Think Like A Scientist is a 7 week science course for those interested in science and nature.
In a world where ‘fake news’ is a real danger, the course offers students the basic building blocks required to think like a researcher, guided by the scientific method as a tool to gain understanding (e.g., what are we trying to find out? how do we test that? can we confirm a result? what else do we need to know to be sure of our findings?).
UNDERSTANDING – ANALYSING – COMMUNICATING
Presently, being a scientist is a lot more than testing a hypothesis – you are required to be able to understand how robust your findings are through data analysis, and also be able to present your work in a clear and concise manner. Think Like A Scientist teaches the students how to use the scientific method alongside applying analytical and communication skills.
Think Like A Scientist will be running in prisons in the North East in 2019, becoming the first focussed science education course of its kind to be taught in England. Although geared for the restrictive teaching practices within the prison system, Think Like A Scientist can be adapted for many different teaching settings.
Think Like A Scientist course content:
Each class lasts around 2 hours and has the same basic framework: introduction to the main science topic; activities surrounding the main topic; assignment of main topic reading to be summarized and analyzed; analytical skills best practices; and a section on improving communication skills.
The current main science topics are: the science of sleep (week 1); the atmosphere and the air we breathe (week 2); earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics (week 3); planetary science and missions to Mars (week 4); the universe (week 5); and topics related to guest lecturer (week 6).
Main topic reading is provided through articles from The Conversation – where academics write accessible articles related to their research. The students will dissect The Conversation articles and provide a 300 word summary (learning how to write clearly and concisely) and apply the scientific method to try and understand the research better – e.g., what are we trying to find out? how do we test that? can we confirm a result? what else do we need to know to be sure of our findings?
Data analysis comes from the students writing down information related to their sleep, following on from week 1’s science of sleep. They will collect how many hours they sleep each night and make a note of their mood and energy levels. After three weeks, the group will analyze the data collected using the analytical tools taught in class.
The study of science is often linked to art and creativity – this course has a creative writing aspect during week 4’s mission to Mars project. The students produce a blueprint for what is required to setup a colony on another planet – through the lens of science and also humanity. For homework at HMP Low Newton in January 2019, the students were asked to write an email home from their station on Mars where they were conducted science experiments (an exercise developed from Prof Charles Cockell’s book ‘Life Beyond – From Prison to Mars’).
In the first week of term, the students are assigned a scientist that they will learn about and then pitch as the worthy candidate for the new face of the £50 note. In the final class (week 7) the students all present a 5-10 minute pitch on why their scientist will be appropriate, with the group voting at the end. The communication skills taught throughout the course will be applied in this final presentation.
In terms of course output, the students give a presentation (comprehension and communication skills), a study of their sleep and health (analytical skills), weekly summaries of articles (comprehension, analytical, and communication skills), and a creative writing exercise on planetary science (communication). There will also be questionnaires given at the beginning and end of the course to measure distance travelled.
By the end of the course, the students will have a better understanding of how to Think Like A Scientist – following three main pillars:
UNDERSTANDING – ANALYSING – COMMUNICATING
For further information, please contact Phil Heron (philip.j.heron AT durham.ac.uk).
Media attention for Think Like A Scientist:
BBC Radio Tees – 15th May 2019
The Sun newspaper
Think Like A Scientist runs in partnership with:
European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 749664.
Durham University – The Department of Earth Sciences.
British Geophysical Association
European Geosciences Union
Think Like A Scientist has been taught at:
HMP Low Newton – feedback from the first course at HMP Low Newton can be found here.
Phil Heron presented the poster “What I’ve learned from teaching geoscience in prison” at the EGU 2019 conference in Vienna, Austria. Downloadable version of the poster is available here.
Think Like A Scientist would like to thank:
Durham University Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program – in particular Dr Hannah King
HMP Low Newton’s Learning and Skills Manager Marianne Burrows & Sarah Blackman
Prof Tony Key (University of Toronto)