Feedback: Listen with words not numbers

Feedback affects us

Feedback affects us (Image from Wikipedia)

Feedback is a modern word describing the process of assessing whether an enterprise (a business, a car or a country) is in some sense ‘on course’.

  • Negative feedback is the most valuable feedback – but rarely the easiest to deal with.
  • Positive feedback is always pleasant – like being stroked – but is often difficult to distinguish from politeness.

But whether it is positive or negative, genuine feedback is like gold-dust.

So at Protons for Breakfast we take great care to get as much as we can. We take extensive open-format feedback each week and show people that we take it seriously by replying to every note, no matter how apparently trivial.

And at the end of the 6 week course we collect final course feedback.But rather than offer people 5-point tick boxes, we instead create the time and space in which people can write sentences.

I am convinced that people’s choice of words communicates more powerfully than a numerical metric, even if it can’t be easily graphed or expressed as a statistic.

To try to convince you of this I have listed edited highlights below, or you can download the unexpurgated version here.

Like many science communicators, I take what I do ridiculously seriously. And the thought that it touches people’s lives is almost unbearable poignant.

The feedback below moved me to tears. But knowing that “86% of the people were ‘very satisfied or satisfied’” would leave me cold. See what you think.

Feedback from the 19th presentation of Protons for Breakfast

One thing you learned…

  • Generally that atoms and molecules are the key to understanding physics and I hadn’t appreciated that at school – so I didn’t get very far!
  • That global warming is real, actually happening.
  • Electricity is everywhere.
  • How mobile phone signals are transmitted through base stations.
  • I now know what makes up an atom.
  • About how a nuclear power station works.
  • There are atoms everywhere.
  • E-L-E-C-T-R-I-C-I-T-Y.
  • Everything is made up of atoms and electrical fields.
  • That absolutely EVERYTHING is electrical. (and more, but it said ONE thing).
  • I have learned more about how atoms work.
  • How paper is picked up by a balloon.
  • How small we are in the universe. Greater understanding of atoms and various other things.
  • An appreciation of the complexity behind simple things I take for granted.
  • I have learnt that atoms are all around us!
  • Magnetic properties as atoms! Best explanation ever! And I have a 1st class honours in Physics.
  • What nuclear fusion is.
  • Everything you look at is absolutely full of atoms, moving without us realising it!
  • How my phone works and how complicated it is. That we should try to prevent carbon dioxide from getting into the air to stop global warming.
  • WOW so many things. Particles are the basis of all science. To think about stuff I take for granted with more wonder. Not to always believe science in journalism/media.
  • The electric force is to blame for everything!
  • I have learnt my phone produces microwaves.
  • Everything is a wave! That the ‘gap’ between protons neutrons and electrons is just a gap, but an important gap.
  • Fields are everywhere.
  • Everything is made out of something.
  • I have learnt that electricity is essential to live and it is everywhere.
  • There is electricity in sausages.
  • Better understanding of how waves/atoms/electricity all fit together. Even heard about Brownian motion over the weekend and I knew what they were talking about.

One question you still have…

  • If global warming is an imminent disaster, why is big business in control of energy production for profit? (The less energy we use the move we pay per unit?).
  • Nothing I can think of, the excellent option to write feedback each time has answered it!
  • We can adapt to increase in temperature (grow vineyards in Scotland). Don’t fight it, work with it.
  • How does solar power work without direct sunlight (e.g. clouds in the way)?
  • What’s the problem with nuclear fusion?
  • From week 5, how do we know that phones are what may give us cancer, is it maybe something that people who use phones also do?
  • If so many things are ‘a bit’ radioactive what is the defining feature of ‘bad’ radioactivity? Where do gamma rays fit in?
  • Why do we never see the dark side of the moon?
  • Why is the earth’s centre magnetic? (North/South).
  • Who shot Kennedy?
  • What made you want to run a science course like this?

Is there any message you would like to give to the NPL management team…

  • Thank you for the enjoyable evenings.
  • Thank you!
  • Cheers!
  • Thank you – well run, organised, clean and efficient. Really needed tea and the copious quantity of biscuits that you provided.
  • Yes, double this man’s salary and send him on a tour of Britain giving the rest of the country the choice to enjoy and learn.
  • I wanted to submit a question re: this course. I couldn’t find a contact method. I think I sent a message on a blog-thing. (Not sure!).
  • This course is excellent, if Michael is unable or unwilling to continue is there anyone else who could run it? – Loved the course – beautiful surroundings (buildings) and you have truly spoiled us with all of the tea and biscuits.
  • The NPL is the most amazing place – long may it continue!
  • Well done.
  • It is a great resource. I have enjoyed it tremendously.
  • You’re doing well!
  • Keep up the good work – great fun!
  • Well done – more please!
  • Great computering skills.
  • I would like to thank Michael and the team for all their hard work during this course, thank you very much. Very entertaining and boggling every week. J
  • Thank you very much for improving my scientific knowledge.
  • No.
  • Make a sequel e.g. Electrons for Lunch.
  • Thank you!
  • My daughter is looking forward to coming in the autumn with my husband – I know she/they will really enjoy it.
  • Excellent course and facilities. Great enthusiasm from Michael.
  • Thank you for allowing me to attend such an organised and interesting course.
  • Well done, the course is great.
  • Keep doing Protons for Breakfast.
  • Really good job! The technical issues with the powerpoint seems to be fairly frequent in the 1st half of the course though. But Michael dealt with it really well and the flow was maintained.
  • Very well delivered course at such an affordable price. We home educate our daughter and chemistry and physics are subjects that are really hard for her to do. After the session at NPL she was coming home and wanting to learn more and do the experiments. Thank you.
  • This course is a fantastic way to spark an interest in science for young and old alike. Thank you.
  • This is a really good course and it would be a shame if it stops L
  • Thank you.
  • Well done. Very informative. The questions and Michael’s answers – very good!
  • Thank you JJ
  • Thank J
  • Keep doing this!
  • Wonderful staff and helpers. Excellent refreshments!
  • Please have more open access Science courses – they are very inspiring. You have so much here to show people.
  • Wonderful course. I hope when my youngest grandson is old enough it will still be running.
  • Thank you J!
  • Really well organised course. Very helpful and friendly staff. I would love to attend more like this.
  • Please keep offering this course. The presenters and helpers have made an enormous amount of science interesting and accessible for young and old in the audience.
  • This is a fantastic course for parents, children, teachers – everyone – to learn about the physical world. It was also great to see what passion and creativity there is inside NPL.
  • Very inspiring!
  • It is great that NPL provides this course for the interested non-experts to learn from the experts.
  • Well done.
  • Keep up the good work.
  • Well done for running an excellent course, for a wonderful mixture of people.
  • Well done!
  • Well done. Try to make it a bit more interesting for kids.
  • You just need to carry on what you are doing. It is great fun and people learn a lot.
  • Parking an issue – could you make it easier to get from other half of site to here?
  • Many thanks for a super course.
  • Just a fantastic course – I would recommend it to anybody (and do regularly). Thank you to everybody.
  • Thank you it was great. Really enjoyed the biscuits! Especially when there was Jaffa cakes! (my favourite). I don’t think I’d tried a wagon wheel until now and I LOVE THEM!
  • More resources for understanding what NPL does – website, You-tube etc. Great resource for kids to get interested in Science.
  • Well done!
  • THANK YOU!!!! I love it soooo much.
  • Keep up the fun and fantastic way of getting science to us all. Well done to you all and keep it up.
  • Very impressed with the standard of this course in many ways: teaching skills of presenter; super balance of theory and demo/ very large amount of info communicated/ high standard of visual/demo/experiments/really impressive experts in the last half of the course deployed well.


Children OnlyAside from the biscuits, ice cream and jelly babies, what did you like best?

  • I enjoyed the debates.
  • The experiments – both doing and watching (+ jelly babies and ice cream).
  • Hovercrafts and wands. Live experiments – watching and doing.
  • Hovercraft.
  • I like the exciting demonstrations.
  • Having an advantage in GCSE physics.
  • Learning about nuclear power.
  • The demonstrations that were done.
  • Killing of the egg in the microwave.
  • All of the above.
  • The crazy experiments – egg in microwave, wobbling water in pan, electrocuted gherkin, etc.
  • I loved all the demonstrations and Michael’s enthusiasm!
  • I loved the whole course in general as I felt it has contributed hugely to my confidence and understanding of science in general. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at NPL.
  • I’m not sure, everything is great.
  • All of it! But if I had to choose it would be using the microwave to cook CDs and eggs, that was a lot of fun.
  • The knowledge that I gained.
  • Practical activities.
  • The practical experiments.
  • I like the session covering heat.
  • The experiments!!!
  • Week 2 – light.
  • Watching the demonstrations and experiments, they helped me understand how different chemicals/atoms react.
  • Demonstrations!
  • The demonstrations of the experiments.
  • All the experiments.
  • The exploding egg.
  • Hovercrafts.
  • The egg and the gherkin / everything.
  • The fact I was able to easily broaden my knowledge of science. It had a strong, positive effect on my GCSEs.
  • Learning about mobile phone radiation.
  • The demonstrations.
  • The experiments, more please!
  • Hovercraft and egg.
  • I liked it when the experiment went kind of wrong and the egg exploded.
  • Experiment when ice cream was made.
  • Everything, because science is fun.
  • Environment.
  • The lectures and demonstrations.

Teachers & Trainee Teachers Only Please state one way in which you feel this course has helped you

  • I think it is essential to have a greater knowledge than the children I teach – just in case I get tricky questions, at least I will have the tools for us to find out together. Must download songs!
  • See previous – mainly how to make physics more relatable and easier to understand for the less scientifically minded.
  • Some excellent demonstrations.
  • Mike has a great method of teaching. Lots of passion – however course hasn’t really help, obviously aimed at children.
  • It tackled topics that are relevant to the children, answering questions they normally have in class.
  • Having to teach my daughter subject content I haven’t attended in years is tough. This course helps me have greater understanding and delivery of my daughter’s lessons and questions.
  • To communicate quite complex ideas more simply/better.
  • Experiments to demonstrate particular topics.
  • It explained climate change which I cover as part of Year 5 geography (Science taught by specialist in current school.) Has helped me a lot with some science basics which I was missing before – if I return to primary teaching where I need to teach science I will feel more confident/worthy to do it!




2 Responses to “Feedback: Listen with words not numbers”

  1. teddnet Says:

    How can you (or NPL) bear to give this up? There is a difference between teachers competent to teach, and masters of subjects sharing their enthusiasms. When such masters are great teachers as well, the result is priceless. Priceless. Do you or NPL understand what that word means?

  2. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Ed, Thank you. And I hear you.

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