Back to school with Rent-a-Scientist 2023

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My experience with teaching geophysics to high-school students

It all started with a rather inconspicuous email with the subject title: Do you fancy primary schools? I got quite confused. Why would I get such a message? I am not a teacher. Hmm. Luckily, I decided to read the email anyway. It said something about a program called Rent-A-Scientist. I was still confused, since I am not a scientist, yet. Hmm. Luckily, I decided to read further. There it was: Kiel-Region would be enourmously happy to find some university students that would like to present exciting topics of their choice to pupils at schools. Hmm. I am a university student! 🙂

So I answered that email, asked questions about how that would work and what I would have to do exactly. And the people from the Kiel-Region association and also from the center for key-skills at the university have been so friendly and encouraging, that finally I was sure: I will do it. I don’t want to miss this experience.

But what should I talk about? Which should be the topic of my choice? The final idea struck me, when I was once again trying to explain my study program to someone. People usually have funny ideas what geophysicists are doing, usually quite far from reality. But now, for once, I had the opportunity to improve that and tell a bunch of young people in one stroke about what geophysics is from my perspective. I collected subtopics and pictures, created some slides and invented some interactive exercises. Then, for the application process, I needed to describe my topic and content in an online form, which I did very thoroughly with many important (and maybe a little exaggerated) key words like energy supply, sustainability, climate change, civil protection, future strategies…. That must catch the teachers who will select my offer, I thought. As soon as I was finished, I could read what the other scientists (or students) had written. It was so much more appealing! They made their topics exciting, they wrote it as a narrative, more like a thrilling short story with an open end. I almost lost hope that anyone would book my offer which sounded so serious and boring compared to that. (Besides, they cut out my nice portrait on the research vessel with the sea and sunshine in background, took only the foreground (=me with an ugly helmet) and made it black-and-white, which looked … strange.)

As you might have expected, schools did choose my offer (otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this article). And they were three! Three 9th grade classes on high schools in Kiel. Communication with the physics teachers went well and we chose a convenient time and place. I asked for magnets, paper cards, felt-tip pens and the blackboard to prepare, as well as a computer with a projector to open my presentation.

The days came and apart from some technical issues (as usual) it went quite well. In general, the students were attentive, they raised their hands when I asked something and we had some nice discussions. I noticed that my presentation was far too long for the 45-minutes time slot at the first school, but luckily I had more time in the other cases. Sometimes, it was a bit loud as the students discussed with their chair neighbors and I didn’t know how to get their attention back. That is probably what makes the education and experience of a teacher. But with the next beautiful picture I had them focused again. What really was fun for me were the discussions that went so differently at the different schools. Once, we brainstormed what we could maybe find beneath the schoolyard with geophysical methods (catacombs and death bodies?? I aimed more for example for salt or ground water). Or when I asked everyone to say one important thing that we need metal for: …, headphones, jewellery, braces for teeth?! Of course the most important things.

All in all it was a positive experience for me. I believe, I got some more students interested in geophysics or its subtopics, everyone was nice and respectful, I saw some exceptional school architecture from the inside, and everyone learned something. At the very least, I did!

Julia KnĂĽppel

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