ESRC Festival of Social Science 2011 ‘Who Are We?’ – South Wales students becoming quantitative social scientists for a day

Mae'r cynnwys hwn ar gael yn Saesneg yn unig.

Talk of numbers with school teachers, most immediately think of their MAT (more able and talented) students who can ‘do maths’, but where does the social science bit come in? On Wed 2nd November, in our ESRC Festival of Social Science event ‘Who are we? From local to global citizen’, we took on the challenge to show some 70 KS4 pupils from five local schools how to ‘do’ social science with numbers. The five participating schools include three from Cardiff: Cathays, Cantonian and Mary Immaculate and two from the Valleys: Mountain Ash and Ferndale.

After a welcome speech from Malcolm Williams (Head of School), three short presentations were given using the results of an online survey students completed in advance of the event. Interactive activities were built into the plenary sessions. The pink/green/blue voting cards went down a treat (featured in the video below with Dr Luke Sloan); we should have had more of those. In the break-out sessions, students compared their own results with national and international data on happiness, Welsh language and identities.

They learned how to compute the ‘happiness index’ and interpret statistics by studying maps and tabulations. They also learned how to be a critical consumer of statistics, the importance of random sampling, the limits of generalizations and the merits of disaggregation in data analysis.

After lunch, students re-convened to report their results from the workshop exercises. The chance of ‘lucky dips’ in the goody bag certainly helped boost their confidence in answering questions in what might seem an intimidating big lecture theatre.  The slide show of photos taken during the morning sessions justly achieved a ‘wow’ effect.

Mark Drakeford, in his hat as AM (Cardiff West), as well as Professor of Social Policy, gave the final plenary session. He spoke about how quantitative social science research makes a real difference in peoples’ lives and how Townsend’s work on poverty in Wales and the Welsh Multiple Index of Deprivation had informed government policies and funding allocation.

The day was rounded off with a presentation of certificate of attendance, which gave the students a sense of accomplishment. Ferndale School also won the prize for the highest response rate in the online survey. So what did the 14-15 year olds make of it all? Apart from a few cheeky comments (which is perhaps not surprising for this age group), the majority (89%) said the day enjoyable, stimulating and educational. Two students wanted to become politicians by the end of the day. So well done Mark!

This event aims to promote the use of quantitative methods in social science research among schools in South Wales. Through an online survey and lively interactive workshops, participants will learn how to ask interesting social science research questions and develop an understanding of the principles of research and survey design.