Archive for the ‘Science communication’ Category
Last week was an exceptional week for computer science education in the UK: Google donating 15,000 Raspberry Pis to UK schoolchildren, Microsoft calling for computer science to be taught from primary school, the Department for Education including computer science in the EBacc as the “fourth science” and UCAS 2013 entry statistics showing the highest increase in total applications for Computer Sciences (up 12.3%). This follows on from the launch of the CAS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence in September, the publication in November of the draft ICT Programme of Study for England and the announcement in January of a review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, reporting back in June.
So it appears we’ve sold the rigorous academic discipline of computer science; but not to simply increase the supply of programmers for the IT industry or to get more people to study computer science at university — the rationale has always been based upon computer science being of wider educational value to everyone, in the same way as we value physics and mathematics. But after a discussion with Pete Yeomans (@ethinking) at the CAS fringe event at Bett 2013 last week, it appears that we are now facing a more subtle and refined challenge:
We need to do more than ‘sell’ computer science as a discipline…we need to sell what it feels like to be/think like a computer scientist.
— Dr Tom Crick (@DrTomCrick) January 31, 2013
This is the real marketing challenge: to truly change the wider perception of the discipline, we now have to sell what it really means to be a computer scientist, how to think like a computer scientist and the universal potential of this mindset.
And everyone needs to understand and value this.
Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Brian Cox said something similar (even directly referring to Sagan) during his acceptance speech on receiving the Institute of Physics President’s Medal last night.
The key message is: if you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you.
In June, Chris Chambers and I started the Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge, a declaration to send a copy of Mark Henderson‘s The Geek Manifesto to all 60 Assembly Members of the National Assembly of Wales.
Success! Yesterday, we received the final pledge and are collecting the donations. We are currently planning an event to maximise the impact of the delivery of the 60 copies of The Geek Manifesto to the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay (more details to follow shortly).
N.B. The Welsh Geek Manifesto Pledge followed the original Geek Manifesto Pledge for the 650 MPs in Westminster; there are open pledges in Northern Ireland (“Geekmanifulster”), Scotland (GeekScotland) and Australia (Geek the Vote).
July 2012 marks the return of Cardiff Science Festival (a.k.a. Gŵyl Gwyddoniaeth Caerdydd), after a break of nearly seven years. Science festivals are popping up all over the country, especially with the popularity of Cheltenham Science Festival and the long-running British Science Festival (this year taking place in Aberdeen), so it’s about time Cardiff put itself back on the science map.
So, starting Monday 9th July, Cardiff will play host to a spectacular line-up of scientists and science communicators from across the UK in a range of science-themed events, lectures, exhibitions, music and comedy shows across the city. There are more than forty family and adult events over the week, including a few in which I am taking part:
- Engineer’s Question Time, with Professor John Harries (the Welsh Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor) and Eluned Parrott AM (Assembly Member for South Wales Central) on Thursday evening;
- A Raspberry Jam (organised by Lucy Bunce with CAS Wales and Technocamps) on Sunday morning, if you want to show off or learn more about the Raspberry Pi;
- The first Welsh Science Showoff on Sunday evening, where I will attempt to justify to a room of scientists why everyone should study a bit of computer science.
It’s shaping up to be an excellent week! While the majority of the events are free, many require registration, so please check the CSF website, as well as @CdfScienceFest on Twitter, for the latest news, information and updates.
Today, the BCS Academy of Computing announced the successful applicants of the BCS Education Bursaries, which aim to promote computer science as an academic discipline, in celebration of Alan Turing’s centenary year.
Over 200 schools, colleges and universities applied for the £30,000 fund and I had the pleasure of being on the judging panel, an exceptionally difficult process with so many high quality applications. After several hours of debate, we were able to fund 31 projects across the UK that we believe will enthuse and engage the next generation of technologists about computer science. A brief description of the successful projects can be found here.
I’d like to say a massive congratulations to the successful projects; I’m looking forward to seeing what impact they have over the next year!
Further to The Geek Manifesto Pledge by Dave Watts, which has successfully pledged to put a copy of The Geek Manifesto on the desks of all 650 Members of Parliament, Chris Chambers and I have made the following pledge for science in Wales:
I will personally deliver 60 copies of The Geek Manifesto to the National Assembly for Wales, but only if 59 other people will help buy the books.
Chris, a psychologist/neuroscientist at Cardiff University, had already sent a copy of the book to our MP, Cardiff Central’s Jenny Willott. We met up for a beer a few weeks ago and resolved to send a copy of the book to all of the 60 Assembly Members in the National Assembly for Wales. We think this is an eminently achievable task and would present a great opportunity to reiterate the importance of science in the formulation of policy in Wales, especially in light of the publication of the Science for Wales strategy in March 2012.
Please sign the pledge and spread the word across Wales! We are currently planning how to maximise the impact of delivering 60 copies of the book to the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay.
I highly recommend Mark Henderson‘s The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters; it is a remarkable book (see reviews here). The use of the sometimes pejorative term “geek” in the title should not trivialise the overriding message of the book: a compelling call for the scientific method to become intimately embedded into the political process (see a useful summary of this in Henderson’s recent CaSE blog post). As Stephen Curry succinctly puts it in his excellent review, while many of its themes are not new, it is difficult to imagine such a book being published as recently as five years ago.
Following an example described in the book, Dave Watts is using the PledgeBank website to send a copy of the book to all 650 MPs. Last week, Henderson confirmed that the publisher of The Geek Manifesto, Transworld Books, will match every individual pledge made. As of today, 242 people (including myself and many other geeks you may have heard of) have already signed up.
The book is currently selling on Amazon for £9.87, so by agreeing to spend a tenner — and spreading the word — you will ensure that a copy lands on the desk of two MPs once enough pledges have been collected. You can pledge to send a book here.
UPDATE: it appears that Chris Chambers, a psychologist at Cardiff University, has already sent a copy of the book to our MP, Cardiff Central’s Jenny Willott (Lib Dem). Perhaps we should consider doing the same thing for the 60 AMs in the National Assembly for Wales?
Hack To The Future was pitched as an unconference to inspire the digital creators of tomorrow, attempting to introduce the wonders of computer science to over 250 children (in many cases, for the first time). Alongside the main keynotes from Samantha Bail (Manchester Girl Geeks), Jon Howard (Development Manager for Games in BBC Children’s Future Media) and an anonymous ethical hacker known only as Freaky Clown, there were a large number of breakout sessions, including: building fun things with Nanodes, creating games in HTML5, building a digital camera with the Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer, programming apps with YOUSRC, 3D printing, non-transitive dice, computer-controlled pyrotechnics and an unofficial peek at the new BBC Micro 2 development platform. In fact, there was great support from the BBC, with representatives from across BBC Learning and BBC R&D, as well as a roving camera crew recording the day’s events.
I had the honour of giving the final closing keynote (slides), attempting to send them away inspired with the possibilities of computer science and technology, but also highlighting the importance of technology curiosity: hacking, playing and having fun. I truly hope I was successful!
I will be spending next week in the House of Commons, as part of the Royal Society‘s 2011 MP/Scientist Pairing Scheme. This scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best research scientists in the UK; participating scientists are paired with either an MP or civil servant and take part in a Week in Westminster and reciprocal visits back to the researcher’s institution. The Royal Society offers this scheme as an easy way to provide MPs with the opportunity to explore the science behind their decisions; by pairing a MP or civil servant with a leading scientist, both gain an understanding of the work behind the fundamental issues involved in each field. Since 2001, over 150 scientists have been paired with MPs and civil servants.
I’m paired with Jenny Willott, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, who has previously taken part in the Scheme. I’ve met with Jenny a couple of times over the past couple of months, so very much looking forward to the Week in Westminster. The scientists have a action-packed schedule, including talks from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, the House of Commons and House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committees, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee (who organise SET for BRITAIN, in which I took part in 2010) and Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor. We will also spend time “shadowing” our MP, as well as attending PMQs on Wednesday! Overall, I hope the Scheme will give me further insight into how science policy is formed, as well as providing an opportunity for building long-term relationships to share knowledge and expertise with the Government.