Engaging Private and Public Schools in Brazil

BMSIS Young Scientist Larissa Cavalcanti led outreach events at two schools in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Larissa’s engagement was part of her Communications requirements for the BMSIS Young Scientist Program. BMSIS is continuously committed to engaging the public in the wonders of Space Exploration and the Earth System. Our Young Scientist Program continues this tradition by engaging local communities around the world.

Read Larissa’s impressions below:

During the second semester of 2016, I had the pleasure to have two distinct experiences with high school students from two different schools. The first one took place at a private school and was focused on presenting Astrobiology for interested students (enrolled in regular high school program), while the second one occurred from the beginning of September until the end of November, and my task was to mentor four students from a public Technical School in their completion of course work in Chemistry.

My first experience happened at the beginning of August, when my friend Ricardo and I organized a meeting with two classes of high schoolers from my former secondary school, called Vera Cruz. Those classes occurred during their “Special Studies Week,” for which the teachers proposed different subjects from their regular classes and the students chose between the themes they were most interested in. At first I was a little worried about only a few students singing up for our classes, and how we could organize two two-hour meetings without making them bored. Due to our little time to organize a different activity and our nearly none experience with this kind of scientific divulgation, we decided to work with what we had: two friends interested in helping us.

So, for the first class we had help from a Masters student developing a research in Origins of Life, and the discussion was focused on this matter. During the class, we were able to pass a good idea about how the research in the field works, the interdisciplinarity of the area and how the various fields of research in Astrobiology are related. We were taken by surprise when the students showed a really good knowledge about Astronomy, but fortunately we manage to deepen the topic and the discussion enriched as we moved along our planned presentation. By the end of our two hour class, some students came to talk more about Astronomy in general and Exoplanets. Happily, our next morning class was about Exoplanets, so we knew for sure that we would have some well-informed enthusiasts guaranteed.

For the next morning’s class we were more prepared to answer complex questions that they could come up with and we had time to warn our PhD guest, who would lead the presentation. By the time we arrived for the lesson, some students felt free to come talk to us, what helped us to make ourselves comfortable and, using our previously meeting as a background and taking advantage that we had already introduced a bit of the discussion, the presentation was focused in techniques of identifying exoplanets and some fun-facts about it. Both days went successfully and one of the responsible teachers invited us for future talks with his other students at Astronomy classes, which he gives at another private school.

A few days later, my coordinator invited me to mentor four students from a public Technical School in one of the tests I had to do as part of my research. My task involved introducing them to the basics techniques necessaries to work at the laboratory, explain my project, help to prepare a “work-plan” so they could finish their project in time to write their report, and look after them while they executed the experiments. Apparently, it would be simple to work with them and it truly was. Considering that they came to the laboratory hoping to work with biochemistry, there was no sign of disappointment as they started to work with more emphasis in microbiology. All of them was willing to learn and, unlike the students from my former high school, they didn`t know much about Astronomy and Astrobiology.

It was almost three months of hard work in which I spent most of the time introducing the Astrobiology`s research areas, motivating them to ask my colleagues about their research, stimulating their curiosity and explaining every part of the project and why they had to do it to encourage their independence inside the laboratory. After all, we had a good time together and, among contaminated bacteria growth cultures and working until late hours, we finished successfully all tests.

In both experiences, I learnt that working with high schoolers is not that easy and you never know how well-informed they are. At the same time, it may be fun to talk to them and fell their often-contagious enthusiasm, remembering us how amazing it`s to work with research. However, I felt the need to reach younger students, specially from public schools, since even my four cute students from one of the best public schools of Sao Paulo didn’t know much about this field. The public education in Brazil is a matter of high concern between educators and reaching young students and introducing deeper into science, from my point of view, can considerably change their view for future profession and, maybe more important, in the future transforms how common people faces this area.