Local school children learn about science through play

CLEVER is a multidisciplinary science project involving five universities covering diverse research areas including chemistry, materials engineering, design, environmental and social assessment. It covers intangible concepts such as emotional value as well as more tangible – but equally misunderstood terms – such as “closed loop recovery”.

With that in mind, at a mini science fair held at Loughborough University, we were challenged to come up with an activity that would engage ten year olds in our work. And we had five minutes in which to hold their attention and sell our science!

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The challenges for us were considerable, as this was the first time we had attempted anything like this. Knowing that we would not be able to describe CLEVER in time, we settled on a message that they could take away, that they might remember to tell their parents and maybe, just maybe on that related to the project – That phones harm the environment and need to be recycled responsibly to reduce the impacts and that was what the CLEVER project was helping to do.

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We realised we needed a hook to draw the kids in and keep their attention. So we settled on a giant version of the Operation game – where the kids pulled parts of phones out using tongs. They could then pull up a snippet of information about phones, their negative impact on the environment and what the CLEVER Project was trying to do about it.

At the end, we asked for their help in telling us what we could do with our phones and let them vote on whether phones should be “Recycled”, “Used for longer” or “Thrown in landfill”.

We learned quite a few lessons:

1) Having a hook worked really well. The kids got stuck right in, breaking the ice.

2) Keeping the information simple let us give them a sense of the problems without resorting to reams of stats (although we did use the other set of SI units, those being volume of double decker busses, or weight of a rhino!).

3) Giving them something to feedback at the end worked surprisingly well. I am not sure exactly how much new knowledge they took away, but we had a good number of drawings showing recycling of phones, or phones NOT being thrown in the bin; all good fodder for any presentations in the future!

By James Suckling

Research Fellow

University of Surrey

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