In line with my previous post about communication, I think it's time to talk a bit about outreach. After all, I can't preach about something that I don't believe in, and it just happens that I have an "active interest" (what a great phrase...) in science education. There's a bunch of really good ways in Vancouver to get involved in science outreach activities. If you enjoy hanging out with kids, if you like explaining science-y things to non-experts, if you want to think about science outside of your little box, or if you've always loved the potato clock, there's a way to make yourself useful and do what you enjoy at the same time.
There was a great episode on the Big Bang Theory recently (click here, for those of you in Canada): Sheldon and Leonard invite their childhood idol, Professor Proton (the host of a kids science TV show, who never pursued a science career and had to retire to doing shows at kids' birthday parties etc.) to their house. He appears and starts his show, only to stop half way through. He announces his disappointment in his life, emphasizes that he actually has a PhD, but was never again taken seriously after doing the TV show. Both Sheldon and Leonard try to cheer him up, and in the end it's Sheldon who turns the story around by telling Professor Proton how influential he was on Sheldon's (and probably hundreds of other kids') career choice(s). According to Sheldon, in a way Professor Proton is contributing to a big portion of science that is done by just those kids who back in the day loved his show.
Ok, it's just a TV show, and sometimes the way science is portrayed in this particular one isn't exactly epic, but really, they have a point here! We need good science educators and outreach activities as much as we need the science itself. Who's going to inspire kids and young people to pursue careers in science? It's their environment, whether it's through books, role models, TV shows, computer games, parents, or school trips and classroom activities. This is where everybody can come in! I can talk the most about things I've done myself (d'uh), so I'll give you guys a quick overview:
1) Let's Talk Science: A great outreach program that operates nationwide. The part that I particularly like is called a "Teacher Partnership". Grad students and other volunteers get paired up with a teacher, and go to that teacher's class for at least 3 times over the course of a school year. In the classroom, we deliver hands-on activities for the kids. Depending on their curriculum they can really be any kind of science, but I mostly do Earthscience stuff (surprise!). The age range varies, over the past couple of years I've taught grades 2-3 and it's tons of fun!
2) At the Pacific Museum of Earth, the little Earthscience museum in our department, I lead tours and workshops for incoming groups of any age. From school classes to home schooled kids or ESL adults, anybody can learn about fossils, plate tectonics, rocks and more. And we recently bought an interactive 3D projection of the Earth, which is the most amazing toy I've seen in a long time!
3) Last but not least, I recently started being a mentor for a kid who's interested in volcanoes and earthquakes. This mentorship is one of many organized through the Vancouver School Board, and anybody with a special interest or area of expertise can volunteer to be a mentor. It's quite different from the mostly group-focused activities above, since it's obviously much more individualized, but definitely no less important!
I'm sure there are a lot more opportunities for outreach and education out there, and they're really all super fun and a good use of your time. So get off your couch and put yourself out there! You might even like it :)
PS: If anybody wants to discuss or has ideas for activities let me know!