Guest Blog: I am STEM – the festival edition

In science festivals and large exhibition-style events (like the Yakima Valley Science Festival), it’s important to have a hands-on activity that immediately engages people.  After dozens of booths and activities, you hope the youth who visit your booth for 1-3 minutes will walk away with a lasting, positive message, curiosity or kernel of knowledge.  While I’m comfortable in these kinds of fair settings my work with SoundCitizen, thinking through how to create an interactive activity that would be fun and best represent the UW Student Chapter of SACNAS was an intriguing challenge.  What activity in 1-3 minutes could best benefit the youth we interact with?

One of the powerful opportunities that student chapters present is the ability to provide diverse role models for youth. After working with learning scientists to build a science program that connects youth from groups that are underrepresented in the sciences with mentors from similar groups, I learned there isn’t a lot of academic research done yet about how interacting with a minority mentor may influence a minority youth’s building of a positive science-linked identity.  However, the knowledge that we need to connect younger SACNISTAs with SACNISTAs that are further along in their academic career is one of the driving themes at the annual National Conference.  Having STEM mentors and role models that reflect your ethnicity and cultural values makes STEM careers more accessible and broadens the picture of who youth see as scientists.

Match A Scientist

The resulting activity we used at the Yakima Valley Science and Engineering Festival to talk to youth about the UW SACNAS Student Chapter in a hands-on way is the game “Match A Scientist.”  I Googled this term and found a great classroom activity with famous scientists, but I wanted youth to interact with the scientists in the chapter in the festival setting.

When youth walked up to the booth, they saw the gameboard and cards with pictures of chapter members.  How the game was introduced changed throughout the day, but generally the introduction went something like this:

Youth at the festival matching chapter member pictures to a description of their research.

“Hello. We are students who study science at the University of Washington and we’re all part of a society called SACNAS.  These are pictures of scientists who are part of our chapter and we all study science, and in this game you match the person to the kind of science they study.  Would you like to guess what this person (picks up a card with a picture) might study?”

Sometimes we would give hints and there really wasn’t a way for students to intuit who would do what, but it provided a great opportunity for students to quickly be exposed to the diversity of people who are scientists and the diversity of what scientists study.  As one middle school student said when they saw the pictures of chapter members, “They’re all scientists?!?!”  Can you guess who studies what?

Setting up this activity for your chapter

At a chapter meeting, chapter members filled out the following survey:

1. Name
2. Department or major
3. Ethnicity
4. What you study (general, as if explaining it to a 4th grader)

I then took head shots of the members (so photos would be uniform).  This resulted in a wonderfully diverse matrix of faces, ethnicities and research disciplines.

I made a posterboard foam gameboard (I have a weakness for glitter!) and made the game so that pictures and descriptions are interchangeable by attaching them with poster tack so that in the future new or different members can be included in the game.  If you’re not as crafty or have limited time, the game would be just as successful if the information and pictures are mounted on large index cards.  One important lesson we learned is that students really enjoyed trying to guess what the members who were present at the event studied.  It also helps to entice students to win candy if they guess (but we gave it to everyone who tried!).

The result was a simple, but engaging activity that quickly gave students and adults present what was often a surprising look into the diversity of research and scientists at UW!

Amanda Bruner is a Program Coordinator at the University of Washington Tacoma.  Her current positions with SoundCitizen and the Math-Science-Leadership Program are focused on broadening public participation in STEM and bridging university research to local youth and communities.

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One comment on “Guest Blog: I am STEM – the festival edition

  1. ambercaracol says:

    Yay for sparkly, shiny science games!! =)

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