How do non-scientists learn about science?
The answer: in many ways!
Science education is critical in teaching diverse learners about scientific content and processes. Particularly, education outside of core curriculum is a surprising venue through which scientists can educate the community at large on scientific topics.
Why and how should individuals in the scientific community get involved in science education?
Participating as a teacher or organizer in science education can help prevent “science-phobia” or supplement otherwise lacking resources. Also, education efforts—especially teaching experience—are coveted skills on a resume or C.V.
If you are not in an environment where science education is actively lauded or pursued, it might seem difficult to find a starting point.
Here are resources tailored to help individuals easily get involved in science education, depending on the type of resource you are seeking:
Teach: The most straightforward way to get involved in STEM-ed is as a teacher! While it takes some prep, teaching comes with high reward. Consider rallying your colleagues to teach, particularly with a focus on low-socioeconomic areas, where science is less likely to be a focus at any of the following levels.
At the local level
- Look into local volunteer networks that offer small-scale education, such as answering science homework questions posed by kids.
- Partner with local schools that lack resources or time to dedicate towards in-depth lessons for students. Here is an example of a successful local school partnership in neuroscience led by graduate students.
Universities have outreach programs—or centers with a science outreach component—that empower others to teach. For example, the UC CEIN has multiple outreach and education efforts to enhance the broad impacts of its research.
- Adventure in Science (AIS) is a volunteer-based program in Maryland that aims to get young science enthusiasts to actively participate in projects and begin thinking about scientific careers. There is no set curriculum for projects, so educators can prepare and present topics of choice. Though this is very localized to one area, their goals are a great model of how scientists can use their skills to motivate eager learners.
- Science museums around the country allow students—and adults!—to be volunteer educators. Check out Smithsonian’s Science Education Center for ways to get involved—most of these are applicable to your local museum, too, but the first step is to always make contact. Don’t be shy!
- Multiple science awareness weeks throughout the year are dedicated to increasing awareness of issues in different scientific fields. Awareness efforts on computer Science, the brain, and antibiotics (just to name a few) focus on small lessons at local schools or campus-based seminars. Look into local chapters or societies to see whether a campus near you is involved in a science awareness week! (Bonus: If you’re in a dry area, Brain Awareness Week has online resources so that you can implement lessons at your own location.)
- Look into citizen science projects that allow non-scientists to participate in scientific research and expand scientific knowledge. Organizations like Citizen Science Alliance, the Citizen Science Association, and SciStarter provide info and resources for aspiring citizen scientists. Another tip: Google “citizen science” and your base city (e.g. “LA”) to scope out surrounding projects—for instance, LA has a public lab for the community.
- Host your own event: Eventbrite, the popular marketplace for local events in 190 countries, has a category specific to science and technology. Consider hosting your own event—a science fair, a lesson, an intro lecture—to the local public. Eventbrite attendees are a niche crowd (kind of like TEDx enthusiasts) who actively seek knowledge beyond the norm, so this option provides educators more leeway in shaping their outreach.
Find the right tools
- Remember looking up ideas for your elementary science fair projects? Those fun, hands-on experiments are still online! Using tried-and-true demonstrations of basic science principles is a solid foundation for lesson planning. Additionally, stick to golden standards: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes the necessity of external education. Here, see their resources for both students and educators who seek science outside of conventional venues. While some of their efforts are internal to the NIH, their resources also provide tools and lessons for external educators.
Reaching out is worth the effort to increase access to science! Have you participated in science education? Are you looking for unique ways to get involved? Leave your thoughts in comments below!
Gabrielle-Ann Torre is a Ph.D. student in Neuroscience at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.