Leaders in Science: The cascade learning STEM outreach scheme

This guest blog post was written by PhD student Joanna Sadler, founder of Leaders in Science.

Communicating science is difficult. Every day as scientists, we work with concepts and ideas that can seem intangible to the wider public. Yet relaying the significance and motivation behind what we do is critical to inspire the next generation of scientists, who are desperately needed to address some of planet’s most pressing issues. Explaining scientific concepts to non-specialist audiences is also the best way to ensure that we fully understand a subject ourselves. As the well-known saying goes: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”.

Leaders in Science is a cascade learning outreach programme for schools designed to engage more young people in science whilst developing leadership, communication and presentation skills. It involves three generations of participants: PhD students or graduate-level practising scientists (the ‘mentors’); science Highers students from local secondary schools and colleges (‘students’); and local primary school pupils (‘primary students’).

How does it work?

The programme is split into two stages over two terms. First, STEM mentors work with small groups of senior school students to introduce them to science beyond the curriculum through talks and hands-on workshops. In the second stage, the mentors guide the students through a process of designing and practicing their own workshops which they take into local primary schools towards the end of the programme. Alongside this, we also run debates and leadership and presentation skills sessions throughout the programme.

Whilst the older students develop valuable leadership skills and experience of working with younger students, the primary school students enjoy doing new experiments and are often inspired by the older students. Mentors benefit hugely from learning how to communicate their science with younger students, growing in confidence as they take ownership of the programme and often see their own research in a new light.

Founded in 2015, Leaders in Science is now in its 6th year and has reached hundreds of young people through interactive workshops and mentoring sessions. In 2018, Leaders in Science partnered with the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) to launch the programme in Scotland. After a successful pilot year working with Ross High School, Tranent, we have now expanded to operate in Glasgow and are excited to expand our reach and impact over the coming years.

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For more information, please visit www.leadersinscience.org or follow us on Twitter @LiSScotland.