Chaos. Bangs. One massive cow (fake). A red double decker bus, tractor and racing car (not fake). 20,000 children a day let loose on a plethora of stalls spanning from the science behind discovering Richard the III to making lip balm with L’Oreal scientists. My time at The Big Bang Fair at the NEC in Birmingham was eventful to say the least. It was an incredibly exciting atmosphere and made me feel optimistic about the future of science and public engagement in the UK. My experiences there highlighted some interesting things about science learning for families and young people for me. Here are my 3 main takeaways from working at the fair :
1. School groups and families are very different.
I worked on stalls on a day where families visited and when school groups came and found the two experiences very different. Activities where parents can learn while they help their children learn worked very well for families – being able to pitch the activity at two levels left both parents and children interested. It was actually much more fun to deliver as it created more variety in how you communicate the material to visitors. Also parents can steer their children’s focus, making it easier for you.
Pitching activities at the right level for secondary school groups is much more difficult – the activity I ran with school groups was very popular with KS3 students, but the stall was linked to a competition that is most useful and of interest to KS4/KS5 students. This meant that many taking part in the activity didn’t really learn about or consider taking part in the competition, which really is a great opportunity for young people to get an idea of what scientific research is all about – check it out here. Equally, unless they were very keen, not many KS4/KS5 came to find out about the competition. This is definitely something I would change for next year.
2. Do not underestimate the importance of planning and logistics
So much planning is put into the running and organising of an event like this. You could design the best activities imaginable, but if you run out of materials a few hours in, don’t consider how to deal with crowds or queues, or if the show floor is badly designed and people struggle to find or access your stall it could still be unsuccessful. There are so many key people involved in making sure these events are run smoothly, and they are indispensable.
3. Teenagers are hard to predict.
Okay, I’m just shy of twenty-one, so wasn’t a teenager very long ago, however I was reminded what it was like to be fourteen when interacting with students at the Big Bang Fair. Some students seemed totally unenthusiastic, didn’t look you in the eye and mumbled in monotone yet still participated, asked questions and seemed keen to take part. Others were totally chatty, friendly and engaged but would abandon the task in the middle. And of course there were some who were both friendly, engaged in the task start to finish and keen to find out more. Some would look over in interest before being dragged away by friends, whereas others would drag all of their friends over and demand they did the activity too. All of these different behaviours are understandable, but create an extra challenge in delivering activities to school groups. Although each individual is different at any age (it’s part of what makes getting to know people fun!), this seems much more noticable in teenagers – there is a real range in maturity, confidence and development that has to be catered for for successful engagement and education activities.
What do you think? I am curious to hear others experiences working in informal learning or science fairs!