What would you tell a teacher about your research?

03 March 2014 - By: Sarah Blackford

What would you tell a teacher about your research?

What would you-In txt
Susannah Thorpe (left)

By Sarah Blackford

“Mitochondria were originally free living organisms – meaning we still have this ‘alien’ bacteria trapped in all our cells”: Dan Tennant (Birmingham University); “Cannabis is grown in the garden – it gets secondary school kids interested”: Alison Foster (Oxford Botanic Garden); “Road dust contains more precious metals than some low grade mines”: Angela Murray (Birmingham University); “Ghrelin is a hormone released when your stomach is empty – it makes you want to eat more”: Julian Hamilton-Shield (Bristol); “The Piltdown Man hoax of 1911 dominated our understanding of human evolution for 50 yrs”: Susannah Thorpe (Birmingham University); “Phloem has the highest pressure of any plant cell. Car tyres = 2 bars; Phloem = 30 bars”: Jeremy Pritchard (Birmingham University). 

These were just a handful of the messages that were tweeted during the ‘Biology in the Real World’ (#BiTRW) session at the Association of Science Education (ASE) Meeting held in Birmingham in January this year. Always popular, despite being in competition with around 20 other parallel events, this annual one-day session of 7 – 8 talks, aims to bring the Biology curriculum to life for teachers looking for interesting ways to grab the attention of their teenage school audience.

Organised by a consortium (called NUCLEUS) of around 15 Bioscience funding bodies and academic societies, including SEB, we identify researchers who are willing to deliver a 30 minute talk on particular aspects of their research that will be of interest to teachers. As you can see from the quotes above, the subjects are usually highly topical and varied, ranging from energy to plant pharmaceuticals and from cave-dwelling creatures to childhood obesity. 

This year, the SEB’s speaker (co-sponsored by the Society of Biology), Jeremy Pritchard, made a great job of demonstrating how it really can be possible to make plants appealing to children (and teachers) if you teach plant physiology in a more interesting way, e.g. by using balloons, a coke bottle as a manometer and (begrudgingly) making analogies to animal systems. With between 50 – 70 delegates in our audience throughout the day, those of us involved in the session were very satisfied with the turn-out and feedback we received. Meanwhile, our colleagues down in the marquee enjoyed lots of traffic at the exhibition stand. Returning to the title and impetus of this article, “What would you tell a teacher about your research?”, I think this is a question worthy of consideration by most researchers wishing to inspire the next generation about science. Not only that, going back to basics tends to focus the mind and distils out the fundamental root of a research project and wider field of interest. The ASE Meeting is a great forum to do this (it’s always held in January but moves around the UK each year), but there are other events which engage kids directly including the Big Bang (March) and the British Science Festival (September) – both of which also happen to be in Birmingham this year. 

Other UK initiatives include the STEMNET events, National Science Week and training for teachers at the National Science Centres – so there is plenty of opportunity for researchers to get involved. And even without a formal ‘event’ to hang your talk/demonstration on to, you can always approach local schools with the offer to do a talk aimed at the teachers and/ or pupils, or you could volunteer on school open days. Some researchers write blogs and others even end up establishing a company to provide teaching equipment and resources for schools and universities ... but that’s another story. 

The slides from the ASE Meeting are available on the Society of Biology website: www.societyofbiology.org  
Category: Teaching and Learning
Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford is the Head of Education and Public Affairs at the SEB and the editor of the SEB Magazine. As a qualified careers adviser and MBTI practitioner, Sarah provides career development and support for SEB members and the wider scientific community. Sarah is also an active a number of initiatives aimed at improving gender equality and diversity in the science field.