Does the idea of having to explain your research to anyone under the age of 18 give you nightmares?
Does the image of a classroom of 30 children cause you to hyperventilate?
Does your brain go blank when confronted with youthful faces looking expectantly at you to tell them how science is done?
Never fear! Talking to students (elementary to high school) can be easy-peasy if you remember the following:
- Keep it short and simple. Try to boil down whatever it is you want to say to the essential content. You do not need to pontificate. Kids need time to digest and process information. They may have questions later on that will allow you to circle back but overloading their brains won’t help them process the information any faster. Usually, it also helps to start with a small idea and then move outwards using the small idea to connect to larger ideas rather than the other way.
- Don’t forget to tell stories. Kids can digest more abstract information if it is in the form of a story. You can still use technical language as long as you also try to explain it or give it some context while you are talking. Stories provide a wonderful context, packages information in a memorable way, and help kids understand how things relate to each other.
- Model curiosity, wonder, and excitement. Showing passion for your work is one the most essential skills you can impart to students. The kids you are talking with aren’t likely to remember what you say but they will remember how they felt during the broadcast. Explain why it’s important and why people should care about science. Kids brains are so bombarded with new information that they are trying to synthesise and they want to know the WHY. Why is this important? Why should I care? Why do you care?
- Admit when you don’t know something! No one knows everything. Everyone makes mistakes. While it may make you feel vulnerable to say that you made a mistake or that there’s something you don’t understand, doing so reveal’s your humanity and makes it easier for kids to relate to you. Also, by doing so, you are modelling for these young people the humility involved with being a scientist and the reality of science. Our understanding of the world is constantly changing and so has to be our ability to problem solve. To pretend otherwise does everyone a disservice.
Do you have an experience of when a science outreach moment or scientific teachable moment went well? Share below!