What exactly is a scientific sandbox or sandpit?

Our program notes say that a sandbox is an interactive session to stimulate new collaborations, ideas, and discussion. This sounds like a great idea, but I’m having a hard time understanding what exactly it means. Should it be held in a classroom with one person up front and the rest of us interacting with him? How do we get the topic in front of us so we can discuss it?


A sandbox with Stefano Turillazzi?


A student sandbox on high school teaching?

I checked over with my friends at KnowInnovation and they run something they call a Sandpit. They say it is “an intensive, interactive workshop designed to produce radically innovative research proposals.” Now that sounds exciting. Apparently it works best if we have people together with really different backgrounds. The KI people run these in 5 day periods. What can we do in an hour or two?

Here are some thoughts. First, don’t have someone up front. For a short time, have an idea or something on the board for the topic, and maybe a few references. Then let the people mingle and talk, maybe with white boards or pads of paper around the room. Interaction, discussion, productivity even if it is only on papers around the room. If it is one person up front, even with a lot of discussion, isn’t it ultimately a lecture?

I guess this is one more example of how hard it is to really innovate in sharing ideas and moving ahead. A quick measure could be that everyone should talk and the group should be small enough that is possible.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Presentations and seminars, Scientific meetings, Talks, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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