When they said I’m A Scientist was about “engagement” I had no idea…

A couple more I’m A Scientist live chats toward the end of the week, and a lot more questions. Although the chats are not the best way to get information across they are certainly entertaining, engaging and, in the best cases, mind-boilingly exhilarating.

On the left hand side of the screen is text from the students, teacher and moderator – I would guess there could be twenty logged in at one time. On the other side, the scientists usually three to five of us have made each chat, though sometimes people have to arrive late or leave early due to other commitments.

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I had to snap this screenshot from another zone’s chat session – it’s too far busy to take screenshots when you are actually doing it!

It is hard to convey the sheer intensity of the experience. Questions pop up at the rate of about 1 every two or three seconds, sometimes addressed to individual scientists, sometimes to the group as a whole. They can be on any topic, but many are really stimulating, demanding and thought-provoking. I try to address my responses to the individual questioner, @yazmine or @ir123, or whatever, but it’s hard to type quickly enough so I end up using @yaz or @ir. The answers come pretty smoothly but there’s no time to edit the stream of thought – just splurge it down.

I’ve been quite pleased with my responses, but I know I’d do much better face-to-face where you can pick up on who’s looking interested, who’s puzzled, who’s asking too many questions, and who can’t get a word in. It is impossible to keep track of what other scientists are saying, how many questions have been dealt with. All you can say at the end of the session is “phew!” and I generally feel a little bit flushed and breathless – seriously.

The two chats on Friday morning coincided with an important meeting at the brain imaging centre. I was “chatting” right up to the beginning of the meeting, and picked up another session which had just started at the end of it. My mind was still racing with the questions from the first session and thoughts about the (for once rather exciting) meeting which had just ended, when I stepped into the second chat, which (I think) was with Camden High School for Girls – I missed the introductions, but was made to feel very welcome. Only two of the other scientists had made the beginning of the session. Even with three of us the sheer energy of the questioning was almost overwhelming. So many fascinating questions were raised, some of them directly relevant to my own research, that I felt I needed to deal with some of them more carefully offline, and I am hoping to spend a little while on some of these responses on the main website.

I discovered afterwards that this class was taught by Alom Shaha who I’ve been following on twitter for a while. From twitter I know that Alom is an all round science enthusiast who is fully immersed in science as it works in the lab, and not just as it appears in the curriculum. One thing that is very clear from the chats is that these classes are often energized by an imaginative and knowledgeable teacher. I had some great science teachers at school, so I know how much difference this makes. Who knows how they instill such “passion”, I think I even received a proposal of marriage from one of Alom’s students!

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Of course these superteachers are the very people who will take the trouble to involve themselves in an activity like I’m A Scientist and so the sample of students we see may not be representative, but if they are any guide to the potential that lies (largely untapped?) in schools around the country, the next generation could be much more engaged, critical and enthusiastic than the last.

I couldn’t resist peeking at a few students voting intentions, and suffice it to say that based on my secret straw poll (I actually tried not to count), it looks as if I may be making an early exit next week. Which will be a great shame as I am really enjoying the whole process. It is a very natural and rewarding experience, I will miss it. But you never know. Even England might make it out of the group stage. If I can make it to the end I still hope to get one or more of these wizard-teachers into the scanner in a final act of I’m A Scientist; Alom and his group are perhaps a bit too far away to travel to York(?), but I have high hopes that, if only I can get enough votes, Mr Hannard, of Woodkirk High School will be going into the MRI scanner in the name of science and education!

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