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The big picture on ‘Big Picture’

20 Mar, 2012

Big Picture educational magazineHave you seen Big Picture, our educational magazine aimed at post-16 teachers and students, as well as learners of any age? Jen Staves gives us insight into the ethos of the publication and and asks for your input on future developments.

I remember sitting in my biology class at school at 16 years old, staring at a textbook that seemed like it was from dark ages. It was probably at least 10 years old: the content and the style felt dated, and there were bored scribbles from previous years’ students. When I read them for coursework or revision, I didn’t feel inspired like I did when we performed practical experiments.

There’s obviously a need for written materials in the classroom. But how can you communicate cutting edge science to students when the textbooks are only printed once or twice a decade? And how can teachers and public engagers stay up to date with the latest scientific developments as their own careers progress?

Big Picture, the Trust’s educational magazine, aims to answer those two questions. Twice a year, issues are published covering a topic relating to biology and medicine – and the post-16 curriculum (that includes A and AS-levels, Advanced Diplomas, Highers in Scotland, and the Higher Level in the International Baccalaureate). Different issue topics over the last few years include The Cell, Addiction, Food and Diet, Drug Development, and Genes, Genomes and Health.

Big Picture: Influenza special issue

Big Picture: Influenza special issue

We might cover a different topic every six months, but each issue has the following things in common:

  • It’s up-to-date

In each 16-page issue, Big Picture aims to complement the textbooks, rather than repeat them, by pulling together the most cutting-edge and up-to-date science that’s out there. In many cases, that might be the science that the Trust itself is involved in funding, but that’s not a requirement. (That wouldn’t quite be the big picture, would it?)

We also react to what’s going on in real life. When the swine flu scare occurred in 2008, we rushed out a special issue on Influenza, to help dispel myths around the topic and give it a wider context.

  • It’s fun

    Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts

    The Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts 

Being presented with dull, dry learning materials can turn off even the most interested students. That’s why we’ve chosen to fill Big Picture with brightly-coloured diagrams and playful illustrations that explain the topic in a way teachers and students might not have considered.  Each issue also features Real Voices – interviews with people who have a personal perspective on the topic.

We also created our Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts – a compilation of all of interesting scientific snippets from the first 14 issues – because teachers told us they used them as an engaging way to begin their lessons. (Order one and see for yourself!)

  •  It’s reviewed by scientists and teachers

We feel it’s important that the concept, the text of the magazine, as well as all of our web content is rigorously reviewed before it goes to press, both by the people doing the science and the people teaching the science. Therefore, everything is checked by our Teachers Advisory Board, made up of 10 teachers across the UK, and a scientific review panel, comprising 6-8 people working in that issue’s field. That way, we know it’s appropriate for the post-16 audience but also for anyone else who might pick up a copy.

Animation on atheroma in the artery

Animation on atheroma in the artery

  •  It’s interactive

Big Picture isn’t just a printed magazine; it can be found online too. For each issue, we produce specially commissioned animations, videos and games based on what teachers tell us they need. These can be used both inside and outside of lessons.

Looking back – and looking forward

So far, Big Picture’s done well. In the last three years, we’ve gone from 728 subscribers to over 10,000. And views of our content have gone up on our website and on Times Educational Supplement’s popular teaching resources website.

But we feel like there’s so much more we could do, so we’ve started an evaluation of Big Picture. To make sure what we’ve done so far is of value and that what we do in the future will be too, we need your input.

Please take our Big Picture survey. It takes less than 15 minutes of your time, and your comments will contribute considerably to the pubication’s development. There’s a spot at the end where you can volunteer to be a part of a Big Picture focus group, which will be held across the UK in coming months, or our web user panel, which advises on the content and design of our website.

Jen Staves

Jen is Publishing Content Manager in Communications at the Wellcome Trust and part of the Big Picture team. To find out more about Big Picture, visit

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