Teacher Testimonial - Barry McGuire,
6th Class teacher in Galway Educate Together National School.
(Presented at Irish Area Section of Biochemical Society STEM Outreach and Education Workshop, Monday December 7th 2015.)
Hi everyone my name is Barry McGuire and I teach 6th Class in Galway Educate Together National School here in Newcastle. First off I would like to thank Muriel Grenon for inviting me today and it is a privilege to be able to speak to you about my experiences of STEM Outreach.
When I mentioned to the children in my class that I was asked to speak at a workshop full of scientists they said that I should start with a joke so here goes:“What did the biochemist do with his twins? He baptized one and used the other as a control.”
Over the years Galway Educate Together has been fortunate, by its close proximity to NUI Galway to have had a lot of outreach in the fields of Science and Technology and none more so than through the close connection we have forged with the Cell Explorers thanks to Muriel. The Cell Explorers first visited our school back in 2012 and since then they have returned at least once a year with bigger and better workshops to challenge and inspire the children.
After their most recent visit to 6th Class in November I asked the children what they thought about it. Here is what one child said: “I really enjoyed learning all about the diseases and symptoms and the best way to help people when they got sick. It was great we got to work in small groups trying to figure out the problem together and the scientists from college were really helpful and nice and made it all so easy to understand.”
Over the years parents have frequently commented on the positive impact STEM outreach has had on their children. After the Cell Explorers last visit I received an email from a parent who said: “Our son has never before expressed any interest in science. As a result of the Cell Explorers visit he has become obsessed with science videos on youtube and wants to be a scientist when he grows up.” I myself have noticed a marked improvement in the 6th Classes attitude to science since the Cell Explorers visit and it has forced me to up my game significantly!
On another note I recently bumped into an ex-pupil of mine from a long time ago who is now studying Theoretical Physics in Trinity College and he told me he can trace his interest in the field back to a visit to our class from a Professor of Physics in NUIG in 2004 to talk about the Transit of Venus.
So what makes STEM outreach so important?
In the short time that I have with you today I will tell you about some of the positive experiences I have had with outreach, why I think it is important and give you some tips on how to enter the world of STEM outreach from a primary teacher’s perspective.
I started teaching in Educate Together 15 years ago and in that time I have had lots of different groups visit my class and conduct demonstrations and practical workshops with varying degrees of success. Several of these visits encouraged me to adapt my own approach to science teaching and inspired me to get my class to exhibit at the Galway Science & Technology Festival. The exhibits my class and I prepared for the festival were typified by extravagant costumes, colourful posters, exciting video displays and resources which, we felt, made science look “cool” but lacked any real depth or substance or practical engagement with the public. In hindsight I realise that I had completely underestimated how deeply children could engage in science activities in a meaningful way.
In 2012 Muriel approached me and asked if my class would be interested in participating in a workshop entitled “How Clean is our Classroom?” and hosting an exhibit based on our findings and conducting a similar practical investigation with the public at the Science & Technology Festival.
In my opinion it was a new departure for the Galway Science & Technology Festival. They had seen nothing like it before. Primary school children confidently engaging with the public, talking about their exhibit and fielding questions. The workshop and subsequent exhibit at the festival were a resounding success and that year we won “Best Exhibit in the General Sciences”. The following year we again took part in the Festival with the help of the Cell Explorers where we designed an exhibit on ‘Human Cellular Respiration’. This time we took the top prize for “Science Communication”.
So what made these exhibits so successful?
In the lead up to the festival the children participated in a series of workshops lead by undergraduates from the Biochemistry Dept. here in NUIG.These students were themselves very well prepared. They had diligently researched the topic and worked out how best to adapt the material and the language so as to appeal to children of a primary school age in a way they could understand and relate to. They had resourced the workshop well and conducted a risk assessment anticipating almost every eventuality. They were passionate about their field and engaged easily with the children.They delivered a series of workshops that were age-appropriate, of high interest, interactive and allowed for individual and group investigations.
In the final preparations for the festival the children were well-versed in the language and we had rehearsed the steps of the practical investigation over and over. Of course we had some cute kids in some cool bacteria costumes working the room as well but that was just for fun.
Why is outreach so important in Primary School?
As primary school teachers we are expected to be experts in a variety of subject areas. We have been trained to teach a curriculum as if it were a finite opus that cannot be expanded upon. Knowledge, particularly in the fields of STEM doesn’t work this way. For most teachers there is no way we can keep abreast of all the current research, evolving scientific theories and their applications in the same way as you can. For most teachers it is very difficult to impart the same level of knowledge, and express the same passion and enthusiasm as you can for your field of study.
You are the ones who can really inspire a love of science. It is so important for children to have the exposure to experts working in their chosen field and to learn directly from them. As young, enthusiastic, confident, focused students you provide good role-models for children and this cannot be overstated. You take science out of the laboratory and into the classroom and make it real for them and offer a real world context of science for them. You encourage the children to think how science is used in everyday life, how it relates to them and that it is something that they can make a part of their lives.
From an educational perspective outreach offers the children the opportunity to develop and refine many transdisciplinary skills such as interpreting and collating data, conducting research, presenting research findings, problem-solving and working collaboratively.Outreach offers the children the opportunity to engage in the ‘scientific method’ which is a difficult concept for them to grasp and for the teacher to simulate in the classroom.
If you would like to take a meaningful step into outreach then please do not dismiss the primary school. From the moment you walk into the room you will have a captive audience who will be hanging off your every word, with open minds inhibited by no preconceived prejudices. And best of all devoid of all exam stress. It is pure fun!
Start small at first. A simple 15 minute presentation about what you do with a few pictures or a video will suffice.When you feel your confidence growing you can think about challenging the children a little bit more with a simple interactive demonstration or practical investigation.
My advice from there on in is to be well-resourced, well-prepared, and know your audience and most of all have fun!
Volunteer Testimonial - My Experience with Cell EXPLORERS – Clare Austick February 2016
Hi, my name is Clare Austick and I am a 2nd Year Undergraduate Science student in NUI Galway.
Today, I would like to share with you, how much I'm enjoying the experience of being a Cell EXPLORER. I signed up for the Cell EXPLORERS programme not really knowing what I was getting myself into, but I have to say it has been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I have ever had to date. I have always had a massive interest in Science from a very young age. The world and how it works has always fascinated me. So, I took the opportunity as a Cell EXPLORER to share my love of Science with primary school children. Little did I know that this experience would have such an impact on me.
I never knew teaching could give you such a sense of achievement. It was exhilarating sharing knowledge and sparking the children's interest in something I'm so passionate about. It was quite an eye opener as I had never considered teaching to be a possible future career for me.
After five visits to different schools, I decided it would be interesting to return to my former primary school. It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with my former sixth class teacher and participate in a learning experience from the other perspective. I was a little apprehensive but also very excited at the prospect. I gave the presentation on Fantastic DNA, explaining the role, function and importance of DNA. It was an inter-active presentation and questions were asked and answered throughout. Afterwards, the class split up into groups with a demonstrator at each table. DNA was then extracted from bananas. The kids had a brilliant time and enjoyed every moment of it. Towards the end, each demonstrator explained to the class what they were studying or working on at university. I found this particularly important as it showed the kids the range and diversity of options Science has to offer. It was also good to let them know that you don't have to make a concrete decision about career choices as some of the demonstrators are still in the process of making choices and decisions.
The reason why I wanted to go back to my old school was that I felt the children would be able to identify and connect with me as I was a past pupil. I wanted to give them an insight of what studying Science involves. Science is not just about boring facts, it can be exciting, challenging, adventurous and innovative. With Cell EXPLORERS, I have become more confident and developed some really useful skills such as presenting and communicating more effectively. It has also introduced me to a possible career path and intensified my enthusiasm for Science. If you want to get young learners hooked on Science and participate in a progressive, educational project, then why not become a Cell EXPLORER and join us on a meaningful and rewarding adventure.
Volunteer Testimonial - My Experience with Cell EXPLORERS – Amira Mahdi (3rd year Biomedical Science student) September 2014
I joined the Cell EXPLORERS team in October last year and can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have made since starting studying at NUI Galway.
When I joined I was taught how to be a demonstrator for their Fantastic DNA session and was soon off on a visit to a local Galway school. Working with primary school children from around Galway was so rewarding. In these sessions the students got to do a fun experiment in which they extract DNA from a banana while we taught them all about cells and genetics. Their interest, enthusiasm and sheer delight in the biochemistry and science was great to see. I especially enjoyed answering all the questions the young students had, from what it was like studying science in college to questions about mixing DNA, different cells and diseases. All the crazy “What if....?” questions that were thrown at me were hilarious even though for some all I could do was suggest they look it up when they got home!
In my second semester I was assigned a Community Knowledge Initiative project as part of my course. Inspired by working with Dr. Muriel Grenon and her Cell Explorers projects, my team and I decided to create a new workshop with Cell Explorers for this year’s Brain Awareness week. With help from Dr. Grenon and other volunteers we designed, created and implemented a two day workshop which we named Brain Explorers! This workshop aimed to teach secondary level students about the brain and its cellular biology. We did this by engaging students in interactive activities such as puzzles, races and circuit games. I found working with the older age group of students to be equally enriching. Our work was particularly satisfying when students happily told us how much our workshop would help them with their Leaving Certificate Biology course and how much they enjoyed the out of classroom learning experience. This year, we are improving our Brain Explorers workshop to make it bigger and better for the Galway Science and Technology Festival!
Volunteering with Cell Explorers has been invaluable to me. I have developed so many skills such as organisation, teamwork and leadership which are useful for my future career. I have met so many people, made great friends and have had a truly great time whilst being a part of Cell Explorers and would without a doubt recommend it to anyone!