Rationale behind the event: about How Science Works (HSW)

Since the Bodmer report in 1985 there has been a growing enthusiasm for “the public understanding of science”. This was originally conceived as ‘teaching the public more science’. More recently a consensus has emerged that communication is a two-way process and scientists need to engage in a dialogue with wider society.

It is also thought that in order for citizens to meaningfully participate in this dialogue and in making decisions in their lives, an understanding of the scientific process is in many ways more crucial than an understanding of specific science facts. For example understanding how peer review works, how hypotheses are tested and how scientific consensus emerges.

Analysis suggests that, for example, the MMR debacle had much more to do with lack of understanding of the scientific process than to do with lack of understanding of specific scientific facts per se. Similar arguments have been made re public attitudes to anthropogenic climate change.

This understanding has been reflected in the new (2006) GCSE syllabus with its emphasis on ‘How Science Works’, in changes to the KS3 and A Level syllabi and the addition of a ‘Science for Public Understanding’ AS Level. The curricula now consider issues like dealing with scientific uncertainty and the wider implications of scientific activity.

Large scale evaluations of the new curriculum are broadly positive about these changes, but found that resources to support teachers in these new areas are lacking. Specifically in helping students develop the skills to discuss science and society issues and put things into a wider context. Our own research with teachers supports this view.

These sometimes abstract or esoteric questions can be difficult for teachers to teach, especially when they may not have had any training in the area themselves. There is also a new recognition that real world experience or ‘experiential learning’ is far more memorable for young people and helps them to develop life skills.

This is precisely why we have developed the event. The team involved have, between them, decades of experience in science education, science communication and other forms of youth engagement work. We consulted extensively with teachers throughout the development process to make sure we were producing an event that would meet their needs and actually work in the classroom.