Hayley was voted the winner of Gold Zone in March 2016. Here she reports back on how she got straight to work making the most of her prize money…
After being fortunate enough to be crowned the winner of the Gold Zone in March, I was adamant that I would fulfil my proposal of working with school pupils in my community in Cardiff. The schools I particularly wanted to work with were located in areas that were nearly gentrifying and had future prospects of expansion, socially, economically as a community and financially. I wanted to at least impact upon these children’s education in a way that was memorable and hopefully inspiring!
Children at Grangetown Primary making dreamcatchers!
To be able to portray what I do day-to-day to the pupils in a fun, imaginative and engaging manner was difficult and needed a lot of exploration before we could go into the schools. Fortunately, at Cardiff University we have a well established and innovative scheme called ‘Community Gateway’. This scheme particularly works with families in Grangetown, aiming to develop long-term, equal and mutually beneficial partnerships between the residents and the services which surround them. Cardiff University aims to develop world-class research and development opportunities meeting the needs of the community.
My project was devised alongside Community Gateway to go into schools and promote sleep as a science of great importance, need, focus and current opportunity! The significance of sleep in our daily routines is under-represented and misinterpreted as an excuse to laze around. The fundamental need and dependence of sleep is something I believe wholeheartedly needs to be reinforced in the minds and lives of children internationally. The essential health benefits, academic, social and occupational benefits associated with sleep cannot be disregarded. To be able to convey this perception, I needed to devise a strategy: Why not make sleep fun!
We started by devising postcards that were delivered to schools to enable the pupils to ask me a question regarding sleep. I also wanted to know what they dream about to plant the proverbial seed in their minds (maybe it should be sheep in their minds, relating to sleep!). This ensured that I had an open path into discussing sleep. Making dreamcatchers, designing pillow cases and class dream-bed sheets sounded like a pretty reasonable route into discussing sleep with 9-10 year olds after that!
Having the option of hands-on crafts (painting and colouring) alongside brain hat-making and cuddly toys around to ‘talk’ about their sleep made for a child friendly and engaging activity. The school were amazingly accommodating, with heavy teacher involvement and interaction with both myself, my colleague Katie and the pupils too. Katie is an undergraduate at the University of Bristol (where I did my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry.) I was fortunate enough to have her facilitate the session. These are some of her thoughts on the session:
‘As an undergraduate at the University of Bristol, we are constantly encouraged to get involved with science communication. Despite this, I have never actually done so. This experience opened my eyes to how important it is to get children talking about science – specifically sleep. Many of the children we spoke to were surprised to learn how important sleep is, and how aspects of their lives can impact their quality of sleep (like watching a scary film then having nightmares about it). Many of the children particularly enjoyed colouring in different parts of the brain which was made into a hat, and they learnt which parts of the brain are responsible for different actions. There were also very excited to learn about how different animals sleep by means of using cuddly toys!
I am now aware of the competition ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me out of Here’, and think it’s a really useful platform to get young people interested in science. It has inspired me to get more involved in public engagement and education about science. Particularly with children as they can often be put off the subject at a very young age, which they then carry through life.’
Children at Grangetown Primary designing their dream bed-sheets!
Not only did the sessions create an open forum for discussion with the teachers, the pupils and Katie and myself regarding sleep and particularly dreaming, it has opened the possibility of expanding the project and taking this into more schools and events. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience even with the challenges of talking to 30 9-10 year olds about a topic so rarely touched upon. I already plan to run more activities in Sleep Awareness Week in March next year.
Being granted a rare opportunity like this by I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here has inspired me to deliver my project in more contexts, to focus on public engagement as an inherent part of my work and PhD, and to never stop being excited by and interested in the minds of children! From wanting to know how giraffe’s sleep to whether I could read their dreams – the future of science is in their hands. I have an obligation to aid their journeys along this path, and if I can do that with dream-catchers, pillow cases, brains and cuddly dolphins, then sign me up – I will be along for the ride!
If you’d like the chance to win £500 for your own public engagement activities, apply now to take part in the next I’m a Scientist event at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply.