Making science less ‘geeky’

Thursday 27 June 2002

In an effort to make science less ‘geeky’, scientists will team up with a group of London teachers this week with the aim of improving the image of science to children.

In a project which aims to redress the opinion that science is ‘boring’, scientists from the University of St Andrews will stage ‘The Great Debate’ at a London comprehensive school today (Friday 28th June, 2002).

‘The Great Debate’ is a joint initiative between the University of St Andrews, Deptford Green School, Lewisham, London and the Lewisham Education Action Zone initiative, ‘Creating Success’.

Professor Verity Brown, a Psychologist from the University of St Andrews, was approached by Deptford’s Assistant Headteacher, Mel Stanley and Project Manager of ‘Creating Success’ Sally Manser, to provide the scientific expertise for the event.

“This is not just another school project, but something that will help a disenfranchised group of students and their families realise the impact of science in their day to day lives and empower them to contribute to the debate,” said Professor Brown.

In the week that the Government called for a public national debate on genetic modification, the focus of the debate will be on genetic engineering, with the motion “Messing with Genes is Monstrous”.

Professor Brown, will be joined in London by her Postgraduate students, Duncan Groves and Kerry MacAlonan. Dr Laura Meagher, a technology consultant and co- ordinator of the University’s Promoting Partnership Initiative, and also an expert on biotechnology issues, will also be attending the debate. As an ‘expert witness’, Dr Meagher will be cross-examined by the youngsters.

It is widely acknowledged that the future of UK science depends upon boosting science education in schools and improving the image of science and scientists. School pupils are rejecting science education because scientists are seen as ‘geeks’ and science education is not seen as relevant.

An online survey conducted recently by the BBC of 2,000 UK pupils, aged between 16 and 19, found a large majority wanted their science lessons to include consideration of topical scientific controversies, such as genetic modification of foods. In the first event of its kind to be held in a comprehensive school, the purpose of ‘The Great Debate’ is to promote informed discussion of scientific issues within the wider community, giving pupils the opportunity to work with University scientists to develop an understanding of the issues in a structured program.

Over the past two months, twenty Year 8 and Year 10 pupils have been meeting weekly with the University scientists and School science teachers to discuss a variety of scientific controversies including: environmental issues; animal experimentation; cloning and GM foods. Small-group discussions explored various issues with the pupils, but the final choice of topic was made by the pupils themselves. They opted to hold The Great Debate on genetic engineering, with the motion “Messing with Genes is Monstrous”. The English Department at Deptford Green provided additional weekly sessions in which they tutored pupils around the art of debating.

It is hoped that the project will result in many things which will improve the image of science, including an annual debating event to improve skills of speaking, listening and building an argument; improving science education; making science and technological ethical debates available in School and raising the profile of higher education – all of which will help meet the Government’s challenge to scientists to ‘get involved’.

Professor Brown has been involved with Deptford Green for some time – she ran a workshop there last year and one of her postgraduate students, Duncan Groves holds a Wellcome Trust ‘researcher in residence’ status at the School.

Funding for the project has been provided by the University of St Andrews and Excellence in Cities Education Action Zone. It is hoped that the initiative, which aims to raise success through creativity, is an innovation that both institutions hope will deliver a level of success that can be built on in future years.

It is also hoped that the children involved will be able to visit St Andrews sometime later this year, to see some of the research going on at the University.



Press are welcome to attend the event tonight, and should contact Verity Brown in advance, by e-mail [email protected] or mobile 07884 123901. The event will open at 6.30pm, with a wine reception for parents and guests of the School. The debate will start at 7pm.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: Verity London School event pr 250602 View the latest University news at

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