Saturday, 21 May 2011

Open House

Today, the University which I attend (although not for much longer!) held an open house day along the theme of ‘Exploration’ and I had the opportunity to take part in on the geosciences contribution towards the event. The outreach we were running (which is designed more to be fun, than educational) was a ‘dinosaur trackway’. Essentially children don on wellington boots with sponge dinosaur feet stuck onto the boots, which are dipped into ink and then children run down a long strip of paper – their stride is calculated and they are compared to a dinosaur – it’s a little more entertaining than I’ve described it; but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

The track way is always popular, I mean, it’s dinosaurs and the potential for mess – guaranteed to make children want to have a go; and although they leave with some knowledge of the geosciences (very limited... basically what dinosaur had a stride the same as theirs) it seems to me that a good opportunity of communicating geoscience is being squandered. Simply; a dinosaur trackway, although it may be appealing for little kids, older children seem to look at you with a look of ‘and... what now?’

I can’t help thinking something vaguely along the exploration line should have been provided – I mean geoscience is the science of finding stuff we need. Some economic minerals are fairly pretty and a fair few sparkle – why not tie in exploration and geoscience in that way? Or have some real bits of dinosaur – posters are all well and good, but something touchable is considerably more exciting and informative.

However, in terms of the actually event,  I noted a couple of things:

Happy children = happy parents: Important at this particular event which was being used as essentially a large PR exercise for the University.
Children want to do something: Maybe why this outreach has such a wide usage, the children are involved in making something and they seemed to enjoy it, which is the main thing.
Knowledge of the staff/volunteers: I am clueless about dinosaurs (in relation to an enthusiastic 7 year old) so when asked more complex questions I struggled a little (defusing the situation with hand gestures) . If you pitch too high– what if the volunteer can’t remember the lecture on oil stratigraphy? Or has never seen a lump of glittering ore?  This factor I guess, allows the trackway, although simple and limited to be used without fear of the cardinal sin of communication – getting something wrong.
It’s knackering: Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about rocks (just ask my girlfriend) but it is pretty exhausting particularly if you don’t really know what you’re talking about – it’s also not a pleasant experience! (the cluelessness, not the talking!)

Looking around the room the essence was more on fun than learning – the maths department had bubbles – and although I am a firm believer in transmitting information at any opportunity, perhaps offering fun for 80% of the time and information for the remaining 20% gave everyone a good experience. Which is what matters.