Native Scientist
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Native Scientist

Science Tapas: a way to engage and expose children to science

Author: Joana Moscoso

First things first — what does Science Tapas mean?

Science Tapas is the name we use to describe the workshops of one of our science education and outreach programmes, the Native Schools programme. In these workshops, we bring together 4 or 5 scientists to talk about science to children in a speed-dating format. Children are divided into 4 or 5 groups and scientists rotate between the groups until every child has talked to every scientist. The 4 or 5 scientists ideally come from different fields of science, so during the workshops, children get to “taste” different fields of science. This resembles the Spanish “tapas” experience, where people order small dishes of food and taste them all.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

How it started — Part I

Almost 10 years ago, Tatiana and I met in London to organise the annual meeting of PARSUK — the Portuguese Association of Researchers and Students in the UK. In that moment, something amazing happened. I am really passionate about doing science communication and outreach in schools and at the time I was enjoying the chance to talk about my work with bacteria to children in a West Kensington school. Yet, I was very self conscious that English is my third language and sometimes I worried about the quality of my outreach because of my language skills. On the other hand, Tatiana knew that there were a lot of Portuguese-speaking children in London and that many of them were underperforming in school for a wide variety of reasons. My eyes and brain sparked when we exchanged this information: it was urgent to do something about it! I saw the opportunity to link science communication and outreach to my mother tongue. This unique opportunity allowed me to carry on with something I was passionate about, but in a more comfortable way, and with children with whom I had something powerful in common — the heritage culture.

How it started — Part II

With the concept of talking about science in Portuguese for Portuguese-speaking children attending schools in London established, we moved on to thinking about the format. I didn’t want to do it alone and in a lecture style as it was commonly seen in other approaches. From my own experience, I thought the canonical lecture-style was (1) a lonely endeavour and (2) too time-consuming to prepare. Science communication practitioners have explored for years different pedagogical practices to bring about successful learning outcomes for pupils. With this in mind, I thought of trying a novel model for delivering scientific workshops to children. I suggested the speed-dating format, where a team of scientists would go to the school and each scientist prepared an activity lasting only 15 minutes. The activity would then be repeated 4 or 5 times to small groups of children during the workshop. Tatiana and I were part of a larger group of Portuguese-speaking researchers in the UK, therefore, access to a pool of exciting scientists from different fields of science was relatively easy. You can see the very first workshop that was organised by us here.

How it started — Part III

We didn’t call it science tapas from day one. The designation science tapas only came around 2017, when we were preparing some content for our talks and training and needed to explain things in a more simple and visual way. Also, for two years we weren’t quite sure if the designation was actually working as intended to. It was only in 2019 that we started to receive positive feedback to the “science tapas” expression. Curiously, it was also in 2019 that we came across this paper. In this paper, the carousel-style teaching style, which is similar to the speed-dating format we use, is described as an effective method to enhance the motivation and learning of languages in primary school children.

What are the benefits of applying the Science Tapas concept?

Based on what was described above, we can define Science Tapas as a methodology in education and public engagement activities where different fields of science are showcased in one place/event, thus allowing for the audience to experience and/or learn from all the showcased fields of knowledge. Science Tapas based activities have the advantage of (1) demonstrating that science and research is present in all fields of knowledge, (2) allowing the audience to discover fields of science they didn’t know existed, and (3) bringing together researchers from different disciplines, promoting dialogue, collaboration and interdisciplinarity. Regarding (2), I can speak for myself. I grew up wanting to become a microbiologist because I learnt about bacteria in school and was completely fascinated by them. I didn’t know that you could be a scientist in the field of science education (I thought you could only be a science teacher) or educational psychology (I thought you could only be a psychologist). If I had known that, I think my future could have been very different.

About the author: Joana believes in science and innovation for the benefit of humankind. This is what led her to become a scientist and a social entrepreneur. Joana is the co-founder and director of Native Scientist, an award-winning European-wide non-profit organisation that connects ethnic minority and migrant children and scientists to promote science education. She is also the co-founder and an advisor at Chaperone, an online marketplace of personalised career development for scientists. She has experience in working in the public sector (academia), private sector (deep tech company), and third sector. She founded Native Scientist while doing her PhD and her entrepreneurial work has been distinguished multiple times, including accolades such as MIT Innovator Under 35 and Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise. Joana loves spending time with her family and friends, especially around a dinner table. She dreams of having her own restaurant one day.

About Native Scientist: Native Scientist is an award-winning European-wide non-profit organisation that promotes cultural diversity in science, education and society. Native Scientist provides science and language workshops, science communication training, and bespoke projects for various institutions, including schools, universities and embassies. The work developed connects pupils with scientists to foster science and language literacy through role modelling and science and language integrated learning. Founded in 2013, their work reaches over 1,200 pupils a year and they count with a network of over 1,000 international scientists.

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