Maria Skłodowska-Curie and the importance of STEM education

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Manufacture of Scientists leading a workshop at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Washington, DC

For the 10th annual Kids Euro Festival, one of the largest performing arts festivals for children in America, the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. invited Manufacture of Scientists to teach children about chemistry and the incredible history of Maria Skłodowska-Curie.

Below we present to you a conversation with the dynamic duo behind Manufacture of Scientists,

Dr. Magdalena Osial, Researcher, Department of Chemistry, University of Warsaw

Dr. Magdalena Labieniec-Watala, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Łódź

Q: Could you please tell us about your initiative Manufacture of Scientists?

Manufacture of Scientists is a project which focuses on the popularization of science through hands-on experiments and educational workshops.

We were initially driven by a desire to use science and science education as a means to bridge the divide between generations. So we began organizing classes where grandparents together with their grandchildren would work in teams, learning about chemistry and physics while conducting hands-on experiments.

This novel approach proved quite popular, and fostered cooperation between seniors and adolescents, while also bringing science education out of classrooms and into homes, as participants would often continue learning and experimenting at home long after our workshops had concluded.

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Manufacture of Scientists leading a workshop at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Washington, DC

Q: What inspired you to develop such workshops?

Well of course we hoped to inspire interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning among children. We also believed that hands-on education is a fantastic supplement to traditional learning via textbooks and classroom studies. Our approach to education is to make it fun. Children remember better because they had fun and do not even realize they are “studying.”

Our efforts were recognized early on, in 2015 Manufacture of Scientists was presented with the eNgage award by the Foundation for Polish Science.

Q: What has your time in Washington, D.C. been like?

The Polish Embassy invited us to the U.S. to teach American students about Maria Skłodowska-Curie through our specially prepared hands-on chemistry workshops.

Over the past several days we have conducted workshops at the Kids Museum in Bethesda, Maryland as part of the annual Kids Euro Fest, as well as at a number of public schools in Washington, D.C. within the framework of the Embassy Adoption Program, including H.D. Cooke Elementary School and Stuart Hobson Middle School.

Q: This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s birth. How did you prepare your workshop to reflect this?

We designed this specially tailored workshop at the start of 2017 to commemorate the Year of Maria Skłodowska-Curie.

We developed our class in cooperation with the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw, with whom we have extensively cooperated and where we have hosted numerous workshops.

Our presentation includes an introduction on Maria Skłodowska-Curie, including her upbringing in Poland as well as her studies and research work in France. Afterwards we jump into the science phase, conducting numerous fun and eye-catching experiments and recreating a laboratory setting similar to the one in which Maria Skłodowska-Curie spent so much time working throughout her life.

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Q: In your presentation, you explain that Maria Skłodowska-Curie achieved numerous accomplishments in her life; she was the first woman to graduate from the Sorbonne, the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and so much more. Why is it important to continue to promote the legacy of Maria Skłodwoska-Curie 150 years after her birth?

Maria Skłodowska-Curie is one of the most famous individuals in Poland’s history, and since her values are universal we hope to spread awareness about her incredible achievements wherever we go.

When we introduce Maria Skłodowska-Curie here in America, students often cannot imagine the hardships she faced in life. However, even though 150 years have passed and the world has changed, the lessons of Maria Skłodowska-Curie still ring true today.

No matter who you are, whatever your family’s background — you have dreams! And you must follow them! And achieve them! And you must work hard to do so. This is the legacy of Skłodowska-Curie: work hard and you can achieve anything, no matter what. Maria showed that we must not be afraid!

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Q: As part of Kids Euro Festival you have given numerous workshops, both at the Bethesda Kids Museum and in DC Public Schools as part of the Embassy Adoption Program. What have been the reactions to your activities?

Children are like blank books waiting to be filled with knowledge and experiences. They react the same all over the world, the same enthusiasm, the same excitement to learn.

In fact, we think our workshops here were met with even greater enthusiasm than in Poland. The children here also, we noticed, asked more questions, and were very eager to give answers even if they weren’t confident they were right.

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Q: I could not help but notice that your workshops incorporate a lot of “acting” with special period costumes for you and lab coats for the students. What inspired this?

The clothing we wear is inspired by clothing that Maria Skłodowska-Curie would have worn when she was alive. We use it to illustrate first and foremost, the style of women’s clothing in the early 20th century. However, it also illustrates Maria’s humbleness, and she truly was humble. Maria Skłodowska-Curie worked for her ideas, not for money or fame. And this is also embodied in our plain garments.

When it comes to the lab coats, in addition to protecting the participants’ clothing and skin from any chemicals, we have noticed that children react totally differently when wearing lab coats than if they were wearing just regular clothing. The coats help set the mood. Children like acting, and these lab coasts help them imagine that they are real scientists. For some this may even be the first time they have come in contact with lab coats, and it could inspire them to pursue a greater interest in STEM.

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Dr. Magdalena Labieniec-Watal and Dr. Magdalena Osial

Q: What is next for Manufacture of Scientists?

This was our first workshop overseas and it was a great learning experience. For us, Manufacture of Scientists is a passion project. We have our day jobs, as scientists at our respective universities. However, we are committed to Manufacture of Scientists, to the idea that hands-on learning should supplement traditional learning. Most importantly, perhaps, our workshops show children at a young age that it is OK to fail. Often we build into our presentation experiments that do not succeed on the first try. This shows children that they cannot give up when faced with failure, but must try again to achieve their goal. Just like Maria Skłodowska-Curie, who faced her share of disappointments, hardships and failed experiments. This vision will guide us in the future, and we will see what it holds!

For more information about Manufacture of Scientists please visit their website

For more information about Kids Euro Festival click here

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