Outreach Planning in Sheffield

Summer is often a slightly quieter time for academics (no undergraduates and fewer meetings).  We have even have the opportunity for a holiday (which this year I spend on the sunny island of Berneray, http://tinyurl.com/omacxlo picture below). This year however the Sheffield team are feverishly working away on the upcoming training and outreach event scheduled for October. Organising such events mainly involves anticipating about all the possibilities that things can go wrong and trying to think of ways to stop these things happening. Never is this more the case when planning an work ‘outreach’ event involving schoolchildren. In this case, small schoolchildren which I have managed to get permission to ‘borrow’ for the day from the Benjamin Adlard Primary School where my sister is a teacher (http://www.benjaminadlard.lincs.sch.uk/). Running activities to show schoolchildren some of what we do sound like fun, but also somewhat stressful to those of us with limited experience of working with 10 year olds!

Why do we do outreach? Partially we are fulfilling the EU’s objective of encouraging more children to become enthusiastic about science, engineering and (even more specifically) water related issues. However I also think it can help us all learn how to communicate our work to a range of audiences, an important and very useful skill. So how do we go about outreach to a group of 30 ten year old’s? Personally I think its important  to mix informing, educating and entertaining (to borrow a mission statement) when trying to teach and communicate. Informing and educating because we want our “outreachees” to take away useful information, but also entertaining, because it helps make our event a memorable interesting experience (a quickly forgotten event is also of no benefit). Currently we are planning visits to local ponds, water quality experiments and water boat races, so hopefully a nice balance between fun and and informative. All easier said than done, but not that much different from undergraduate teaching after all…..


James on the ‘not so tropical’ beach
Outreach Planning in Sheffield

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