If I try to think of the moment that started me on my journey into the world of science communication, I’d have to say it was when my parents decided to move to the quaint twin towns of Forster-Tuncurry many moons ago. I had just started Year 8 in a new school, and there I met girl who is, to this day, still one of my dearest friends. Eight years after our first meeting, with a little bit (ok, maybe alot!) of persuasion from my adventurous friend, I made the brave decision to travel to America to work as a summer camp counselor!
That trip was life-changing in that I would meet my future husband there. I have to pause a moment to give him a shout-out as he is not only an amazing science teacher, he is also my very supportive, personal expert consultant and a loving Dad to our 2 beautiful children. He is also the teller of the worst Dad jokes ever, but I digress..
I went back to that same camp two years later, but in addition, through some persuasive action of my friend, I was able to obtain work during the Spring at an outdoor education camp, set in the middle of the woods in a tiny town in Ohio. It was here that I met some of the most inspiring educators I’ve ever known. These people were passionate, incredibly enthusiastic, and just a little bit crazy! Schools brought their students to the camp for anywhere between one and five days, and it was our responsibility to make sure their time there was jam-packed with positive, fun-filled experiences. There were interpretive day hikes, silent night hikes, high and low ropes courses, amazing classes of all disciplines designed by the staff, lessons in the dining hall about ORT, campfires, tours of the Nature Center and whole group cooperative activities, all of which I had to learn during 2 weeks of staff training!!
The biggest lessons I learnt about effective teaching came from watching my fellow outdoor educators. Not one taught in exactly the same way as another. Some were wildly exuberant (yes I’m talking about you Skip!), others quietly inspiring, and others could make a living on the comedy circuits! However, what they all had in common was a passion for sharing their knowledge and guiding young students to explore and make their own discoveries, whether at the local cemetery for a history lesson, or deep in the woods searching for deer scat, learning about animal adaptations. I discovered the importance of this type of hands-on, experiential education, and the power it has to motivate students to take learning into their own hands.
I ended up working at this outdoor education camp for four seasons, and in that time, I, along with my field group of the day, dissected squid, “peed” down my leg and “barfed” like a Turkey Vulture, tie-dyed hankies using natural dyes made from plants collected around camp, pondered the disastrous introduction of DDT and it’s persistence in the environment, discovered fungi that smelled of licorice and sat under numerous night skies brilliantly lit up with billions of stars, to the amazement of groups of inner city children who thought of the outdoors at night only as a dangerous time.
My experiences there, and the memories I made, stay with me to this day and influence the programs I put together and the way I share my love of science. Science education or communication in the early years is about experiences. It may be messy, and your experiments might not progress the way they should, but try it, and try it often. You’ll be amazed at what you and your little scientists learn!
I leave you with a fantastic online resource published by the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Way back in 1969, they broke the mold of science museums by making science visible, touchable and accessible. This one’s on MY bucket list!