Jonny Berliner - science through song


Opinions and reflections on the dissemination of science from a science troubadour, educator and sci ed researcher.

Songs for super science revision

The Easter holidays are nearly over and for year 11 teachers and students this means one thing - revision, revision, revision. It can be a stressful time for teachers, students and their parents and it can be boring for students too. The new GCSE curricula for science are content heavy and students' memories will be stretched to the max. Sitting down and memorising facts is rarely fun but teachers will hopefully make the best of it by designing games and dynamic sessions for students to go over the enormous quantity of material in the short time left. If the sessions are boring then nothing gets remembered. If they are too slow then they run out of time to revise it all. So the challenge for teachers and students is to cram lots of information in without it getting boring. Students quickly tire of making mind maps and teachers struggle to find the time to make great resources but over the past year and a half, since I left the classroom, I have been working on a set of resources that might help! The struggle for parents is keep their kids on track without sounding like a nag.

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Slime Science - amazing engagement

This weekend I saw something amazing. I witnessed thousands of children and their parents choose to go to a university mechanical engineering department to spend a frenzied couple of hours getting down with slime. Anyone who has spent any time around any 8 - 16 year olds in the last few months probably knows how exciting this must have been for the youngsters. And if you don't understand what's going on, slime is the latest kiddie craze, and the Institute of Making capitalised on this fact to achieve an incredible piece of science outreach. I have seen dozens of science outreach events and I'm not sure I have ever seen so many young faces looking so excited. The place was mobbed. So what was the secret to their success?

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Have we lost the last of a kind?

This week’s sad news of Professor Stephen Hawking’s passing did not just rock the science world, it was major world news. He was one of the few to achieve mainstream popularity whilst producing the kind of scientific ideas that will be remembered long after his death. In many ways, he became an icon; the image that many people imagine when they think of a scientist. Much has already been written about his remarkable life, the theories he propounded, his disability, his sense of humour and his ability to communicate cutting edge cosmology to the public, and I will have nothing new to say on these, but they have got me thinking about the nature of iconic status in science, whether we can expect to ever have an icon like him again, and whether we even need one.

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Can we really expect adolescents to choose STEM?

Despite the best efforts of science teachers and science communicators to inspire the next generation, employers are struggling to fill over 40% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) vacancies. Because STEM careers are so important to our economy, this shortage has been the focus of plenty of research which suggests that students avoid choosing STEM subjects because their self-identity is at odds with their assumptions about scientists. Many of the strategies suggested for fixing this problem involve challenging their assumptions about scientists. They are important suggestions, but will they work? I’d like to consider the possibility that a far more radical solution is needed to succeed. Ultimately, we may have to change the whole system because many adolescent brains are just not wired to want to be scientists.

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Is Sci-Comm Too Smug?

Having now notched up 15 years of experience disseminating scientific ideas in almost every way possible, as a tutor, teacher, entertainer, and presenter, I have managed to work with consumers and communicators of science from almost every background and perspective there is. Along the way, I have gained a fairly unique perspective and with that in mind, this is the first of many blogs to share my thoughts and experiences, with the aim of contributing to the discussion of how science communication (sci-comm) and science education can speak to and affect as large and diverse an audience as possible.

I want to start with a question that has been playing on my mind recently. Is sci-comm too smug?

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