Story-Audience-Science

23 04 2012

A while ago I started writing this blog and one of my first posts concerned the evaluation of science presentations.

To evaluate a science presentation, one of our own or one we are watching, we can begin by asking three questions: where’s the science? who’s the audience? and what’s the story.

After 45 posts and eighteen months I still think this advice holds true. The only thing I’d change is the order the questions are asked in: from Science-Audience-Story to Story-Audience-Science.

I now believe that the story is the most important part of the presentation. The best science presentations begin by finding a compelling story to tell. They then are crafted to ensure they are suitable for their audience. The science then comes from the story and the audience.

Everyone can learn from watching Steve Spangler. I think his pieces he posts to his YouTube channel are great…

We could discuss this video as a great example of Hook and Reveal or we could look at the way he uses Show AND Tell but I’d like to use it to show how our three questions work. We can evaluate this piece by asking our three questions.

This piece definitely has Story (it is put into a context, a ‘big idea’ is revealed, we learn something relevant to our experience):

Fourth graders do this unit on nutrition… Kids love soda… Do we know what we are drinking? Adults dropping cans into pools at Thanksgiving.

It perfectly suits its family Audience

Strong visual effects appeal to everyone but are especially useful for the younger viewers. They can see the effect and interact with it at whatever level they are at. He then uses verbal explanations working at different levels for the older children and the adults.

And there is plenty of Science.

We learn that floating and sinking is dependent on density, density depends on amount of sugar dissolved. The concept of Fair Test is present when he checks to show equal volumes. He includes nice factoids (like the exact amounts of sugar in each can, how many bags of sugar that is, Grape Juice actually containing more sugar than Coke and the huge amount of sugar in a ‘bladder buster’ serving.)

Spangler’s presentations are so arresting because he doesn’t just show us an effect in language that is suitable for us to understand, he puts it into a context, he tells us a compelling story. Any presentation that manages to cover all three of the categories well has to be a good presentation. By applying these questions to my own shows I have improved them significantly. I encourage you to apply them to your own shows and I hope you find them as useful.

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