The Importance Of Outreach

The Importance Of Outreach

Policeman, doctor, lawyer, astronaut, accountant, teacher; while each of these professions are not all equally exciting to a child, there is some understanding about what they entail. By contrast, scientific research and the accompanying community are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Jobs abound in science and some of them, for example Lisa’s doctoral study, are both fascinating and exciting. Which was why I asked Lisa to speak with my class of elementary students; I wanted my students to have an idea of the kinds of work available in science and its impact on the world.

Before the talk, I sent Lisa an email containing the curriculum outcomes that I felt linked with her research and work, from there Lisa structured her presentation to my class accordingly. In preparation for Lisa’s talk, my students and I perused her website, paying close attention to articles which linked with the curriculum. I used the website NorthoftheGrid for class-wide shared reading activities and my students and I carefully picked apart each paragraph; along the way I posing questions to ensure that each of my young pupils understood the content. Although it was challenging, the students were extremely excited for the upcoming talk and consequently focused hard in order to understand some of the blog posts.

Between these couple of readings and a number of lessons to support what we were going to learn, the talk went off without a hitch. Another class who had also been reading Lisa’s blog and that had joined our class for an experiment which I created based on a post on NorthoftheGrid attended as well. It was amazing to see sixty some odd students completely engaged as they sat all gathered around the giant screen we had set up in the room for Lisa’s Skype presentation. (Geographical distance precluded a live presentation.) Some of the students even started frantically taking notes because they found Lisa’s stories so fascinating!

This talk and the preceding lessons before it inspired some of my students to do their own research and reading; I intercepted a note with the URL for one of NorthoftheGrid’s blog posts written on it, as it was being passed to another interested student after the presentation.

Along with increased engagement in learning about science, Lisa provided an opportunity for the students to see available jobs in the field of scientific research. They learned that teams of people are required to do the research; so one could apply to be a leader of such a project or one of the many techs. Lisa talked about the education she acquired to get to this point as well. To add another element to the presentation, she brought along many artifacts from her extensive collection of taxidermy and skeletons. There were even guest appearances from her fellow Arctic researchers! As incredible and fascinating as all these various parts of the presentation were, I think my students’ favourite part was the story about the polar bear who broke into camp and ate a bottle of hot sauce; that earned huge laughs and it just goes to show that one can never predict what will happen in the field.

Although they didn’t get to fly to the Arctic themselves, in talking to an Arctic researcher, and listening to her stories, it brought the concept and the science alive for them. Even though my students are nine years old, this experience could be the first stepping stone along a path that leads them to devote their life to scientific research. As important as shivering in the Arctic for three months while collecting data and presenting findings at conferences across North America is, I feel outreach to the public young and old, is a vital aspect of science, as it leads to greater understanding and helps assists in developing new researchers

-And elementary school teacher