At the Engagement & Enterprise Awards 2017, Suzanne Eldridge, William Harvey Research Institute and Ameerah Khan, Katie Chambers, Centre of the Cell were finalists for an INTERACT award, celebrating the partnerships that often underpin great public engagement. Below, Suzanne Eldridge shares her experience of being part of the project:
Over the past year I have been visiting local schools as a ‘real life scientist’ to engage with and teach pupils the ‘muscles and bones’ section of the National Curriculum, while enlisting their help as co-producers of a brand new show at Centre of the Cell called ‘Muscling In!’.
Together with the Centre of the Cell’s Outreach Team we we visited 250 children aged 7-14yrs, delivering two workshops across eight local schools. Each time the first visit would be used to establish levels of knowledge amongst the classes, exploring topics linked to the curriculum.
These included the structure and function of different bones, the role of osteoblasts and osteoclasts in healthy bone maintenance, as well as healthy bone maintenance and bone related diseases, how these can be avoided and the treatments scientists are currently working on to improve this.
During these conversations we started the pupils thinking about the best ways we can interactively communicate the curriculum in a fun way whilst enhancing their retention of the topic. At the end of the first visit, we asked the pupils to write us a shopping list of all the materials and items they would need to make/implement the props/ideas they’d come up with.
Between the first and seconds visits, we sourced as many items on our shopping list as possible (except all the Playstations requested!). These props enabled the second visit to be much more hands on and interactive, whereinthe pupils made props, which we tested in front of the rest of the class and discussed their merit for communicating the science we’d covered.
The best demonstration ideas, videos and props were then realised by The Centre of the Cells’ expert prop and animation production team to be used in their final ‘Muscling In!’ show, delivered within their cell-shaped Pod, suspended over the laboratories of QMUL’s Blizard Institute.
As well as receiving workshops, the pupils and teachers were heavily involved throughout the show’s development. Before and after each workshop, we obtained feedback from teachers and pupils enabling us to improve subsequent workshops, demonstrations, activities and ultimately to improve the final show.
For example, many of the pupils expressed enjoyment in the interactive and volunteer sections of the show, and these proved to enhance their retention of the information they were being taught, which we included more of as a result of their feedback.
Delivering over two different workshops, resulting in a tangible end product of the show really helped us to develop strong ties with schools and through these activities we’ve managed to form long-term relationships with the schools we worked with.
For me, the whole experience has increased my confidence in teaching and engaging members of the public. I am now much more competent in explaining my research clearly to other people – including those as young as 7 years old - and I hope to continue to reach out to the public throughout the course of my career.
Preliminary feedback from participants in the project suggests the workshops have led to increased knowledge and interest in science as a subject. The addition of the ‘a real life scientist’ was particularly enjoyed by pupils and teachers alike. Working with the schools has enabled me to understand the problems, perceived or otherwise, faced by pupils wanting to pursue careers in science.
I hope that through the work we’ve done we’ve managed dispelled any unhelpful beliefs about what a career in science involves and shown young students that this is possible and, equally important, that science can be fun!
Muscling In! is available to book for KS2 and KS3 students at your school.