My name is Kat Tudor and I am Community, Learning and Volunteer Officer at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust. This means that I am in charge of recruiting, training and managing our brilliant volunteer team as well as designing and delivering the education workshops for schools. I applied to take part in the ‘Learn To Engage Science Communication Module’ to become inspired by other museums and learn about new ways of communicating the physics and engineering of the bridge to schools and other audiences in an engaging and fun way.
The aim of the module is to: “build participants’ capacity to engage their audiences with science and make it relevant to their lives; look at the theoretical background of science communication; understand a working definition of science communication".
The course is 12 weeks long, each week covering a different theme of science communication which is taught through an online system called Propagate. Throughout the course we have written assignments, reading and practical tasks to complete. Week 4 was a crucial week because this was an on-site learning experience at a science museum in Trento, Italy, called MUSE.
MUSE opened in 2013 and was designed by famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. The museum has 5 floors, and explores the natural history of the local area in Trento. Additional greenhouses and gardens accompany the museum building. The museum houses many physical and digital interactives, and welcomes school groups for tours and workshops. As of June 2018 MUSE had received over 3.2 million visitors from all over Europe.
The on-site week was packed with seminars, science cafes, workshops and a field trip. It was also a really great chance to meet our peers and tutors, who were from Italy, Portugal and the UK. We learnt so much that I thought it would be impossible to tell you everything, so I have summarised some of the highlights of my visit and will be writing about them in my forthcoming blog posts.
Science Theatre: 'Genome Science Show Talents and Affinity'
This show was an interactive experience which we were told was an experiment to discover if there was a connection between your genomes and finding your perfect soul mate! We were seated as a group in front of a desk with two computer screens and a presenter. A name was called out from the computer screen and a “person from the audience” (an actor!) was called forward. The actor then went on to fill out a form which asked her personal questions about her love life. Coupled with this, each computer screen displayed a scientist and a philosopher’s opinion of the topic. The information discussed taught the audience which environmental and genetic factors influence how you are attracted to people. The actor even came into the audience and pretended to smell us!
This style of science communication was very effective as the information was given in the form of science theatre, and as an audience member you felt physically involved even though you were just watching. This style of interaction is fun, light hearted, and memorable. The target audience of teenagers would not neccessarily be aware that they are learning about science because it is delivered informally and with humour, in an alternative way to traditional classroom delivery.
In our setting, we tend to didactic delivery during our school tours and implement the discovery/constructivist models during our workshop sessions which allow students to question and experiement in order to find answers or make their own conclusions. From this experience I realised that we might be able to bring more theatre-style delivery into our presentations, giving school groups more chance to immerse themselves into a context and debate the past, as well as continuing to utilise question and answer sessions, which keep students engaged and involved. Looking at the same topic from the points of view of multiple characters provides an interesting and engaging way of demonstrating that there are different ways of approaching the same engineering problem; or different versions of a single historical event.
My next post will look at learning in a hands on environment.