8. BIG delegates kept the twittersphere busy – with an ongoing commentary on #big2010 – it was great to have comments from some new and old friends during the event.

9. The BIG AGM raised the issues that delegates were passionate about – with continued move to keep BIG in the forefront of the field. Congratulations to the newly elected Committee.

10. Saying goodbye at the BIG Event is never easy – but this year we knew we had a year of skills workshops, the Little Event and other workshops to meet up again – see you there!

The Little Event returns!

Toni Hamill, Skills Representative

Exactly one year on, the Little Event returns to Thinktank in Birmingham on Tuesday 7th September from 10am – 5pm.

If you’ve been to every BIG Event for the past 10 years then the Little Event is probably not for you, but please don’t stop reading! It is probably best suited to people who probably don’t know it exists yet, and you’re just the person to help me spread the word!

The Little Event is for people who are relatively new to STEM communication, whether they work in a science centre or museum, volunteer for a festival, are involved in university outreach, or do anything else to engage people with sciences. It’s a lot like the BIG Event, but a bit smaller, and all crammed into one busy day. There will be four sessions, each focusing on developing a different skill, delivered by experienced science communicators (and familiar faces around BIG) following our usual hand-on approach.

But of course the BIG Event isn’t just about the sessions, it’s the people you meet there too. The Little Event also presents a great opportunity to meet people from across the UK working in similar roles and sharing similar experiences. The programme for the day will include sessions on Learning & Evaluation, Interacting with the public, Presenting and Careers. You can find more information and how to book on the BIG website. The price is £45 for BIG members, and £95 for non-members.

Book the Little Event here

Graphic Science However, we also have some free places! Thanks to generous support from Graphic Science (, StoryCog ( and BIG we are able to offer 15 bursaries to help those who would otherwise not be able to attend. Each bursary is worth £100 which includes 1 year’s BIG membership, registration fees for the Little Event and £25 towards travel expenses.

StoryCogApplying issimple, just tell us on the registration form why you would like the opportunity to come to the event and how you think it will benefit your personal and professional development.

What can Science communicators learn from Forest Schools?

Jenny Dockett, Public Engagement Manager, Centre for Life

For the last four years I have thoroughly enjoyed the BIG Bursary talk, and walked away thinking “I must win that some day, if only I could think of a really good idea!” Then one day when I was browsing the internet looking for children’s rain coats, I stumbled across a website all about Forest schools. I was intrigued.

The Forest school idea comes from Denmark, where children under seven spend a lot of time at Kindergarten out of doors. Studies from Sweden have shown that children who attended Forest schools were less stressed and able to concentrate longer than their urban contemporaries. They were also more considerate to each other and better communicators. British specialists in early years education visited Denmark in the 1980’s and brought the Forest school idea to Britain. Forest schools and science communicators both provide out of the class room experiences, what could we learn from this increasingly popular movement?

Anyone can go for a walk in the woods and feel better for it but to be called a “Forest School” a project must run over a long period of time, at least twelve weeks, and have a small number of pupils, usually twelve and at least two adults. There are two ways forest schools can work, some schools have their own Forest school leaders, some schools are lucky enough to have woodland as part of their grounds and some new primary schools are specifically designed with Forest Schools in mind (Royton Hall Primary School, Oldham) others go to a forest site managed by Forest school providers who are not linked to their school. Forest schools are often used with children in the early years, and in primary schools where areas of the curriculum can be covered in the forest school environment. They have also been used to ease the transition between primary and secondary schools for children who may find this difficult. Great results have been seen in young people who have been expelled from school, have behavioural problems or have been involved in the criminal justice system.

To find out more about Forest schools I decided to attend a course for a level two practitioner, someone who assists a Forest school leader. The course was a week long at an outward bound centre on the edge of Sheffield. Before someone can call themselves a Forest school leader they must complete a level three Open College Network Qualification. This is quite a bit of work, there are two intensive weeks of training normally with about six months in between and during this interval you are expected to be working closely with a Forest school leader. There is also a two day first aid course designed for leaders of outdoor activities. The course I attended was only a week long and covered lots of different activities, using tools with children safely, making a fireplace for use with children, doing site risk assessments. Thinking about the impact of your activities on the forest you are working in, theories about play and child development, observing children to see how they are benefitting from the forest school activities. But most importantly of all I learned Forest schools are not really about learning about nature or green woodworking, the children will learn about these things at Forest school, but the idea of Forest Schools is to teach children the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to get on in the world. To develop in to a competent adult, a child needs to have empathy, social skills, self awareness, self regulation, and self motivation and this is what Forest schools aims to give children. The forest schools activities are built in to a programme designed to promote these skills.

It was a great week, I met teachers, head teachers, teaching assistants and conservation volunteers all of whom were bursting enthusiasm for forest schools but I hadn’t actually seen any children do these activities. So I scoured the internet for a nursery that was doing forest school activities that would allow me to come along and observe. I finally found an award winning nursery that was prepared to let me come along. Martin Pace runs Reflections nursery in Worthing, it is a truly inspirational place. Set in an old Manor house with a large garden it provides childcare for children from babies to preschool. Every Thursday morning a group of eleven three and four year olds go off in the mini bus to the woods that the nursery has leased.

They gather at the fire place and this usually where a new idea is introduced, on the day I went with them, they got to use a bow saw for the first time to cut a small piece off a log. The sense of satisfaction they showed was immense. The nursery is inspired by Reggio Emilia approach so the children decide what they want to do. They took me to their camp, they didn’t want to play inside it, and they wanted to climb all over it. There were two adult helpers standing by to help anyone who got in to difficulties and an Artelier to photograph the day’s events. A little girl set up a café and made some cakes that looked suspiciously like twigs. This is a game that she often plays when she comes to the woods. I joined in a game with a couple of boys, we used a bole of a tree as a pirate ship, one of the girls wanted to make it in to a café but she was persuaded that she should be the ships cook instead. Then the children decided they would like to go to some other parts of the woods, the jumping tree and the roly-poly hill. What struck me was the relationship these children had with the woods, they had their favourite places and they were confident to explore the woods. They were also quite robust, if they fell down they didn’t make a fuss they just got up and carried on. We had our lunch at the fire place although we didn’t light a fire as it was a lovely warm sunny day and as we were eating our sandwiches a butterfly came in to the clearing, fluttered about and headed back in to the woods. It was a magical moment.

I have yet to complete the qualification; I must take part in the planning and running of three Forest school sessions, which I will do in the next academic term with Richard Wood from Outdoor learning. It was very interesting talking to him to get an idea of what is happening with Forest Schools in the North East. He is clearly very passionate about his work, and only regrets the fact that getting funding to do long term projects with a small number of children is very difficult.

Things to consider from Forest Schools

  • Both science explainers and forest school practitioners run activities with groups of school children and manage risks associated with those activities. Would science explainers benefit from a formal qualification like the OCN provide? It could be done as a continuous assessment process alongside the on the job training they already receive.
  • Here at Life, we often engage people for a short amount of time, twenty minutes or an hour. What would the benefits be of running projects where we engage people over a number of weeks?
  • How do we manage risk in our activities? In forest schools they do things that are inherently dangerous, like having small children around a campfire, but they instigate rules and procedures managing the risk so the probability of anything happening is actually quite low.
  • Evaluation by observation. The forest schools practitioners observe and carefully record the progress of the children on each visit to chart their progress, this technique also used in Early Years settings. Can science communicators use this example as away of evaluating a project? Obviously it can only be used in longer term projects where the people delivering the project can get to know the participants.

I have thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Forest Schools, it has been incredibly refreshing and everyone I have met has been incredibly kind and generous, sharing their time and experience.

I would like to thank all of the members of BIG for giving me the opportunity to follow my curiosity and investigate something that has no direct bearing on my work but has rekindled my passion for engagement.

How online communication has worked for me

Julie Pollard, Practical Action

I’m not the type of person who naturally embraced all of this online communication malarkey. Having teenage children who seem to live their lives through Facebook, I ignored it as much as I could. This was fine whilst I was a science technician but two job changes later I am the Education Manager for an international development charity called Practical Action and online communication is something we do a lot of.

With a very limited budget I had to think of ways of promoting the great educational resources the organisation already had and the new ones I was keen to produce. Spending lots of money on advertising in journals was out of the question, so really I was just left with the option of going down the traditional route of effective networking, and having a go at online promotion including (gulp) social media.

So where to start? Well, first off there are lots of people out there who want material for their websites and if you ask them nicely many will let you provide content for them for free. For example, the STEM careers website is always looking for case studies and you can upload any free resources you produce onto TES Connect or teaching ideas. Newsletters are another great way to reach your audience and we have had articles in planet science, teaching news, regional eco-schools newsletters, SSAT’s e-newsletter and newsletters produced by regional STEM centres.

Then there’s social media. I would have to say twitter has been the biggest surprise of all to me. My misconception was it was for people obsessed with letting everyone know about the mundanities of their everyday life, but in fact I find it a really useful tool for my work. A quick look at my twitter account and I can see the latest science stories from digg science, find out what’s happening in international development and get lots of ideas for sustainable resources from a range of eco ’tweeters’. And, by ‘tweeting’ myself people start to follow me to receive my updates and visit my webpage as a result.

Blogging was something else I needed to tackle. It was a bit daunting at first but really it’s just like writing a diary when you have something interesting to say. Your blog can be about something you are involved in yourself or just a comment on something that is going on in your field. It’s a great feeling when you get feedback.

Good news – it works! Since I increased my focus on online communication at the beginning of the year, the number of visits to our website has increased by a whopping 700% , resulting in lots more of our free science resources being downloaded and reaching students.

It goes without saying that I would love for you to find out more about our work and to pass the message on. So please do me a favour and help increase our web stats by visiting to find out more. And of course you are welcome to follow me on Twitter @juliepollard1 or read my blogs!

Dialogue Academy

Gemma Kearsley-Wooller, At-Bristol

We just wanted to say a huge thank you to those of you from BIG who came to the dialogue academies and spread the word among your colleagues. It was a great opportunity to share your variety of experience and expertise and create a collaborative, productive and varied couple of days for all.

From Cornish plants to Scottish sea birds, and ‘roller coaster physics’ to ‘smash and save’, a fantastic variety of dialogue activities were devised and delivered over the course of the four academies.

Now with everyone talking, debating and discussing more than ever, we hope you are all enjoying dialogue back in your roles and venues. Thanks for being such an enthusiastic group to work alongside.

For more information on the dialogue academies look at the website or email me

Science for All Action Plan

Toby Shannon, British Science Association

Currently it’s all go putting the 60-plus action points from the Science for All Action Plan into life.

Based on recommendations from (and informed by) various consultations including the recent Science Communication Conference organised by British Science Association, the working groups are beginning to bear fruit. Here are a couple of highlights that you can expect to be coming your way soon.

The Science in Society team from the British Science Association led a session introducing the jazzily-named ‘Collective Memory’ at the BIG Event 2010 about how the entire community can share our expertise (all for free) and learn from each other.

However, for those who didn’t manage to make it, we need your help. Have a look at CollectiveMemory to see what the pilot scheme looks like and have a go adding an evaluation or two. Does it work for you? What would you find most useful? Have your say, and shape a tool that can help us all to learn from each other and plan and evaluate future activities.

Coming up in the near future will be some scoping work into exploring the networks that Sci-Commers use and find really helpful – what works for you? Also, a complete beginner’s guide to Social Media – how’s it being used to engage people with the sciences? What’s out there? Watch this space!

Ingenious Grant Scheme

Dr Lesley Patterson, The Royal Academy of Engineering

Ingenious is a grant scheme for creative public engagement with engineering projects.

If you have an imaginative idea that helps engineers to communicate their expertise and passion for engineering to a wider audience – we want to hear from you. You could be an engineer interested in running your own project, or a science and engineering communicator keen to explore ways to provide public engagement training and opportunities.

We are also keen to receive project proposals that aim to encourage deeper discussions between engineers and the wider public about the implications of engineering for society (for example, cultural and ethical impacts).

Funding from £3,000 to £30,000 is available for projects that meet the criteria of the two funding streams: Public Engagement Grants and Public Engagement Fellowships.

The closing date for the next round of Ingenious is 29th October 2010.

Find out more by reading about previous projects in the case studies and hear what grant holders and engineers have to say about their Ingenious experience in four mini-films.

The Sun shines on Glastonbury

Helen Mason and Ninian Boyle, University of Cambridge

'Wow, that's amazing!' - Sunshine at Glastonbury, yes, but they were actually talking about seeing the Sun through an H-alpha telescope.

Sometimes as astronomers we forget the thrill of looking through a telescope for the first time, but this is what happened at the Festival this year. We also had the night-time telescopes out to look at the beautiful full Moon. A double whammy for some was to see both to see the Sun and the Moon within a few hours of each other.

We were part of the Sunworshippers team, led by archeo-astronomer Nick Yellop. They have a mobile planetarium and both Hydrogen-Alpha and ordinary astronomical telescopes and their remit is to give astronomers and astro-physicists a platform for public outreach in places that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with such a subject. The emphasis is of course on our Sun; how ancient cultures viewed it and what we know about it today.

Dr Helen Mason of the University of Cambridge who leads the Sun|trek website ( and who is ‘passionate about the Sun’, is one of the UK’s leading solar physicists and has worked on many prestigious solar satellite projects including SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and Hinode (a Japanese satellite with UK/ESA/NASA participation) and currently the latest Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO). She thoroughly enjoyed explaining the workings of our nearest star to the hundreds of passersby who were captivated by their first view of the Sun through a specialist solar telescope. Safety is of course paramount and clear explanations were given, especially to the young, about the dangers of viewing the Sun through anything other than proper solar filters and the dangers if this advice were ignored. Equipment is also regularly checked by experienced members of the team.

Ninian Boyle from Astronomy Know How (, a writer and educator in the subject and himself a very experienced amateur astronomer, was also part of the team. What better way to spend a few sunny days than to share our passion for astronomy and solar physics with the folk (young and old) at the largest summer music festival in the world.

BIG People:
Sarah Vining


Marketing Consultant (which includes about ½ -1 day a week as BIG Administrator on a self employed basis)

A typical day at work consists of:

Lots of juggling – my days can vary enormously depending on the project – I currently have three projects on the go which all involve staring at a computer screen with a phone glued to my ear – I promise they are more exciting than they sound!

What got you into this career?

An academic and professional marketing background panning over 20 years or so (eek), mainly in the cultural sector. I set up as self-employed after having my children and am not planning to look back! I hang around with lots of science communicators from my days back at Techniquest, so I’ve carved a bit of a niche for myself these days in this field.

What is the best thing about your job?

Getting to pick the best projects and turn down the chaff – and the flexibility to work around my kids.

... and the worst?

Never really having any time off. I also always feel a little humble hanging around so many clever people so I’m always fighting with my self esteem.

What is your favourite meal?

Lamb dupiaza with naan bread and a pint.

What is your favourite smell?

Warm tropical beach breeze with a hint of suncream and palm.

What talents do you possess?

I am the most amazing multi-tasker in the whole world. Even if I do say so myself.

What talents would you like to possess?

Given the industry I’ve found myself immersed in and the people I find myself surrounded by, I’d like to actually understand a bit more science. Oh, and the ability to relax would be useful too.

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life?

Uma Thurman is probably the only actress tall enough to do justice to the role!

Which living person do you most admire and why?

I take my hat off to anyone who can juggle having a career and look after small children while managing to stay calm, sane and happy.

Most beautiful place on earth?

I’ve done a lot of travelling but only two places have ever taken my breath away - Langkawi in Malaysia for its staggeringly beautiful white-sand beaches and verdant rainforests. The other is Rio de Janeiro which occupies the most spectacular setting of any metropolis in the world (and where my hubbie popped the question with a LoveHeart sweet which said Marry Me. Aaah...)

What is your Motto for life?

If uncertain when faced with a Yes or No decision, always go for the Yes option. This has always stood me in good stead and I’ve been very fortunate as a result.

BIG Crossword

Compiled by Brian Macken, Science Oxford

Version for printing (pdf)

Answers (pdf)

With best wishes from the BIG Executive 2010-11…

James Piercy, Chair
Andy Lloyd, Vice Chair
Rachel Mason, Treasurer
Brian Macken, Secretary
Savita Custead, Event Coordinator
and Sarah Vining, Administrator

Contact BIG

© BIG STEM Communicators Network
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software