Last weekend my department’s public engagement group got back into the swing of public engagement activities – this time at the TechFest event in Aberdeen. TechFest is North-East Scotland’s annual STEM festival, and it’s much bigger than any of the events we’re done so far. We chose to take part in the ‘Activity Weekend’ because it would give us a chance to interact with a different audience to the Explorathon and May Fest events we’ve done before; the Activity Weekend is much more child-focussed. We also designed a new activity for this event – we took along a simplified version of the Polo Trial we took to May Fest, along with a ‘Health Mystery Tour’ activity.
The Health Mystery Tour was absolutely brilliant, and I’m taking no credit for it – Clare Robertson and Beatriz Goulao were the brains behind this one! The mystery tour gave children the chance to turn into little Sherlocks for the day. They were tasked with piecing together the evidence from two separate studies, to see if eating lots of carrots could cause people to grow bunny ears. The two studies they were given were in the form of newspaper articles, and both had different features to suggest whether they were good or bad quality. Earlier in the hunt they had been given tips on how to spot a bad study. At the end of the treasure hunt they had to answer the question of whether eating lots of carrots could cause people to grow bunny ears based on the quality of the studies they had seen. Prizes included mini magnifying glasses, badges, balloons, and even a carrot too!
A few photographs of the event:
So, how did the event go?
Overall, I think it was a huge success. We spoke to hundreds of children and their parents, explained the concept of randomisation, told people about James Lind’s scurvy trial in 1747, demonstrated that different studies can give different results depending on the quality of their design, and (hopefully!) created a super fun learning environment for the people we spoke to.
This was the first time we’d tried out the health mystery tour event and it went well. There were a few children who found the event tricky, but others were really engaged and excited to learn – maybe in the future we could introduce a simplified version for the less engaged and younger children.
The one thing I was super impressed with was the amount of staff support we had, my PhD supervisor came along for the day on Saturday and he genuinely looked like he was having as much fun as the children were! We also had a few of the statisticians, research fellows and even one of our summer interns came along to help too. The atmosphere was relaxed but enthusiastic, and everyone got stuck in with explaining what we do and why.
I came home after the Sunday event had finished feeling very, very lucky to work with such a brilliant team. Of course, speaking to hundreds of children all day was also incredibly tiring, so I did end up with an Indian takeaway and a blanket on the sofa relatively early. I was in bed by 10pm and I most definitely dreamed of balloons and questions like ‘yes, but what if you ate hundreds of carrots – would you grow bunny ears then?’