Geoscience Outreach and Engagement

How to get out of exams 101 😉 I’m just kidding, but it is true that there is no exam. This is because of the very nature of the course that is ‘Geoscience Outreach and Engagement’ – an elective course within the school of Geoscience. This module allows you to take what you know within the world of Geoscience, and apply it to the world outside of the four walls that make up university. You could outreach to children, adults, non-specialists, elderly, families etc. And in a range of locations whether that be in a museum, a school, a garden project, youth organisation, again the list is endless. The key component through all these is that you engage with your audience in a way that’s fun and interesting. I love the idea of outreach and think it is important component of working within academics.

Back in school I did a lot of outreach projects for Geography. This one in particular was an open evening where I educated 11-13 year olds, and their parents, on the Geography GCSE 🙂

Through the first semester of the course you get provided with many workshops that covers a variety of skills you may need in your outreach project. We have had workshops on design and layout of presenting your project, science communication, looking at the curriculum and understanding the jargon teachers may use, a talk at Dynamic Earth looking at what the earth science museum does to engage with their audience, project and time management, and understanding the greatness of interdisciplinary learning.  So now we have the skills, what is the next step?

Within the midst of coursework and revision was the project proposal. In the words of the God that is Lin-Manuel Miranda, how do you write like you’re running out of time? I have chosen to do my outreach project at a school, working with students aged 15-17 on combining my two greatest loves in academia, Geography and Maths! The concept behind my project is to educate the students on the different statistical tests that are used in scientific research, and will be used in their coursework projects for Highers/A Level. I wanted to break down that barrier that ‘maths is hard’ or ‘maths is boring’, because it isn’t! Maths is a beautiful language (A Level Further Maths teacher, 2013) and when integrated within science, in this case Geography, can be extremely useful and make you see the data in a different light.

My project consists of two workshops: one covering descriptive statistics titled ‘How to be a Geographer’ and the second covering inferential statistics titled ‘Pokecology’ (yep, I am very much a nerd and Pokemon is most definitely being incorporated in this session). One thing I remember from school that annoyed me was the ‘fake data’ we had to use when practicing these statistical tests, both in Geography and Statistics class. So, the first session will be covering the basics and allowing students to analyse “real data”, i.e. river data that has been collected by students and staff in the Geomorphology department here at University. The concept of the scientific method will be key throughout this session so that the students see the full process of conducting a scientific experiment from creating their own hypotheses about sediment size with respect to distance from source to analysing the data collected to presenting their findings and drawing conclusions.

Drummond! The one pokestop to rule them all!

The second workshop, ‘Pokecology’, incorporates the app Pokemon Go and the concept of biodiversity. I will be setting some “fun” homework (how cruel I am) for the students to collect Pokemon in their local area. As I am working with two schools, one in Edinburgh and one in Liverpool, I am hoping for them to be able to partner up and swap their data with each other so that they can compare the biodiversity of Pokemon species in the two cities using some inferential statistical tests. This will hopefully be a slightly more fun way of covering these tests and hopefully add a little element of competition to see who can find the most Pokemon, I mean you ‘gotta catch ’em all’.

Throughout these workshops, I will also be focusing on technology and how, in this present day, technology is wonderful and can be used to enhance geographical studies. Firstly, as previously said, using technology, such as apps, to collect data can be extremely useful. Now obviously collecting Pokemon isn’t exactly scientific, however this will open the student’s eyes to technologies such as GPS and cameras, for example how photography can enhance both physical and human Geography studies. Secondly, I will be running a mini introduction to R, specifically gpplot, to show students how they can present and analyse their data in a way other than Excel. I also hope to slightly break the barrier on the theory that ‘coding is hard’ and hopefully also show teachers that, wait a minute, you know what, coding isn’t that hard, and again can be a really cool and useful way of presenting data. Finally, *takes a breath* the idea of presenting data on maps through GIS – and in this case using the website ‘’ – which shows you the location of Pokemon recently found (pretty awesome, right?!).

All in all, these fun packed workshops should hopefully clarify any confusion students may have had on statistical testing, and leave them with a good understanding of how to use these tests not only in the examples we cover but in many geographical contexts. But most of all, I hope they have fun in my workshops and enjoy the sessions. I know how hard the topic of Maths can be to some students and some may shy away from it, but these sessions aren’t about the technicalities of statistics. These sessions should promote the idea that applying Maths to concepts they already know, like river sediment characteristics, is actually quite easy. We aren’t thinking of imaginary numbers (not imaginary numbers, but numbers that they can’t pick up) and instead we are thinking of sediment, that you can hold and pick up and see changing in the river.

I have really enjoyed this class so far! And shall keep you all updated next semester on how the workshops have gone! Now… back to revision :'(

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