The Universities of Aberystwyth and Glamorgan worked together to help Welsh teenagers engage with Science
Chronic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, asthma and heart disease, pose a big challenge to the NHS, according to a recent international conference
held in Cardiff by the Welsh NHS Confederation and the Assembly Government. Indeed there are deprived areas in Wales where people are at very high risks of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Scientists know that both genetics and lifestyle choices can influence the development of these diseases, however the problem is that teenagers often become disengaged with science at school and so suffer from a lack of information, which is why a recent initiative aimed to help teenagers from Communities First areas learn about genetics and other sciences, so they could make informed choices that influence their own health.
The Universities of Aberystwyth and Glamorgan came together and devised a mix of genetics and physics games that they delivered to young people across West , Mid and South Wales in order to engage teenagers, and ask them why they think that teenagers disengage with science. The idea was to learn which methods are most useful at engaging the young people, so that these ideas can be shared with others who can then also use them to deliver vital health messages.
Over 25 sessions of public engagement were given to schools and youth groups. Undergraduate and postgraduate students have ‘busked’ to groups of young people, trialling different tools and models of engagement with different audiences. They used more informal methods of engagement when visiting scout groups, youth clubs, home education groups and other venues, whilst they also worked in more formal, school based environments. The games have helped to engage the young people with science whilst also delivering a public health message.
One workshop involved fun interactive games that illustrated the role of genetics in health in an accessible way. Examples of these games included ‘Monster babies,’ where participants selected the ‘recipe’ of genes from two parents before building the resulting offspring out of plastcine.
The joint leader of the project Dr Nicola Taverner is a research associate at the University of Glamorgan. She has previously worked with young people in the GAMY, (Genetics and Merthyr Youth) Project. She said:
‘We wanted to engage individuals aged 14 to 19 within these communities, as they are at a stage of their lives when they are making choices about their lifestyle, and good habits established early are more likely to be sustained over time. They are also likely to have more information about their family health history than previous generations. We feel that they would benefit most from fun, informal, interactive activities, and we developed these games for this age group.’
‘Initial feedback has shown that teenagers viewed the games as being different from learning at school, and so they are more open to taking part. Therefore, our aim is to access young people via non-school routes as we think that this will make them more likely to engage with us. It also allows us to work with young people who are marginalised and so may not otherwise be exposed to information about genetics and health.’
Dr Sue Pester from the Centre for Widening Participation and Social Inclusion at Aberystwyth University co lead the project, she said:
‘Encouraging and motivating young people is one of the most important activities for an educator’
‘Interacting with young people and sparking their interest in science is very rewarding, providing the motivation for engagement. Also, as the new games have a public health message, the team are motivated to engage as they feel that it is important for this message to reach the wider public.’
So far the results of the project have proved very interesting. The most successful engagement activities were the more informal ‘busking’ style activities, especially those that took place in unusual locations. Lunch time busking in school playgrounds and breakfast club deliveries provided more opportunities for children to interact and ask questions than in traditional classroom environments and primary school children in particular threw themselves into the process completely. The project organisers also noticed that young people who were thought to be at risk of disaffection responded well to the more surprising busking style of delivery. The busker presentations seemed to demystify Science and generate an informality that allowed children to feel free to engage, ask questions and make suggestions freely.
The undergraduates and postgraduates that delivered the activities also benefitted from the informal busking style of delivery. So much so, that they are now keen to try out different activities in different settings, and are now more experienced in their delivery to groups of young people.
This project effectively brought together expertise from the universities of Glamorgan and Aberystwyth in order to pioneer new creative techniques of getting vital health messages across to young people. If Wales is to fight rising instances of chronic conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, asthma and heart disease, then the lessons learnt in projects like this may prove to be invaluable.
The GAMY Project
Wales Online article about health