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Bringing science to audiences; what do they take away?

May 28, 2013
Year 2 student's memory of a science lesson

Year 2 student’s memory of a science lesson

Nothing puts your lesson to the test than having students try to recall just what the content was. You can tell if you ask them to send you a drawing, especially if you ask for it to be sent a week after the fact!  The trap of running a science show is that you can get caught up in the ‘whiz bang’ demonstrations, the fancy gear and the theatrics involved. I’ve seen many school science shows in my time (who would have thought?!?) and have noticed that generally science shows can be split into several categories:

  • the show pony: fancy dress, fancy props, high energy in an all singing/all dancing extravaganza.
  • the travelling teacher: student-centred & curriculum oriented, less concerned with shiny pull up banners and more concerned with knowledge.
  • the inbetweener: part teacher & part entertainer and general all rounder.
  • the ‘I should be doing something else’: we’ve all seen this one 😉

Now ignoring the last one, each of the the first three categories have their place. Without getting into a ‘which is better?’ debate, what does matter is who you’re presenting to?  What are you trying to achieve? I’ve seen each of the above pitched perfectly at the right group of people and other times the wrong thing has come out on stage. You cannot be everything to everyone; it’s the context that matters most. The kicker is that if you truly want to present science shows for a living you need to walk the fine line between being an entertainer, a teacher, a storyteller and often a stage manager once you arrive on-site. No matter which style you choose please consider the science that you’re representing; someone had to develop it, someone has applied it, someone respects it… as such it’s important that you respect it too. Hopefully no matter what the setting or the requirements on the day you should aim to have the audience truly learning something new, something that they will bring back home. Aim the content at the right age level and speak in their language and context. If you achieve this than you’ve done your job which is representing scientists and their work, coherently communicating the theory and hopefully inspiring the next generation of thinkers. As a travelling science communicator it is important to remember your audience and why they came to see you but most importantly… did they learn anything?

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