At the beginning of the semester we had a class on communicating science, which came at the perfect time for me. My research group was planning a service trip to Flint, MI over spring break to go around to schools in the area to explain the science behind the Flint Water Crisis. They goal of the trip was twofold, 1) to educate the students so that they can better understand what happened and what they can do to help and 2) to get the students interested in science by showing them different demonstrations about water chemistry and corrosion. While many of the students in our group had given presentations on Flint, they were mostly at Civil Engineering conferences where most of the attendees had background knowledge on the crisis and water quality in general.
At first we thought we would be able to take the base presentation that out group has for conferences and adapt them so that students could follow them and stay engaged. However we soon realized that making a presentation on the science behind the Flint water crisis was going to be a much greater task than we initially thought. I think we came-up with at least 3 presentations before we finally found something that worked, and the students who actually went up to Flint were adapting the presentation throughout the week once they found out what worked and what didn’t work at each school.
This processes was really eye-opening to us. We realized that we were so invested in this project since we had be working on it and presenting on it for over a year and a half that there were a lot of things that we knew but wouldn’t be apparent to someone who wasn’t on our team. Luckily we had a student who was coming up to Flint with us who wasn’t actually a member of the Flint Water Study Team and actually wasn’t on the Environmental track of Civil Engineering so she was able to tell us when we were brushing over a concept that these students might not fully understand.
We also had to make the presentation engaging and relatable for the students so we had to think about what they were learning in their science classes and how we could incorporate it into the presentation. Someone in our group suggested we use the scientific method (observe, ask, test, analyze, observe again, and communicate) to help explain what happened. This is a concept that most students learn early on in their science classes so we assumed that the majority of our audience would be able to follow it. At first we thought this would just be a good thing to add to the end of our presentation once we had already discussed what happened in Flint and the science behind it, kind of like a conclusion to our presentation, but after a few meetings and a run through of our presentation we realized that it would actually be better if the scientific method was the theme for our presentation so we used it to tell the story of Flint.
While this seemed like an extremely long process at the time (it seemed like we were completely changing the presentation every time we met) I think it was a great learning experience for us all. We were able to step back from the work that we were doing and make sure it could be explained to younger students.