The ultimate science shows

by Helena González & Oriol Marimon  – The Big Van Theory

You may think in the 21st century that theatre may be no longer fashionable. We have youtube, Facebook and Netflix to know about life, to learn whatever we want to learn.  We communicate to each other with smiley faces, likes and tweets. But theatre has something essential: face to face interaction and emotional attachment.

In terms of education, drama has dialogic and dialectic qualities that foster the integration of both rational and emotional dimensions within the learning process, providing a rich source of individual and collective experimentation and exploration. In this sense, PERFORM H2020 project is arriving “standing strong”. PERFORM attempts to transform STEM education in a revolutionary way using drama-based arts to reflect on the human dimension of science and the values embedded in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), such as ethical implications of research, science-related stereotypes and girl’s barriers in STEM, amongst others.
The process is long and exciting, like science itself, and this is how we are doing it:
First of all, we implemented exploratory workshops with students from Spain, France and UK to understand and reflect on their needs, expectations, concerns and limitations when studying science or thinking of choosing a STEM career.
After a thorough assessment of the results, we generated an integrated methodological protocol to develop performance-based activities, which included specific guidelines related to gender inequality and girl’s barriers in STEM, science-related stereotypes, two-way dialogue between scientists and the society, ethical issues in scientific research and the role of entrepreneurial and multidisciplinary research careers in the labour market.
With this protocol the three science communication partners (TBVT in Spain, SMS in the UK and TRACES in France) adapted performance-based activities to new PERformance-based Science Education and Innovative Activities (PERSEIAs) that were delivered in more than 30 schools in the three countries, reaching about 2500 students.
For instance, we could notice in the exploratory workshops that students have lots of negative stereotypes for scientists (nerds, freaks, workaholics…) but they can also recognize positive ones (social recognition, imaginative, self-confident, knowledge motivation). In the PERSEIAS the positive stereotypes were highlighted and related to skills needed in daily life: “Knowledge gives you power: the more you know, the fewer lies you will believe”
Our aim was that these PERSEIA’s would become a space where students examine themselves in a mirror, accurately addressing their beliefs and misunderstandings about science and related RRI.
To evaluate the efficiency of the integrated methodological protocol in adapting performance-based activities into PERSEIAs, and to assess the impact of them on students ‘perceptions and attitudes about science and RRI values, around 1000 pre and post event surveys addressed to students were carried out.
We now have the results and they are promising.
PERSEIAS really got the students excited about science. Before taking part in the event, only 10% of students said that they could be a scientist if they wanted to, but this number increased to 22% after the event. Students were also more aware about the societal problems that can be solved by science and the ethical implications of scientific research, according to our results.
The next step will be even more exciting, as we will get students up out of their seats to learn about STEM subjects and RRI values at the same time that they become real performers.
Working with four schools in each country, we will deliver a series of participatory workshops together with students, teachers, early career researchers and science communicators. The workshops will result in a laboratory in which we will discuss the nature of science, problems of scientific careers, ethical issues and, with all that, create a PERSEIA that students will present in front of their school-mates.
The students will have a challenge: to perform in a PERSEIA. The participatory process of PERSEIAs generation will guide the students through the human dimension of science and the values embedded in the RRI, fostering their motivation in science and braking science related stereotypes.
We cannot forget the importance of the arts. Let’s inject some “STE(A)M” back into “STEM!”