Muriel GRENON, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
Janic SCHULTE, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
Sarah CARROLL, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
Cell EXPLORERS is an educational outreach programme delivering STEM activities regionally and nationally in Ireland (www.cellexplorers.com). Its national network is made of 13 teams comprising members from 15 Higher Education Institutions. The programme uses hands-on activities on molecular and cellular biology facilitated by local scientists to engage the Irish public in the importance of science in society. The key activities of the teams include school visits and workshops at science festivals, with the ‘Fantastic DNA’ extraction experiment being the most disseminated activity.
During the ‘Fantastic DNA’ session, young people work as scientists under the guidance of Cell Explorers facilitators in their classroom. Children individually perform a real DNA extraction and experience, often for the first time, a one-to-one interaction with a scientist role model. By providing both the opportunity to successfully engage in authentic hands-on science and to meet a scientist, the session aims to address misconceptions about science (e.g. science is hard and not ‘for me’) and scientists (e.g. all scientists are white middle-aged men).
The target audience is primary school and junior cycle secondary school classes (8-14 years old), as it is at this age that students develop their career aspirations, including those related to science as influenced by their perceptions about science and scientists. Facilitating interventions in schools allows to reach a diverse population of young people, including those who may have never met a scientist before, have no interest in science or have low science capital – which are all influencing factors of science-related perceptions.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delivery of Cell EXPLORERS activities to the public has been halted by social distancing measures being applied in classrooms, a reduced number of third-level students on campus, the move of Science Festivals online and school closures. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgent need to better communicate with the general public in accessible ways that invoke trust.
To keep the programme active despite these restrictions, we have transformed and adapted our ‘in person’ activities to online live engagement sessions with young people in their schools and in their homes. We created science kits that contain both materials and resources and allow participants to individually complete the experiment. Teachers in classrooms and families at home can connect with the Cell EXPLORERS scientists over a secure Zoom connection, who will then remotely facilitate the steps. To maintain our high standard of facilitation, we have also developed an online training format for the Cell Explorers scientists, using both interactive modules delivered online, and live training sessions. The structure and organisation of the new activities, their characteristics, as well as preliminary findings on their evaluation will be presented.
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