Tag Archives: how science works

A fantastic challenge

Hi all, I’m sure you’re more than ready for the holidays, but before we go, I wanted to share an opportunity for you Biology teachers and your students… Amanda Hardy, Schools and Colleges Officer at the Society of Biology and a former science teacher, wrote to me: 

As a teacher I was very aware that pupils were in danger of seeing science as something to be learnt, rather than a subject to experience, question and look for answers to those questions. The idea of scientific discovery sometimes seems remote from the classroom experience and pupils may not realise that one day they could be running experiments which nobody has tried before. Practical lessons allow some exploration and the chance to test ideas, but it is impossible to dedicate enough time to them and they still normally involve following an instruction sheet.

Despite the inevitable constraints, many teachers are able to inspire students beyond learning facts, and in my role at the Society of Biology I hope to give teachers this opportunity via a number of our activities and resources for students individually and in the classroom.

The British Biology Olympiad is designed to allow sixth formers to expand their knowledge and talents, and to be rewarded and publicly recognised by the award of medals, certificates and prizes. The first round is multiple choice and winners from this are invited to an Award Ceremony at the Royal Society in London. Medals are awarded based on Round One, and students winning a gold medal are invited to take part in Round Two, from which finalists are selected to compete at the British Biology Olympiad final. The British final  at the University of Reading includes  practical assessments and an additional written paper.  Four of the UK finalists will go forward to the International Biology Olympiad final in Switzerland. The competition is growing each year, and attracts thousands of entries. I attended the 2012 UK finals at the University of Birmingham, at which it was inspiring to see the way the young people applied themselves to the challenges. Their attitudes were exactly what the competition was designed to foster.

For younger pupils (Year 9/Year 10 in England and Wales, Year 10/Year 11 in Northern Ireland and S2/S3 in Scotland), Biology Challenge is taken online in schools. It is designed to be challenging and interesting, stimulating curiosity beyond the biology curriculum. Although most people will never work as a scientist, my aim is to increase the number of young people who leave school feeling some ‘ownership’ of science, knowing that they are qualified to think critically about the scientific evidence they encounter during their everyday lives. I hope the competitions will reveal just how interesting, varied and exciting biology can be.

I would be really interested to hear from teachers who feel they have achieved these aims in different ways, and from any teachers who are keen to get involved in our competitions.  You can find out more at our updated competition’s website: http://ukbiologycompetitions.org/

So there you have it. A chance to develop your students’ skills, passion for science, and a potential trip to Switzerland! Something to consider over the holidays perhaps…

I will leave you with this picture: super cute cell ornaments! Maybe a creative way to help your students engage with cell biology? You could try making some in class – use felt sheets and hot glue guns if you dont fancy sewing.

Celling fast: tree ornaments!

Celling fast: tree ornaments!

Have a brilliant time everyone, and maybe see some of you at the ASE conference in January -come say hello to us on the Science Museum stand.

Take care


I’m a scientist, get me out of here!

Registration is now open for I’m a scientist, get me out of here!

What’s it all about? Well if you’re a teacher who wants to deliver How Science Works and give their students a chance to meet and interact with some real scientists; or you’re a scientist who fancies facing up to a few students, improving your communication skills and making a difference, then this is a competition made for you :)

Thirsty for competition? This might be made for you!

Thirsty for competition? This might be made for you!

A little dash of X-factor flavour means scientists have to fight it out online to win the approval of the student ‘judges’.  Students get to ask the scientists questions about their work, and learn about their careers, so it’s a nice chance for young people to have a meaningful interaction with the ‘people behind the white coats’ (did you know they are real humans just like the rest of us?). There are also events linked to the competition throughout the year, and teaching resources such as lesson plans all ready to go.

The X-factor format is fun and familiar to your students, and because the competition takes place online, it’s pretty much hassle free and teachers won’t need to use any special equipment or materials (unless they want to!).

Why not take a peek?

How cool is this?

Hi everyone and welcome back to a new school year!

Yes I know I’m a little delayed in this greeting, but better late than never…

So how cool is this: between August 17-31st, our digital game Futurecade was featured on the British Council stand at the National Science and Technology Fair in Thailand! We absolutely love it when folks across the world use our resources and help spread the word that science can mean something to everyone.

Why was the British Council exhibiting in Thailand? Well, they work over there to foster partnerships between science and tech organizations in Thailand and the UK, and through these partnerships they hope to develop public understanding and appreciation of science, especially amongst young people. Much of this is done through dialogue and discussion, so we were delighted and proud that Futurecade was chosen as an activity to engage the many young people (and adults!) that attended the fair during its 2 weeks.


Students playing Futurecade on the British Council exhibit

The stand also featured cutting-edge research projects for example Healthy Ageing from University College London, where visitors could explore the ageing process by trying out specs that worsen vision and gloves that made their hands shake (Hey! This fab team had a stand at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in London- we worked with them as well earlier this year!)

Students explored our games and cutting edge research on the British Council stand

Over a million visitors made their way through the Fair, an impressive number. Here’s hoping they were inspired by and enjoyed all the wonderful exhibits, and left there feeling excited about science, and about all the amazing technology we have in our world because of our unending curiousity. Dialogue about science and how it impacts our lives is so important if we want people to make informed choices and feel like they can have their say - and we are thrilled that Futurecade could be a part of that!

Btw, also check out the British Council’s science e-zine , a Science and Society resource that nicely links cutting edge research to the world that we experience. 

Thanks all you folks in Thailand :)

Keep it simple

Do the simplest questions drive the greatest thinking? Here, Mythbusters’ Adam Savage gives a really cool, inspiring TED talk exploring this very idea.

One of the most important scientific ideas that you can communicate to your students is that science is never a ‘done deal’, more fantastic innovations and incredible technology are endlessly possible. Science is spurred by creativity, and very much based on asking questions- and seeking answers to some of the simplest questions can in fact reveal an entire universe.

Keep asking, little one!

Keep asking, little one!


‘most people think of science as a closed black box- and in fact, it is an open field’

One of the ways we work with teachers and students to model this process of creativity, and questioning that drives scientific exploration, is with our mystery boxes activity.

How do you get your students thinking about what science is and how it works?


Clean orbit

We’ve come a long way since Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite, was launched by the Soviets in 1957. There are now hundreds of satellites orbiting above our heads, making our mobile phones, traffic signals, TVs, internet and loads of other communications, actually work.

Along with the working satellites, there are the dead ones, the fragments of broken ones, the rocket parts from past missions, and myriad other chunks of junk orbiting at breakneck speeds, looking for something to collide with. And when they do, working satellites are destroyed, the Space Station could be damaged , the astronauts’ lives put at risk, and a whole new cascade of junk fragments  go careening off in all directions. Sound serious? Quite!

 BUT! The Swiss with their great efficiency and tidy ways, have been pondering this massive problem. They are developing CleanSpace One, a little ‘janitor’ satellite to deal with space junk by capturing it and dragging it back into the atmosphere to burn up.

A Swiss janitor satellite to tackle space junk

A Swiss janitor satellite to tackle space junk

This comes not a moment too soon, as space agencies now really have to consider how to de-orbit the satellites they launch, if they don’t want to make the junk problem worse and end up being cut off from space.

So who is responsible for the junk up in space? Is it you and me, as users of the services they provide, or the companies that launch them? Would you pay extra on your mobile phone bill to help clean up space?

Explore space junk and other big issues in Futurecade, our brand new digital game… If you’re a teacher, try it as a starter for a classroom discussion, and use the in-game questions to get your students talking about how science impacts on their lives.

Good luck :)

A year of talking science!

It’s been a great year for the Talk Science team: we have travelled far and wide, worked with - and learned from- loads of brilliant teachers on our courses, and been busy-busy-busy developing new (and improved!) resources to bring extra zing to your science teaching!

Our Punk Science films are now all available online. Bring their special brand of humour into your classroom with Healthy Living, Medical Trials, The Ends of the Universe, Nanotechnology song, Selective Breeding… Have you had enough of Jon and Dan yet? They even share their top tips on How to Punk your Science.

News + Views got a bit of spiffing up! This popular resource gets your students into the role of journalists to explore a a hot science topic. It’s a great way to get your students discussing current science issues and give them ownership of the research as they work to a deadline to create attention-grabbing display posters, in which they also express their own opinions.

And, Futurecade will be released in 2012!! Yes, FUTURECADE IS COMING  (we’re only a little excited!!)

Bacto-Lab is just one of Futurecade's 4 fun games

Bacto-Lab is just one of Futurecade's 4 fun games.

Futurecade is a suite of 4 online games based around current and future technology, that you can use to stimulate discussion around topics like space junk, geo-engineering, and synthetic biology. Keep your eyes peeled for them at the start of February.

We hope you will use Futurecade to help communicate How Science Works, that science impacts our lives, and our future will be shaped by technology (and decisions) made now. Use the games to provoke your students’ thinking and help them formulate opinions about the science and what it will mean for them.

The games are incredibly fun, and we think your students will find them really engaging. I am actually finding it a little hard to STOP playing one of them in particular, but I don’t want  to influence your preferences. Can’t wait to hear which one YOU like best!

And we arent the only ones who think games will be big in 2012!

We will be at the ASE conference in January so come find out about what we’ve been up to, and much more, on our stand, B29.

From everyone in the Talk Science team, thank you for your support and see you in 2012!

Royal resources

Did you know? The Royal Society has a whole selection of curriculum-linked science teaching resources for Key Stage 2, 3, 4 and 5. (But do explore what’s available for other key stages than your own, because many activities and experiments can be adapted)

The site is called Invigorate and the resources are based on the work of scientists connected with The Royal Society (eg Isaac Newton). The big thing is that they make the link between ‘historical’ science and our lives today, or how today’s scientific research might impact on the society in future. In other words, they reinforce to your students that science is a part of society; the context in which discoveries were made affected those discoveries, just as much as those discoveries changed society.

X-ray imaging changed the world

X-ray imaging changed the world. Image Noosaradiology.com

Pop over to the site and have a good look through the available resources -from quizzes to practical experiments- which are also linked to plenty of really useful background material like videos and podcasts. Loads of the experiments are based on the projects on display at the Summer Exhibition 2011, so your students can feel connected to real science going on today, and you can find out more about the scientists behind the research too.

Hopefully you will find these resources useful inside and out of the classroom. We really like that they link science in the classroom to science in the world around us and also to the people doing that science- a really important way for students to appreciate how science shapes our world.

Good luck!

DNA Database – what’s the debate?

Have you ever wondered how DNA evidence is used to solve crimes? What is the National DNA Database? And why should it matter to us anyway?

Explore these questions and more in our new show ‘The Great DNA Debate’, all about genetic information, how it can be used, and who should have access to it. 


Socks and chromosomes in the Great DNA Debate show

Socks and chromosomes go together in the Great DNA Debate show

This interactive show is designed to support your teaching of KS3 and KS4  Biology and How Science Works, including applications and implications of science. Your students are also encouraged to participate in the discussion and have their say, so it’s a great PTLS activity too (check out the video here for a taste of the show!)

Planning to take your students to the Who am I? exhibition to explore genetics, brain science, and how they make each of us unique? This show will really enhance your visit.

The Great DNA Debate is free but requires prebooking, upcoming performances are on Tuesday 8th November, at 11am and 1pm. The show is 45 minutes long.

Call our Learning Support Team on 0207 942 4777 to find out more and book your class in!

Top Techniques : Powerful Questions

‘Would you wear second hand pants to save the Earth?’

How do you get your students interested in discussing a topic? Well one simple technique to hook them is to ask a powerful question. The Talk Science team have devised an easy way to come up with great questions that link what your students are interested in outside of the classroom with what you want them to discuss in lessons. Click here to find out how we do it and you too will find yourself asking your students great questions like :

‘Do boys pollute more than girls?’

and many more…….

New Year’s resolutions

Happy New Year!

Is your New year’s resolution to brush up your classroom discussion running skills? If so help is at hand!

The Talk Science team will be running their teacher training course at venues across the UK in 2010. We will be sharing our  top tips on getting your students talking about hot science topics in our one day teachers course packed with ideas and resources to hook your students into a great science discussion (and we guarentee its more fun and less difficult than all those other resolutions to loose weight, give up chocolate, run a marathon etc.) Here’s what one teacher in York thought about the course:

‘The course gave me lots of ideas, and was delivered in a fun and interesting way. It has inspired me to run more discussion lessons in the future.’

The course takes place on the following dates:

21st January – Bristol

28th January – Edinburgh

24th February – Nottingham

18th March – Glasgow

25th March – London

27th May – Birmingham

10th June – Belfast

15th June – London

17th June – Manchester

24th June – Cardiff

1st July – Norwich

6th July – London

13th July – London

The course is free and is supported by BP as part of the Enterprising Science project. Click here to register for a course.

We look forward to meeting  you  throughout 2010.