Engaging with Science | Apr 23, 2020 | By Savana Theodore-Maraj, Education and Outreach Assistant

How to Make Science Education Fun and Engaging for All

Changing colours, uncertainty, and maybe even some explosions along the way.

That’s right, we are talking about science experiments—a space where education and entertainment meet. Science is a favourite among curious young people because it doesn’t always have to involve books and articles— it can come to life through hands-on experiments and visuals. And when young people are engaged and getting their hands dirty, they are likely to absorb more information and, ultimately, remember more of what they have learned.

But how do you turn those stodgy science classrooms into inspiring spaces for young people to learn? 

Here at IISD Experimental Lakes Area, over the last five years, we have come up with a whole suite of tricks to get the young people who walk through our doors excited about the research we do (while, of course, also getting their hands dirty).

Here are a few of the things we have learned along the way.

Making the Most of Technology

The use of technology has expanded how we are able to connect with people.

Young people can get a sense of how things are done at a science facility or out in the field without being there, which will hopefully increase their interest in coming out for a visit or trying some field science for themselves.

It’s easy to develop a quick video to show different experiments, sampling procedures, and methods.

It also demonstrates how simple it is to use technology for fun and educational purposes.

And they don’t have to be high-tech. You can just grab a cell phone and use online editing software. Why not pick one of your commonly used techniques and shoot a quick step-by-step video to post online? Just remember to look at the camera, like those fine folks at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg do in their awesome shorts.

Science education videos don’t have to be high-tech.
You can just grab a cell phone and use online editing software.

Did you know you can “Skype A Scientist”? This is a great program developed in the USA where scientists from across the world can connect with students, families, and communities to have a guided conversation about their work.

Why not sign up for a session? It’s lots of fun, and you get to talk about your work with people with whom you would likely never come in contact.

Smiling man sitting next to laptop computer in a virtual meeting with many children
How can we use satellites to understand how our environment is changing?
Our very own Geoffrey Gunn laid it all out to Sussex School in Missoula, Montana, in our very first Skype A Scientist session.

“I answered some great questions, like the biggest struggles I’ve had to overcome to become a scientist, how climate is affecting lakes (it’s making them darker, less icy, squeezing fish…), and whether I was in my dream job (yes!)”

Geoffrey Gunn on his first Skype a Scientist experience

Hate to keep droning on about this, but drones can capture incredible pictures, vistas, and videos that are used for both educational purposes and for amusement. They offer a new perspective than what we would see regularly from the ground. It also allows us and visitors to see things from a larger scale and appreciate the landscapes on which we work.

Aerial shot of an island in the middle of a dark blue freshwater lake in Canada
Science looks very different from where the birds soar.

Making It Personal

If you want to connect with younger people, you need to be human and you need to connect at their level.

For example, here at IISD-ELA, we communicate and connect by using social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We post updates, videos, fun happenings, and events to communicate our science in a fun and relevant way. And of course, we encourage our scientists to have their own social media accounts to put a face and a personal spin on our science.

When young people are engaged and getting their hands dirty, they are likely to absorb more information and, ultimately, remember more of what they have learned.

As educators, finding new and innovative ways to connect is exciting and challenging; social media is a great place to connect with other educators, parents, and, of course, students.

Meeting Them in Person

Connecting with young people online is one thing—meeting them in person is quite another.

First step: the classroom. Our classroom presentations engage students through pictures and videos as well as hands-on activities. Currently, we have an activity that mimics the difficulties involved in cleaning up an oil spill. When possible, having classrooms work together on projects is always an exciting opportunity. It allows for different ages and minds to cooperate just like a team would; all participants benefit from the cooperation.

(And if you can’t invite a science educator into your classroom, Science North has an amazing website dedicated to scientific resources for all grades, with clear links to the curriculum.)

Next step: the field. Welcoming young people to a scientific facility can be a rewarding experience for all. We do that in many ways at IISD-ELA, from field courses to day trips for students of all ages and sizes.

Connecting with young people online is one thing—meeting them in person is quite another.

For those who have limited means, WISE Kid-Netic Energy has a fantastically inclusive suite of workshops, clubs, and camps that target girls, kids from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and those who traditionally do not get to see science first hand. They even offer a bursary scheme.

FortWhyte Alive wants to make sure its students get the most out of their trips, so they have prepared a series of Field Trip Enhancement Kits, set by grade, with extra information about the trip and science behind it.

However you decide to educate young people about science, do so in a way that makes sense to them, speaks their language, and is interesting and engaging.

Remember that science is meant to stoke questions and that, if you engage someone in science at a young age, it could prove to be an experience that can spark an interest in a future science-related career—or it can just be a fun and educational experience in itself.

You know that ground-breaking freshwater research you just read about? Well, that’s actually down to you.

It’s only thanks to our generous donors that the world’s freshwater laboratory—an independent not-for-profit—can continue to do what we do. And that means everything from explore what happens when cannabis flushes and oil spills into a lake, to how we can reduce mercury in fish and algal blooms in fresh water—all to keep our water clean around the world for generations to come.

We know that these are difficult times, but the knowledge to act on scientific evidence has never been more important. Neither has your support.

If you believe in whole ecosystem science and using it to bring about real change to fresh water around the globe, please support us in any way you are able to.