Rationale behind the event
There is a growing enthusiasm for ‘the public understanding of science’. While this concept was originally simply conceived as ‘teaching the public more science’, the speed and scale of recent technological change and the big issues facing society have raised the additional importance of scientific literacy in public decision-making. 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 apparent that in order for citizens to meaningfully participate in scientific dialogue and make informed life decisions, an understanding of the scientific process is in many ways more crucial than an understanding of specific science facts. Examples include understanding how peer review works, how hypotheses are tested and how scientific consensus emerges. More specifically, analysis suggests that opinions with respect to potential MMR-autism links had 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.
The changing perception of science in society has been reflected in the new Australian National Science Curriculum with its emphasis on the topic area of ���Science as Human Endeavour”. Included therein are understanding how science knowledge can be changed with new evidence, exploring ethical questions and seeing how research is shaped by social needs. This topic also acknowledges the contribution of many types of different people in science, and examines different careers paths.
Feedback on these aspects of the curriculum seems to be broadly positive, but resources to support teachers in these new areas are lacking. It can be difficult to help students develop the skills to discuss science and society issues, place knowledge into a wider context, and address abstract or esoteric questions when teachers themselves may not have had any experience or training in these areas. 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. Research with teachers around the British production of I’m a Scientist program supports this view.
Furthermore, continuing declines in the enrolment of high school students in science subjects has recently been attributed to difficulty many students have in picturing themselves as scientists, and the failure of school science to engage a wider range of students. (Choosing Science Report, Australian Science Teachers Association).
For these reasons, we are bringing I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! to Australia. Working together, both Bridge8 and Gallomanor bring decades of experience in science education, science communication and other forms of youth engagement work.