Spooners visiting Elhuyar Science Fair: an opportunity to foster STEAM education life-experiences and community relationships 🇪🇸
Where and when was the idea of the Science Fair born?
Elhuyar Fundazioa, a partner in the Spoon project, organises the Elhuyar Science fair that will be visited by all Spoon project partners next 11th of May in Bilbao. The Science Fair was born in 2004 as an idea-contest, with the name of “Nanoskopioa”. In 2014 it took the science fair format and the initiative that until then was itinerant was established in Bilbao for reasons of sponsorship and organization. When it became a science fair, we try to improve it thanks to the previous years’ experience and with what we had learned abroad. We decided to prioritise the life-experiences of young people instead of fostering competition, to increase the participation of the whole community, to engage more professional researchers, etc. As the initiative is organized each year, we always have proposals about how to improve the fair, e.g. how to help more to students, the inclusion of the Research and Responsible Innovation paradigm (RRI), the awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 of the United Nations or how to engage more professional and educational worlds.
Why bring young people to science?
Today’s young people will need science and technology competencies, regardless of which profession they will choose. Besides, scientific literacy should be given to all citizens, so that they have solid bases to make decisions in their daily lives. From this point of view, we should achieve an open and critical attitude towards science form society. Furthermore, more real and comprehensive vision of science and technology studies should be given to young people so their career decisions were been grounded in solid and realistic pieces of evidence. For example, they should understand that learning chemistry opens many doors to work in different jobs, not only to work in a laboratory.
How many students participate? How many centers? How many researchers? How many associations / entities collaborate?
In the last science fair, we counted on the participation of 256 groups of 33 schools, 911 youngsters (452 girls, 449 boys and 10 non-binary). We have 248 researchers from all universities willing to help young people (139 women and 109 men), while the participating researchers have been 146, of which 82 are women. We have several collaborating entities: Universities (University of the Basque Country, Mondragon Unibertsitatea, University of Deusto, Public University of Navarre, Basque Summer University, Ikerbasque, and Digipen) and non-profit organizations (Unesco Etxea, Bizkaia Talent). More information can be found on the Science Fair website. In general, we are very happy with its excellent reception.
What kind of projects do the students present?
They can present research projects and technology projects, based on STEAM fields (science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics). Most usual topics are those related to the environment, health and technology. One of the biggest difficulties for students is choosing the topic; we always suggest them to choose a challenge that is feasible, as difficulties always appear along the way. In this sense, the experience of young people and teachers is vital: the more experience they have, the easier is to finish the project and present it in the science fair. One of our roles is to help about it directly or with professional researchers.
How is the science fair event?
The students present their projects in stands show the projects, two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. The Plaza Nueva of Bilbao is always crowded, so the young people have to explain their projects on several occasions; Thanks to that, the students gain in their confidence and communication skills.
In addition, there are several activities to enhance the engagement of the public during the fair event: science experiments for children, researchers presenting their works in universities, etc. At the end of the day, there are some prizes, trying not to be too competitive; therefore, all prizes are scientific experiences: stays, opportunities to go to other fairs, scholarships, courses, etc., and the philosophy is that the prizes are as distributed as possible among the schools.
At what level does the collaboration in this project refer?
“Experiences and community” is the motto of the Elhuyar STEAM Education area, so the collaboration is at the base of the project. From the philosophy that the education requires the participation of the whole community, we make a bridge to create and strengthen the relationships between different social actors: schools, families, citizens, companies, research groups, etc. The awareness of people towards education in recent years has grown, but it is often difficult to determine the possibilities of collaboration, although there is a willingness to do so. With the Science Fair, we respond to this need.
What challenges do you have in the future?
We are clear that Elhuyar Zientzia Azoka is an educational project, that is to say, that the goal is the development of competencies by students: internalize knowledge, develop skills, awaken curiosity, form a team, bring the real models closer, spread research of young people … more than receiving brilliant projects. Therefore, we often want to emphasize that it is better to learn a lot with a simple project or to present a project that has not come up well than to present a project that has received “too much” help.
On the other hand, we have made an effort to measure the impact of the Science Fair on young people, teachers and researchers in the last two years, from the point of view of the Responsible Research and Innovation paradigm (RRI). In this sense, we want to continue to improve the project with this philosophy, by strengthening relations with volunteer researchers.