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Durham University

Durham University News


Can science be taught in prisons?

(15 May 2019)

Dr Phil Heron

Education in prisons has a long history but science, other than distance learning, has been absent - in part because much science teaching traditionally relies on experimentation using technical equipment which is not available in prisons.

But now one of our academics has developed a science course that requires only a presentation, writing and reading materials.

Dr Phil Heron taught ‘Think Like A Scientist’ to a group of residents of HMP Low Newton, a women’s prison near Durham City.

It is the first known instance of a science course being taught face-to-face in an English prison.

About ‘Think Like A Scientist’

Over seven weekly sessions between January and March 2019, Phil taught a class of between three and ten residents of HMP Low Newton about: climate change, the science of sleep, the solar system, the Universe, and plate tectonics. During the course, the students developed scientific skills in understanding, analysis, and communication, sharing their ideas around the different topics.

The students conducted their own experiment: recording their own sleep patterns, to analyse the effect of sleep and sleeplessness on their mood and behaviour.

Each student was also challenged to prepare an end-of-course presentation to make the case for a particular scientist to be the face of a new £50 note.

The course was delivered at zero cost to HMP Low Newton.

What the students said…

At the end of the course, students were asked for their reflections. They wrote very positively about how they had grown in confidence and understanding of the world around them.

About Dr Phil Heron

Phil is a Marie Sklodowska Curie Research Fellow in our Department of Earth Sciences and is passionate about inspiring people in science.

He describes teaching this course as one of the most interesting and rewarding things he’s ever done, and the students as among the most committed he’s ever taught.

What now?

Phil is now talking with HMP Low Newton about repeating the course with a new group of students and rolling out the course to other institutions.