Ask Me Anything (AMA) was a format that first appeared on the digital platform Reddit, where experts invited an audience, to “ask them anything” and the experts try and answer these questions to the best of their ability.
In this activity, our partners at Science Made Simple have adapted this original concept into an activity where pupils can meet researchers and experts, take ownership of their own learning, and ask questions on concepts that they find the most interesting.
Experts are asked to produce video introductions on the work they do, which are shared with students before they meet the researchers/experts, as well as this, videos can be shared with the wider community on the school’s social media pages, where student’s guardians and influencers can also learn about who the students are meeting and can either help the students form questions or ask their own using the social media platforms “comment” functions.
Teachers are encouraged to use these videos as part of their lessons in the run-up to the event (as starters or plenaries perhaps), and link the contents to other aspects of their school’s science curriculum, to add further context and relevance to the work these experts do.
At some point after the students have viewed these video introductions, the experts are invited to speak with the class group, either online or (preferably) in person. As part of this meeting, the experts may want to give a short presentation further explaining the work they do, as well as some interactive elements to get the students engaged with the content. Following this presentation, the AMA begins, with students asking the experts anything they want to learn more about.
This is a multi-platform activity, with content shared with students and the wider community online and on social media, followed by an in-class discussion, either in person or online.
- To introduce pupils to space careers, and how this work relates to our “real lives”
- To allow pupils to develop their own interest in the topics of space and STEM subjects.
- To provide role models to students.
Video introductions from experts/researchers
Ideally, a social media platform where videos can be shared before the in-class meeting.
An in-school setting where the meeting and AMA session can take place, either in person or alternatively online with suitable audio-visual equipment.
Experts should fill in a form that details who they are and what they do, which can be shared with the schools in advance.
Script/programme of activity
- Months in advance, reach out to experts and see if they would like to take part in this activity.
- Get experts to fill in a summary form and share these with activity organisers and school staff.
- The experts film short video introductions, which are then shared with the school pupils as part of their lessons before the AMA event, as well as on the school’s social media pages.
- After these videos have been shared and the pupils have had a chance to think about the topic, invite the guests to join in a classroom discussion either online or in person.
- The experts give a short presentation that should include some interactive elements.
- A moderator (which may be the classroom teacher) then helps the students to ask the experts anything, and the guests try to answer to the best of their abilities.
- Having a facilitator who can act as a fact-checker, or provide additional details to the questions is very useful to help the guests better answer any/all questions.
Teachers will need to obtain the summaries from the invited guests, and using this as well as the provided video introductions, present these ideas to the pupils before the formal meeting, and encourage the pupils to think about the topic, and what they would like to learn more about.
During the meeting with the experts, the teacher may need to act as a facilitator, helping students ask questions, and perhaps asking questions of their own.
Guardians are encouraged to view the introductory videos on social media and help the pupils come up with questions they would like to ask the experts when they meet in person. Or ask their own questions using the comments function.
Invited experts are asked to fill in a summary form as well as record a short video introduction that explains who they are, and the work they do.
The guest experts are then asked to prepare for the in-person meeting, having details to hand that would help them answer questions, as well as preparing a short presentation, preferably with some interactive elements for the students to engage with.
During the AMA, experts should try to answer the questions as honestly and as best they can, having an additional facilitator who can act as a “fact-checker” and provide additional information may be very useful throughout the activity.
Space Science and STEM organisations may want to contribute to these events, and share resources.
Key elements for inclusivenes
Inviting guests who are from under-represented groups in the field can be a good way of promoting inclusivity and showing the diversity within the field and can act as role models to the students.
Also allowing the pupils to ask questions about what interests them most about a topic can encourage pupils who might not be as interested in the scientific aspects of the subject, to get more involved.
Science Made Simples resident “Science Busker” David Price offers his top ten hints….
So you want your Q&A session to be a success and come alive for your students then read on!
- At least 3 months before your session find your school / At least 3 months before your session find your researcher. I know these might seem very long lead-in times but honestly, they are not! Researchers (and particularly teachers!) tend to be very busy people indeed, it might well take you several emails and more than a few phone calls to find that particular teacher who you really need to speak to.
- Write a briefing document for schools about the session / Write a briefing document for researchers about the session. Its not written in stone and probably some of its parameters will change, but this is your chance to represent your vision of what will happen and how it will happen, A PLAN! Dates, times, duration, pupil numbers, format etc, like I said this will almost certainly change as you move forward in consultation with your teachers and researchers, but at least you have started the process of everybody knowing what’s happening.
- Meet with your School contact / Meet with your researchers. Use this meeting (be it virtual or in-person) to agree on the terms of the briefing document and adjust where necessary. With luck, by the end of these meetings, all logistics are sorted and everybody knows what they are going to do!
- Encourage teachers to prep their pupils so they don’t come cold to the session, ideally before the session pupils have had a chance to formulate a list of questions for the researcher and write them down. Also if teachers have any particular questions from themselves encourage teachers to write these down as well as you really can’t have too many questions for this type of session!
- Make researchers aware that pupils being pupils are very likely to get some rather random questions during their session. The first question I got for the first Q&A session for the Our Space project was “ Is the sperm you find in Sperm Whales like the sperm you find in men!”
- Also good for you as the session conveyor to have some banker questions up your sleeve that you have previously agreed with the researcher, just in case there might be an odd quiet moment in the session.
- Researchers briefed to produce and practice a really concise and snappy 1 to 2 min introduction about who they are and what they do (and their favourite hobby!), this to be shown to the pupils near the start of the session.
- Session convenor (you!) to have a good warm-up question for the pupils, something that is going to enable them to pair and share and really think about potential answers. For the Our Space project I gave pupils 1 minute to pair and share with the person next to them and come up with a guess as to how many satellites are in orbit around the earth at the moment and then in 10yrs time. This allowed me if required later in the session to ask if they thought this was a positive or negative thing and then riff off the answers we got with reference to global internet connectivity v 1st nation demands for dark skies.
- During the session keep an eye on the clock! Schools are very very very time-specific places! Let everybody know “10mins to go, 5mins to go, the last question please!”
- Enjoy yourself it’s infectious! If humour presents itself in the session and in these sorts of sessions that is very likely, then my advice would be to go along with it if you possibly can. This helps the session to become a positive emotional experience for all, so pupils remember the role models at least partly through the humour and role models had a great time and so want to interact with their public again!
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