Informal EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Guerrilla Education

Hello, all. Just your friendly Noisy Astronomer here with today’s Pop Quiz!

Gorillas are awesome, but I’m not here to talk about that. Let’s talk about guerrilla tactics in education. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m actually being paid by a grant right now called “The Guerrilla Grant.” Part of my job is to go to places where people are where they normally might not be looking for science content. This weekend, for example, I’ll be at SXSW in Austin, a huge gaming, movie, and music festival. I’m always at Dragon*Con along with my colleagues, bringing citizen science projects to sci-fi and fantasy fans in their environment, with an iPad handy to show them the cool things they can do.

Making craters with school kids in Long Beach. Photo by Pamela Gay.

Making craters with school kids in Long Beach. Photo by Pamela Gay.

But you don’t need a fancy setup or big grant to teach people science and skepticism in surprising places. Last week, on Learning Space with CosmoQuest, we talked with Tavi Greiner, an astronomy advocate who teaches people about the night sky in all kinds of places, even the line at the grocery store. We asked our viewers to brainstorm some ideas on how they could teach those around them and get them involved in learning science.

So I ask you, in what ways do you educate people in an informal setting? How do you talk about your topic of choice to interested people? Do you go out of your way to get involved in local events? Do you just chat up your neighbor about the latest findings? What is the weirdest sort of education that you’ve been involved in?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.

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Nicole is a professor, astronomer, educator, geek, dog mom, occasional fitness nerd, and maker of tiny comets. She is also very loud under the right circumstances. Like what you read? Buy me a coffee:


  1. March 6, 2013 at 8:20 pm —

    I will educate people on astronomy, biology, or economic theory in a work situation if I don’t think it will ruin our future work relationship and if I think there’s a chance that the person is receptive to hearing the information. (You cannot reason a person out of a position they did not use reason to get into, or at least it’s not likely.)
    I generally only educate when asked. Odd conversation topics sometimes come up at work.

    • March 7, 2013 at 5:36 am —

      That’s always fun, the random… “hey this realtes to stuff I know!” Also, I love your hair 🙂

  2. March 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm —

    I do quite a bit of informal education about astronomy. The local astronomy club to which I belong does outreach events outside the planetarium at the nearby university campus. So when people enter / leave the shows, we’re there to share the sky – provided it’s clear. I also occasionally meet up with Chicago Astronomer Joe Guzman just outside the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (a 50 minute drive for me), usually during warm weather, when people walking along that area for exercise encounter us there with telescopes, ready and willing to share the skies in an urban environment. We stick to the Moon, planets, and bright double stars, but many times upwards of 200 people will be there over 3 or 4 hours. My degree being in Communications and Theater, over the past two years I have been producing weekly astronomy videos on YouTube to share interesting objects in the night sky that people can view from light polluted areas, and in each video I include information about why it is important to work towards reducing light pollution (which benefits amateur and professional astronomers alike). I also do informal astronomy education at local libraries, sharing how to understand astro-terminology, doing a quick overview of historical astronomers (including females!), sharing self-produced mythology videos of figures portrayed by the Greeks in the sky, and culminating in helping attendees learn how to find and see what’s up among the stars naked eyes, with binoculars or simple/small telescopes. And I always share eyepiece time with my neighbors during the summer months. I do all this in addition to my “day job.”

  3. March 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm —

    I usually do it in dumb ways, like the time I was at the gym, waiting outside the group exercise room for my Body Pump class, and someone started telling a story about his kid asking questions about the word “who.” (I can’t remember the context now.) Excited to add something useful, I chirped, “It’s an interrogative pronoun!” The hallway went silent and fifteen heads turned to look at the freak. I flashed a nervous smile and stuttered something like, “For real, that’s what it is,” while they all blinked at me, and then I shut the hell up. People like astronomers; not so much grammarians.

  4. Raven
    March 6, 2013 at 9:15 pm —

    I have yet to make it out of an aquarium without a gaggle of people in tow as I turn into an informal docent. The beach is the same.

    • March 7, 2013 at 5:37 am —

      Clearly I need to go to an aquarium with you, then. Want to learn!

  5. March 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm —

    I do this with crafting–I make or tailor a lot of what I wear.
    With psychology…I’m just very bad at realizing when people are asking rhetorical questions like “What makes people do X?”…and then I end up answering 😛

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