We built a hands-on puzzle to allow students to explore how the genetic information stored within DNA is decoded by the body. In two weeks a small team will be taking this to the South of England BIG BANG STEM festival to help 12-18 year-olds and their teachers explore this for themselves.
This is a repeat activity for us at the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex. Each year the team changes and new staff and students encounter public engagement for the first time. It is always fun for us and the participants and everyone learns from it.
What are the secrets of a successful outreach experience? I recommend the following:
- Go as a team.
- For hands-on activities with 100’s of visitors it is more effective to work as a team.
- Harness enthusiasm.
- One person needs to start it going, but hopefully the team will sustain this.
- Obtain funding. Relatively small amounts will help if you want a display or hands-on activity.
- Offer your services to an existing Science Event – they know their audience and have event management experience. Try our local STEM network – you can become a stem ambassador and access advice, pre-designed activities and insurance. Plan your content several months in advance with your team. Expensive research equipment will be of little use to you – don’t even rely on having wi-fi available on the day. I suggest identifying between one and three key concepts that you want to get across and then get inventive. Test your ideas and get feedback from nearby non-scientists.
- Finally, hold a final planning meeting at least a week in advance and have detailed lists of responsibilities and a time schedule finalized.
- Be flexible. After all this detailed planning you will need to be prepared to be flexible on the day, things will go off-schedule and you will have to adapt as you go. If possible have one team member available as a runner to deal with the unexpected glitches.
After the event discuss the feedback with your team, plan any changes for the next time you run it and book in for the following year – once you have experienced public engagement activities you will want more!
DNA detectives will be presenting at the BigBang South East Festival on 27th June 2019.