There’s nothing more awesome than a conversation with someone who is infectiously inspired and excited. Especially a passionate scientist! If the image of a grey-haired old Einstein-esque man in a white lab coat pops into your mind when you think about chatting with a scientist, then you need to read this interview with Jess Yarrow from Street Science.
Street Science is a Brisbane-based team of scientists and educators who bring real science to your classroom door! In order to share a little bit of that passion with you, we’ve had a chat with Jess about all things Street Science, about being a passionate woman working in STEM and why it’s so important to get primary school kids involved in real science experiences.
A Rocket Launching Day Job
TS: What led you to a career in Science?
Jess: It’s as though this job was made for me. I’ve always been a logical/mathematical type thinker and excelled in STEM at school, with huge thanks to supportive parents and those few amazing teachers who took the extra time to extend my interests, in science especially. I can even remember a performance at my primary school, very much like the shows I do now, where a particular liquid nitrogen demonstration blew my mind open to science as this amazing, exciting thing.
No-one was surprised when I entered straight into a science degree at UQ after school and found my passion for the deeper workings of my majors, Botany and Genetics. After my honours year, I scored a ‘sweet’ job on campus researching sugarcane fertiliser use efficiency (excuse the pun). Working there for over four years I was known as the clown of my research group, always entertaining. I eventually realised that my passion lay in communicating the concepts and importance of our work to the community, rather than doing the research itself. I started a Graduate Diploma in Education, hoping for the chance to give kids that same experience that sparked my passion for science. I hunted for and found my rightful place in the small yet passionate Street Science family and have never looked back!
TS: Why do you do what you do?
Jess: As a science educator, I feel I am contributing to healthy futures… for the kids I teach and for the planet. I believe that critical scientific thinking skills are hugely important for everyone to have, whether working in STEM or not. With all the information, and mis-information, available so readily in smartphones and EVERYWHERE else these days people need the skills to question and evaluate what they read.
Growing up on the Gold Coast I have a huge respect for our stunning natural environments so personally love that a career in science can contribute towards sustainability, and that I can pass this passion on to the next generations as an educator as well. My honours thesis was on a developing biofuel source so I have seen and really want to support innovation in these hugely important research fields.
TS: What does a normal day look like for Street Science Jess?
Jess: I consider myself lucky that I get to visit a different school every day! I’ll pack my super cool science van, drive to a new school and unpack my gear to turn the hall into my own Street Science laboratory. The best days then start with our Signature Science stage show where I get to handle materials like liquid Nitrogen, dry ice, plenty of fire and create the odd fireball or explosion. Using such exciting demonstrations really give our incursion an air of celebration so that this learning experience is seen by most kids as a treat rather than just another lesson. These shows too, are different every day as each is designed to help us teach the curriculum of a specific year level.
I then love following up a whole year-level show with class-by-class workshops where the kids get a chance to get hands-on and really explore the concepts introduced in the show. Our programs all match up with common C2C and Primary Connections units so quite often this is a chance for them to explore new concepts in a fun way that teachers can refer back to or elaborate on understandings of what they’ve been learning in class. Today I got to help 90 Year 2 students make their very own rockets and launch them around in the schoolyard… is there a better way to explore push and pull forces?
TS: What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had teaching kids through Street Science presentations?
Jess: Every day we’ll have kids run up to us after a session to say “This is the best day EVER!”. But, for me, the most rewarding experiences usually come when I see a light dawn in kids eyes when they realise that I, a young and fun female, am actually a real scientist – that anyone can be a scientist. There are few moments more amazing than having a group of giggly, Year 2 girls who would usually choose pink everything and gush about being dancers or singers at break, suddenly loving their ugly green slime, chanting that they want to be scientists when they grow up.
TS: Why should teachers expose kids to “real” science as opposed to just teaching theories with worksheets?
Jess: Science is real! Science is everything and everywhere! Science, to me, is an interest in understanding the reasons why everything in the world happens the way it does. Teaching science as a real, hands-on subject contextualises the information in the real world that we live so that they can better construct their understanding of real-life experiences. It’s resource heavy for teachers, I know, but there are real people like us who love to help. We hope to inspire the teachers to love teaching and learning science as much as the kids!
Science Experiences for Schools
Street Science provides so many options for schools, community groups, businesses and families to experience science in a real and exciting way. Like Jess, they are a team of passionate, experienced scientists and educators who want to show your students not only that science is awesome, but that they too can have a rewarding career in science! You can visit the Street Science schools page for all the details of the shows and programs on offer.
If your school isn’t near the Street Science team you’ll need other ways to bring this excitement to your classroom… On the Street Science website, you’ll find a page filled with awesome ideas for science experiments you can do with your students. These include making a rocket, a lava lamp or a table top hovercraft!