Making Science Cool: Inspiring Students and Giving Society Something to Celebrate
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the attention of a large high school audience proved to be significantly more challenging than speaking to professional peers. Making multiple presentations to smaller groups would be better. The best talks incorporated multi-media, provocative ideas, hands-on demos, audience participation and, YES, gave out small prizes. The talks that fell flat were not modified for kids. The best speakers focused on the impact of science on the students’ lives versus the details of the science itself. Recomended: explicit instructions to speakers and advance interaction between speakers and teachers to calibrate their expectations. The best assemblies occurred when teachers were equally engaged in the outcome and students were given an assignment to demonstrate active participation.
Science on the Mesa
Forty companies opened their doors one evening for groups of 50 to 200, students.. The companies created marvelous programs with novel experiments, interactions with their young scientists and senior management, theatrical performances, vanity pictures in lab coats and surgery gowns, fun prizes and more. The toughest problem was ensuring student attendance. We were disappointed by last-minute cancellations, although attendance commitments were stressed and we gave bus grants. We should have, in airline fashion, overbooked and insisted on formal buy-in of school principals to ensure delivery of registered students.
Example: the Science of Wine – the participants gathered at a biotech company involved in research on the science of taste. Participants heard about the latest research on the anti-aging properties of red wine while tasting wines. Timing and venue selection were critical in accommodating audiences of unpredictable sizes.
Our finale was a science blowout in Balboa Park, with 250 organizations offering dynamic exhibits, demonstrations, and stage shows for LOTS of receptive smiling faces. No static poster sessions. We hoped for 10,000 attendees and got more than 75,000. A major reason for success: We persuaded schools to give extra credit to students who came. Exhibitors loved the event. Sample thank-you note: “Thank you for showing that, as a scientist, I am cool” or “That was an exhausting day, but I’d do it again in a flash.” Our biggest problem: parking. Also, insufficient volunteer training. Evidence of success: most financial sponsors put a line item in their 2010 budget for the next festival.
The Inaugural San Diego Science Festival demonstrated that people of all ages respond positively to science when it is presented in a fun, exciting, accessible way. Seeing the thousands of smiling faces at the Expo inspires me to do it all again. See for yourself here.
That’s why I’ve decided to take the festival to the next level and create a national festival in Washington, D.C. in Fall 2010. If you are enthusiastic about science and engineering, please consider being part of the “Woodstock of Science” on the National Mall in the fall of 2010.
For information on participating in the Inaugural USA Science Festival, contact Larry Bock at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-846-3473.