Wednesday, 10 December 2014

FameLab academy part two - first school visit

As part of my FameLab academy mentoring, I planned to visit my allocated school at least once. My first visit to Pates was in late November and started with an assembly to the whole of year 9. With no introduction, only the FameLab banners, I gave my 3 minute presentation on my research topic (very similar to this one:). I could see that a number of the students were very intrigued as to why I was there! Once I had finished, Janet began the introduction with “Could you explain a science or engineering topic in 3 minutes?” before giving some more information about the competition. We only had 10 minutes, but it seemed to prompt some interest amongst the students. It was also really encouraging to hear the enthusiasm of the staff involved. The head of Year 9 even suggested that he should do his own FameLab presentation on a topic suggested by the students to show them that anyone can do it.
It was interesting to hear why the school was so keen to take on the project. It seems that, even at this early stage, presentations by the students usually are just reading from a script or a powerpoint slide. It is good that this project gives them the opportunity to see that it’s not actually that bad to present outside of your comfort zone!

I then went into some year 9 lessons, where the teacher was introducing the competition and going through the first workshop. This was mainly looking at good science communicators (Alice Roberts and the winner of FameLab UK) and discussing what made them good and easy to understand. The students then had a chance to think about what kind of topic they would talk about, and how they would hook the audience for this topic. Some of them were a bit stuck for ideas, so we discussed the idea of answering questions that everyone wants to know the answer to (e.g. Why is the sky blue?) or starting with a topic they had studied recently and thinking about how it could be applied in the real world.

I then spoke to some students about engineering and interviews in general. There was a mixture of age groups, with the older ones engaging more than the 15/16 year-olds. I think that they found it helpful – it did at least put engineering on their radar as something they might consider.

So one successful school visit down - the next stage is for the school to begin going through the workshops and see where they think I can be of most help. A lot of the students seemed keen, so there should be a good competition at the end of it! 

FameLab Academy

As an alumna of FameLab engineering, I was asked to take part in FameLab Academy. For those of you who don’t know what FameLab is: it’s a competition for scientists and engineers to explain a science/engineering/technology topic of their choice in 3 minutes with no powerpoint slides or any props that they cannot carry on stage. Competitors are judged on content, clarity and charisma and tend to have a lot of fun! FameLab academy is the same competition, but for Year 9 students (13/14 year olds). There are 8 schools in Gloucestershire competing this year, and the Royal Academy of Engineering and edf are helping to provide engineering mentors for each of the schools to help train and inspire the students. I am one of those mentors and have been lucky enough to be paired with Pates Grammar School.

The first stage in the process was a two day course where both engineers and the link teachers from the schools were given details on how the competition would work, and the structure of the training workshops for the students. The first day involved lots of FameLab pitches and feedback with Elin Roberts @elinoroberts training the engineers, and Nick Harrigan @sparrigan with the teachers. We learnt how to catch our audience’s attention, hold it and then reveal our key point. We looked at using storytelling to our advantage and tried selling imaginary products to each other.

As each school has planned different ways of running the workshops and the competition, we were given an opportunity to discuss with our link teacher how we could best help the school we were placed with. At Pates, they were planning on involving the whole of year 9, with each of the 5 groups in the year selecting 2 students to go trough to a school final. After talking to Janet, we thought it would be best if I go in when they launch the competition, to give my FameLab piece and a bit of an introduction. She also thought it might be useful for me to speak to some of the older students about engineering, and the variety of careers that can come from it. As an Oxford graduate, I was also happy to speak to nervous Oxbridge applications about interviews if that was needed.

On the second day, the teachers went back into the schools full of enthusiasm and we were given Nick and cameraman Jonathon Sanderson @jjsanderson to direct some instructional videos to support the workshops. This was very challenging but also a lot of fun. We were in pairs, and managed to get 7 video clips produced by the end of the day. My topic was rehearsal, and so involved Nick talking to himself, a fencing mask, and his friends. After some speedy editing, we got to see the videos and were all very impressed with how they came out. The final version is now online - take a look, they are very funny!

I can’t wait to start getting involved and watch the project progress throughout the year. FameLab was such a confidence booster for me that I hope it can do the same for the students!