In 2019, I started ‘Think Like A Scientist’, a science education course to be taught in restrictive teaching environments. The award-winning program has ran in three different prisons so far. For more information, please get in touch.

Think Like A Scientist was recently shortlisted for the STEM for Britain awards. The summary poster is shown here (with more detailed information below):


Think Like A Scientist is a 7 week science course for those interested in science and nature.

TLAS poster
Think Like A Scientist Poster

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?).


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 started 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 coursepack

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?

The Conversation –

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.

Mars – source: Wiki.

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’).

Creative writing example from HMP Low Newton – students were asked to write an email home from Mars (where they are conducting science experiments)

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.

The scientists that are up for the vote are Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Dorothy Hodgkin, Mary Anning, Ada Lovelace, Beatrice Shilling, Frederick Sanger, Rosalind Franklin, and James Clerk Maxwell.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 2.43.47 PM
Students will pitch a scientist to the new face of the £50 note.

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:


For further information, please get in touch.

Student feedback can be found here: HERON_TLAS_StudentFeedback

Media attention for Think Like A Scientist: 

Northern Echo – 15th May 2019

The I paper

The Conversation – What I learnt from teaching prisoners to think like scientists

BBC Newcastle – 15th May 2019 (51 minutes in, and 1 hour 50 minutes in)

Durham University website – 15th May 2019

Durham University News – 15th May 2019

Palatinate – 15th May 2019 

BBC Radio Tees – 15th May 2019

EGU Outreach Award – 8th April 2019

EGU GeoBlog

The Sun newspaper

Metro – 18th June 2019

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:

Paula Street

Durham University Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program – in particular Dr Hannah King

Cell Block Science – in particular Dr Mhairi Stewart

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

HMP Low Newton’s Learning and Skills Manager Marianne Burrows & Sarah Blackman

Cheryl Adamson

Prof Tony Key (University of Toronto)