Science outreach and public engagement have gained increasing attention over the years and call for the participation of all scientists to make science more accessible to all. As a scientist, engaging in outreach projects is an effective way to bridge the gap between researchers and society, increase the impact of your own work and gain newfound enthusiasm about your field of research.
At Native Scientist, scientists who speak a foreign language have the opportunity to do outreach by going to schools and demonstrating their work. Here we made a list of 5 crucial tips to a fun and successful outreach experience. We touch on some specific aspects of content and language integrated learning and also on more general aspects of outreach for pupils.
1. Streamline your message. Whether you are at the school, in the pub or with your family, you should always be able to explain your work or topic of interest in a simple sentence, without jargon. Take a moment to think about this sentence and write it down. Then, select and define 1 to 3 scientific concepts that you want pupils to learn and remember. For each concept think of an activity or illustration that clearly demonstrates what you want to say. On the day, you will only have 10-15 minutes per group of 4-6 pupils to communicate your work so make sure you choose an adequate number of scientific concepts to demonstrate.
2. Prepare your supporting material according to age. As a rule of thumb you can use a pupil’s age as a clue for the number of minutes they can attend to a given task. For example, an 8-year-old can attend for 8 minutes while a 5-year-old will only attend for 5. However, if a task is novel and fun, children can engage much longer and that is why play-based approaches work well. You can either plan a short game or activity where pupil participation is required, or perform a small experiment that illustrates the concepts you want to transmit. Alternatively, bring work/laboratory supplies, models or pictures and let children explore, compare, play, touch or even taste and smell (if appropriate).
3. Determine and adapt to the language proficiency of your pupils. The language proficiency of the pupils in one session can vary a lot so be sensitive to this. The easiest way to determine if pupils can understand you is to strike a conversation. Upon introducing yourself, throw a teaser question or ask for their name, age and what they might like to do when they grow up. If pupils have difficulties answering simple questions, rely on the supporting material you brought. At crucial points, you may need to switch between languages to make sure all pupils understand the concepts and acquire new vocabulary. Alternatively, you may ask pupils to help each other and translate the concept you just explained. Similar to what you did for the scientific concepts, select and define the words that you want pupils to learn and remember. Most likely, these words will coincide with the words of your scientific concepts. Learning how to write is an important achievement in language learning so bringing print outs of these words or exploring their etymology is a plus.
4. Encourage dialogue and allow time for questions. This might well be the first time pupils hear about your topic or meet a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer or Mathematics) professional. Younger pupils will generally be interested in the topic you are demonstrating while older pupils will also be curious about you. Stimulate conversation and invite pupils to ask questions. For younger audiences, allow space to discuss what they have just learned and seen. For older audiences, be prepared to answer questions about your career, the place where you work at, or your daily routine.
5. Have fun. Take notice of when pupils learn a new scientific concept or new vocabulary. Enjoy the moments when pupils are wowed by novelty and allow yourself to see STEM through your audience’s eyes. It’s priceless!