Finding the Teachable Moment: Science Literacy

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in librAs we head back into the school year, many of us are thinking about new teachers, new homework assignments, and the best way to motivate our children at home or our students in the classroom.

In a Science360 interview, Laurie Howell (NSF) and Dr. Moria Gunn (host of Tech Nation) talk about science literacy. Dr. Gunn states that she thinks people will learn what they need to know when they need to know it if they are given the tools for learning—that we need to catch a person when he or she is motivated and interested to learn something and make sure that the inquiry is supported.

Some of those tools that will support that inquiry?

  • The ability to recognize when they are not informed enough to make a decision or have an opinion.
  • The ability to think critically and evaluate sources and information.

What do you think? How do we find the teachable moment and reach someone in their moment of interest? And how do we make sure that they have the critical thinking skills to make best use of that motivation.

Here is the interview below.

Compelling Science Communication

An archive of 35mm slides. There's probably one in a dark corner of your lab.
An archive of 35mm slides. There’s probably one in a dark corner of your lab.

Back in the dark ages, when I was in graduate school, if we were traveling to a conference to give a presentation, we always made sure that our slide carousels (yes, scientific talks used to be given from 35 mm slides) were in our carry-on baggage. That carousel was more important than our underwear or our toothbrush, no trusting it to baggage claim.

Things have improved markedly, I’m happy to say. Now everything has to go in the carry-on baggage, because most PIs don’t have the financial room in their grants to pay for checked bag fees. Fortunately, we can store copies of our presentations on several different clouds and bring a thumb drive or two on board the plane, tucked safely away in the underwear in the duffle bag that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead compartment. No need to choose between unwieldy slide carousels and clothes.

But are PowerPoint® and Prezi® presentations the best way to communicate your science? When you hit your audience with slide after slide of bullets are you killing their interest? When you show that slide of three years worth of work and say “Don’t worry about trying to read this…” are you killing your presentation?

Is there a better more compelling way to communicate science? Accurately. So that people care. So that people understand.

FameLab International certainly thinks so. Begun in 2005 by the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK, FameLab seeks to promote better science communication through sponsorship of a competition in which scientists and engineers have three short minutes to communicate their science with enthusiasm and accuracy–armed “with only their wits and a few props that they can carry on stage.”

It is truly a global competition with over 5,000 young scientists and engineers from 25 countries around the world competing for the grand prize each year. The Grand Final Competition is held in June each year, but you can take a sneak peak at some of the entrants on the FameLab Facebook page now.

Here’s a winning taste from the 2014 competition. There is more on the FameLab YouTube channel.

Biotechnology Ice Breakers: A Few Conversation Starters

quiz pictureThe biotechnology industry is one of the most dynamic out there – in fact, it never stands still! For non-scientists this can be intimidating. For scientists, it can be challenging to explain what we do in ways that non-scientists can understand and appreciate.

Scientists have made great strides in improving our ability to use molecular processes to our advantage, from discovering the basics of how to isolate and manipulate DNA to gaining an understanding of how genes direct the creation of proteins in cells.  It’s clear that there is a lot we can contribute to the scientific literacy of the general public.

In this spirit, we’ve designed a short quiz for both non-scientists (you may learn something new) and scientists (you may find it useful for engaging in conversations with your non-scientist friends and family members).  Spoiler alert: answers are provided. Continue reading “Biotechnology Ice Breakers: A Few Conversation Starters”