As part of the British Science Festival we delivered two science sessions at Colab Exeter. Both sessions were related to the subject of planets and stars. On the 7th September we ran a session for men and on the 8th September one for women, with 8 participants in each session to ensure everyone had a chance to engage and ask their questions.
The reasoning behind this was that we wanted to encourage the women who use our service to engage with science. Also, the men consisted mostly of the men’s group we run at Colab every week. We made “space-oriented food” and set up a table with some craft materials so individuals could make their own representations of constellations. The two scientists from Exeter University Federica and Kathryn did such a good job at holding the attention of the learners. We had a large screen which we managed to get working, so as Federica and Kathryn talked, wonderful images could be seen to accompany the subject. Though this was far from a dry lecture. I was so impressed by the way these scientists responded to a multitude of questions related to planets and stars. It takes a real skill and I think a love of the subject being discussed, to capture the attention of learners for two hours non-stop. I think both scientists managed to communicate the sheer wonder of the universe and the thrill of discovering exoplanets. The learners saw how far we have come in our understanding and how far we still have to go. I think it was also important for the women to see that science is not just a field dominated by men. It was a privilege to observe both sessions. There was very little difference but I did wonder whether the women would have brought up the relationship between menstrual cycles and the moon, if the groups had been mixed.
One of the most important points to come out of the sessions was that we now know that there is an appetite for learning about science among the individuals who use our service. We had a feeling that this might be so but now we have clear evidence that this is the case.
We were very grateful for the funding which enabled us to deliver such events and every learner received the book Stargazing : Beginner’s Guide to Astronomy (Royal Greenwich Observatory) which we hope will encourage them to keep learning about planets and stars and to take notice of the night sky above them. We very much want to continue the collaboration between ourselves at the Urban Learning Academy and the University of Exeter as well as Exeter Science Centre.
Many of the individuals who use our service might not have had positive experiences at school, a significant number have experienced homelessness. Workshops like these are a much needed way of re-engaging individuals in learning and demonstrate that whatever your background, many of us are fascinated by the marvelous universe and our place within it.
Written by Mark Duckworth – Community Ambassador, CoLab Exeter