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Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency (CORE) STEM workshops

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Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency (CORE) supports the delivery of a vibrant and creative outreach programme. CORE helps academics to “get out of the lab” – supporting them to engage with new audiences, to provoke public debate, and to be visual and creative. Funded by EPSRC, CORE works in partnership with three research projects – also funded by EPSRC – to communicate high-impact world-class science.To find out more about CORE's activities visit our website.

One of the outreach activities supported by the CORE project was a series of innovative STEM workshops for secondary school pupils. These were designed to engage young people in the research being carried out by the academics, and to inspire them with an interest in science and technology. The workshops were also an opportunity for the academics to develop new communication skills and learn how to explain their work to a young audience. The students were able to see first-hand how scientists from leading Universities are working together to solve real-world problems with bio-engineering and the recycling of electronic waste being the focus of the workshops.

  • Project aims
    • The aims of the project were to:

    • 1. Communicate world class science to secondary school children. They workshops were designed to engage the interest, especially of girls, in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.
    • 2. Develop the communications skills of academics, so that they could engage school children with their research.
    • 3. Develop a toolkit that could be used by schools across the UK.
  • Audience
    • The primary audience for the workshops was secondary school students in years 7, 8 and 9, and their teachers.
  • How it started
    • The motivation for the project started in 2013, when the CORE project held a mini science fair at Loughborough University. This featured different aspects of the research being carried out by CORE partners, with academics and researchers presenting their work in engaging ways for local primary school children in Year 5. The feedback from this day was so positive that the project teams decided that they wanted to explore this aspect of public engagement further, with an older age group.
  • Partnerships
    • CORE established a partnership with Leicestershire Education Business Company (LEBC). LEBC’s expertise is in creating successful links between business, universities and education so that young people can learn more about business and working life. LEBC was ideally placed to provide guidance and support to develop age appropriate workshops for school children, and also had established links with Leicestershire schools.
  • What did you do?
    • Two resource efficiency research projects Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) and Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER) worked with LEBC to develop workshops that would communicate their research to school children in engaging and interesting ways. LEBC advised the projects on the most appropriate activities for the age group and how the content would fit with the national curriculum.

    • LEBC provided training for the academics to ensure that they were prepared for working in a school environment. The CLEVER workshop was held in April 2016, with the CL4W workshop following in July. This allowed time for adjustments to be made to the second workshop following evaluation.

    • The CLEVER workshops included looking at why people keep electronic devices such as mobile phones after they have been replaced by new ones, the hidden value of the components that make up a mobile phone, and also the environmental impact of mining, manufacturing and transporting these valuable resources.
    • The CL4W workshops demonstrated how bio-engineering can be applied to clean contaminated land and recover valuable resources. Students were given the opportunity to explore what is in our soil, and how different scientific methods – including bio-engineering – can be applied to clean contaminants from the land. The hands-on activities included using Lego bricks to show how bacteria can be used to extract metals contaminating the environment, observing how plants like celery take up materials out of the earth, dissecting mushrooms to find out more about the role of fungi in cleaning biomass, and investigating the causes of land contamination in the UK.

    • The next step is to develop a toolkit that can be used by schools across the UK, which can be delivered by teachers in the classroom.
  • Evaluation
    • The project was evaluated in three ways. The school pupils were asked to complete questionnaires before and after the workshops to find out what they thought and what they had learned. The class teacher also completed a questionnaire. In addition, the academics were asked to reflect on the training they had received.
      The findings were positive overall , with both school children and teachers enjoying the sessions and finding them useful and interesting. For example, for the CL4W workshop, evaluations showed that 68% had no knowledge of Bio-Engineering prior to the CL4W STEM Day but afterwards 81.5% were able to give examples or descriptions of Bio-Engineering. 93% of the students agreed that their understanding of how scientists work together to solve real-world problems had increased.
    • Some of the comments from the pupils will be used to help shape the toolkit and future workshops. Feedback from both workshops included:
    • - “I enjoyed the experiments but would like more time to prepare a presentation.”
    • - “They need to slow down when using phrases like nano-particles.”
    • - “There could have been a couple more experiments/mass participation things so that we are all involved at all times.”
    • - “I loved it all – it was fun and I enjoyed learning that I thing I use daily can be so bad for the environment.”

    • The teacher commented: “The workshop was perfectly pitched for the work we have been doing on bacteria and decomposition as well as phyto-mining and sustainability so great all round. We would definitely like to use the resources for our school in the future.”
  • Key lessons learnt
    • - Working in partnership with experts in the field was key to success.
    • - LEBC was able to take complex research topics and help to translate this into engaging workshops for school age children.
    • - Academics were nervous of working with school pupils, so providing training beforehand helped answer their questions and dispel their fears.
    • - Academics were surprised at how readily the school children were able to take on the concepts underlying their research.
  • Keys to making it work
    • The key to the success of the workshops was working in partnership with education experts LEBC who could provide the essential bridge between the University research projects and the schools and their pupils. This ensured that the workshops were pitched at the right level and fitted in with the curriculum. LEBC also provided training for the academics so they were ready to deliver workshops to school age young people – again this ensured that the academics were prepared and ready for the challenge.

    • One of the team commented: “The training was useful for challenging the preconceptions about working with audiences of school children and also as a way to work out some of the problems we would have on the day.”
    • Our advice to others would be to work with education partners who are working locally, who have links with local schools and teachers. We would recommend training your researchers / academics, and not assume that they are comfortable with working with younger age groups. Make workshops engaging, interesting and appropriate to the curriculum.