Where do students do most of their learning about science? In the classroom? I got a surprise only two sentences into my reading of Characterizing the Landscape: Collegiate Organizations’ Chemistry Outreach Practices by Pratt and Yezierski (available to all readers as an ACS Editors’ Choice article). The surprise: “…only 18.5% of K–12 learning occurs inside the formal classroom with the rest of learning occurring in informal environments.” The authors list some of these environments, such as gaming, TV, internet, museums, and afterschool clubs. This introduction pulled me into the rest of the article, with its focus on chemistry outreach done by college students and faculty during demonstration shows and hands-on activities with K–12 students and the public.
Between American Chemical Society (ACS) student chapters and Alpha Chi Sigma collegiate chapters, this type of outreach has the potential to touch nearly a million audience members or direct participants. Pratt and Yezierski surveyed college students and faculty members from these two organizations, investigating 1) the purpose of the outreach, 2) commonly used activities, and 3) any methods used to evaluate the outreach.
Figure 1 - Characterizing the Landscape: Collegiate Organization's Chemistry Outreach Practices preview image
It was the third area that most piqued my interest. The authors begin their discussion of it with the statement: “Data related to the evaluation of outreach events were shallower than anticipated by investigators.” They also discussed challenges involved with evaluation. The method most mentioned in the survey was to simply observe the audience. One response was, “I just look to the faces of our guests to see if they are enjoying themselves.”
My local ACS High School ChemClub has hosted hands-on Summer Science at the Farmers’ Market using ChemClub community activities grants. I had not deeply considered how to evaluate whether it was a success and worth the time, energy, and money it took. More effort was definitely put into planning, practicing, and carrying out the activities than evaluating their impact on visitors. I was able to tally how many adults and children stopped by the booth to participate in each activity and made note of how many participants came back to do more of our activities later in the season. One-on-one conversations with visitors gave clues as to their enjoyment and learning. But had it really achieved its main goal of helping participants to realize how chemistry connects to their everyday world? In the article, Pratt and Yezierski suggest further research of connections between the goals set for various informal science education events and evaluation of the events.
Although the current paper focused on the college level, I know there are high school educators using demonstration shows and hands-on activities for outreach. What have you done? How have you evaluated your outreach?
More from the January 2018 Issue
Mary Saecker’s post JCE 95.01 January 2018 Issue Highlights breaks down the issue for you, including a closer look at the microscale demonstration shown on the cover. She has also combed the JCE archives for articles about the three outreach activities most mentioned in Pratt and Yezierski’s article discussed above: liquid nitrogen ice cream, elephant toothpaste, and slime.
Might your 2018 plans have space for sharing your thoughts with the XChange community? We’d love to hear your take on past JCE articles and how you have used them in your classroom. Start by submitting a contribution form, explaining you’d like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Then, put your thoughts together in a blog post. Questions? Contact us using the ChemEd X contact form.