If you don't have a grasp of science, how will you stay out of the clutches of charlatans? Alom Shaha in an early video he made while toying with the script for his film
The seeds of my "Why is Science Important?" project were sown in
January 2008 when I returned to the classroom after seven years working in TV. I found myself questioning whether our approach to teaching conveys the fundamental importance of science to schoolchildren.
I teach part-time at a comprehensive school in north London, the
Camden School for Girls. The concerns of my students range from what to wear the next day to the full-blown responsibilities of being a surrogate parent to their siblings. Some of them are privileged while others are on free school meals. Some are academically gifted, others struggle to cope with the demands of school.
In between trying to get them to understand the difference between parallel and series circuits or to believe that Newton's First Law really is true, I wanted to convey to them why they should bother with science. But how could I convince such diverse students that science can and does enhance their lives, that it's something worth doing for reasons beyond the need to pass exams?
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I wear my passion for science on my sleeve, but I don't think that's enough. Nor do I think it's enough to assume that the importance of science is somehow implicit in the courses I teach, that it will somehow seep into my students' consciousness through the sheer number of hours they spend doing so-called science at school.
So, as a science TV producer, I decided to make a film about it. I secured funding from the Wellcome Trust and a little extra money from Teachers TV. As part of my research and development for the film, I decided to set up a "collaborative blog" in which I would ask the great and the good of the science world, working scientists, science teachers and anyone else who had an opinion on the matter, "Why is science important?"
My plan was that bits from the blog would appear in the film and bits of the film would appear on the blog and that the two would inform and enrich each other. And indeed this is what happened.
Dr Mark Miodownik, a personal friend and reader in computational materials science at King's College London, was one of the first people to respond to my request to take part in the project. His assertion that "Science is your mum" helped kickstart everything that followed.
Dr Mark Miodownik: Dissing science is like dissing your mum
Astronomer Dr Francisco Diego of University College London appears in the complete film talking about the importance of astronomy. I decided he had to be in the film following his original answer, below.
Dr Francisco Diego: Science will tell us whether we're alone in the universe
Rosie Coates, a former student of mine, made a key point about science and its importance in understanding and protecting our environment. We elaborated on this idea in the film, but her original response makes the point just as powerfully.
Rosie Coates: Science forewarns us about the effects we're having on the environment
One of my disappointments with the project is that I didn't manage to involve as many other teachers as I wanted. However, the following response from physics teacher Becky Parker earned its place in the film.
Becky Parker: Science helps us appreciate how lucky we are to be on this amazing planet
When I stared this project, I was hoping for a range of answers that would demonstrate why science is important to individuals, to society and to culture. More importantly, I was hoping for answers that would be both meaningful and convincing not just to my own students, but to students everywhere, and to all the other people out there who may never have stopped to think about why science is important.
My goal for the project was to make it easier for any science teacher to answer that inevitable question, "What's the point of all this?"
The results have surpassed my best expectations – I have received over 75 responses to my question, from high-profile science writers such as Simon Singh as well as from fellow science teachers such as Becky Parker and David Perks. I had a bunch of video clips and even had a couple of people send in comic strips that conveyed their answers. Despite a request I made on the website, however, I never did get an answer delivered in mime.
The past few months have been exhausting. I wouldn't recommend trying to produce and direct a film while teaching in a secondary school to anyone. But the end result has been worth it. The project has become a kind of joint love letter to science and I am looking forward to sharing it with my students for years to come.
Thanks for the reply. I usually use MediaConverter.org to save vids, but I was hoping there was a way to save the entire thing as one video rather than the 14 bits on youtube since I can only convert 5 vids/day there.