I would love to be an astronaut….

We were delighted to chat to one of our youngest science festival fans earlier this week. Ciara is a 10 year old girl who started blogging about her journey learning about science and space in April this year.  Along with her Mum, she started her website www.ciarasjourney.com to encourage other kids her age to develop an interest in science and space and to write about who she meets and what she learns along the way.
Over the past few months she has managed to squeeze in visits to Dunsink Observatory, Dublin, Armagh Planetarium, The National Space Centre, Leicester, UK and most recently a trip to San Diego and Los Angeles, California to visit both The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and San Diego Air & Space Museum.
 
Ciara, at just ten years old, you are one of the biggest local fans of Science Week that we are aware of..When did you develop such a passion for science and why?
 
I was around 7 years old when I started reading about Marie Curie and other famous women scientists and it made me want to learn more about what they did and how they achieved it.
 
Are there any particular elements of science that you find particularly exciting?
 
I have quite a big interest in Physics, as I have a great interest in space as well.  However, over the last few years I have been given opportunities to look into Chemistry and Biology as I have attended a few Anyone 4 Science camps and Scientific Sue events and really enjoyed them.
 
Do you think national Science Week is a good idea and are there other ways you think we can encourage more young people to pursue science?
 
I think National Science Week is a great idea to inspire kids to learn more about science.  It gives them a chance to try something completely different that they wouldn’t always get the chance to.  I love the idea that the local community and local schools and libraries can arrange and host these events and get their resources from the website too.
 
I think there maybe more kids would be attracted to science if there were more TV programmes like “Let’s Find Out” which is running on RTEJr at the moment as it makes learning about science interesting and fun.  Maybe having more camps like Anyone 4 Science being held locally would help to?  There are several Facebook pages of demonstrations in experiments and these are things you can watch and copy at home too.  I also think maybe if you gave the kids watching these programmes and Facebook easy challenges to complete they might do them and talk about them at school too.
 
Do you know at this stage what you would like to do after you finish school?
 
I would love to be an astronaut but I would also love to be an Astrophysicist and I think I am going to end up doing both hopefully!
 
What is your favourite science fact?
 
That would be about Black Holes.  That Black Holes are almost impossible to detect.  There is only 2 ways as far as I know to find them.  One to look to space and spot a big black empty void but that isn’t always reliable as sometimes there could be something in the way.  Two, to detect stars and planets being “eaten” by the Black Hole as they disappear.

EXCITING SCIENCE WEEK EVENTS FOR LAOIS

One of the activities visitors can look forward to in Laois this year is an insect folklore video workshop with entomologist Nessa Darcy which includes a short learning session about insects, their habitats and conservation needs. Children will get a chance to make up their own insect story, which will be recorded, and to create their own rudimentary paper insect puppets and background to act out a video to illustrate their story. This workshop is suitable for aged 8+ and takes place in Portarlington Library on November 14th at 11:00am and again at 2:00pm.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,

‘We have a unique poetry reading by writer, Eleanor Hooker and a discussion with journalist, Claire O’Brien on poetry and how it describes the natural world as compared to science, how the arts and humanities relate to each other in Portlaoise Library on Friday, November 16th. This will be a wide-ranging and interesting dialogue about the conflicts and connections between the arts and science. We will be celebrating science in schools and campuses, in libraries and outdoors and we want as many people as people to come along and see that science is not just for academics and lab coats-it is everywhere and there for us all to enjoy. We are particularly looking forward to the ‘science of weather’ talk with well-known weather forecaster, Gerald Fleming. This will take place on the evening of November 13th in Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise and we look forward to welcoming people of all ages.’

This is the sixth year that a dedicated programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford. It will bring together a large number of interested participants including science communicators, performers and researchers, science and technology speakers, science and TY students, mini scientists and the general public from all over the Midlands and beyond.

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘We also have some workshops from Make Port available in Portarlington this year. This includes a tour of Fab Lab and workshop sessions covering electronics, laser engraving and 3D printing. The science festival is a real celebration of science and features something for everyone to enjoy. The Rediscovery workshops will also be back in the Midlands during Science Week, this time in Mountmellick Library on Nov 16th. In a 90 minute hands-on and fun workshop with the team from The Rediscovery Centre, children will learn about a whole range of science and environmental topics. This fun and engaging workshop is being provided by the Rediscovery Centre who are focussed on the science of sustainability in our communities.

LEARN ABOUT PAIN DURING SCIENCE WEEK IN ATHLONE

How we experience and manage pain is a complex and sometimes emotional process. This free lunchtime lecture will take place during this year’s Midlands Science Festival on November 14th in Athlone Library and will explore our relationship with pain and painkillers.

This event part of a series of bite-sized science talks, where those attending can pop in on their lunch break for some science, free tea and coffee and snacks and there will be an opportunity for questions and answers.. You’ll learn something new during your lunchbreak and we encourage questions and discussion at this event.

Join Dr Gary Stack of AIT’s School of Nursing and Healthcare for a lunchtime lecture on painkillers, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Photography – An art and a science!

Veronica Nicholson is a photographic artist and educator, with a Masters degree in Digital Art who lives in Co. Offaly. Her book Observing Offaly, a commission from Offaly County Council, was published in 2016.

Veronica, we are thrilled to announce that you will be partaking in this year’s Midlands Science Festival.

Thanks. I’m delighted to be taking part.

We would love to find out more about your work as a photographer here in the Midlands. What inspired you to take up photography?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school but I bought a camera in 1984 and found something I was good at and that I loved, and that also connected me with people and the world around me. Before that I think I felt quite disconnected and that was painful, whereas photography was, and still is, a complete joy.

My first job was as an apprentice to the photographer in the National Gallery of Ireland which was great fun, and I also started a part-time Diploma in Professional Photography in the Dublin Institute of Technology. I then trained in a commercial studio while finishing college. In college I was able to flex my creative muscles; in the studio I learned the profession. After college I went freelance and I also started teaching photography, as well as exhibiting my art photography in exhibitions. I’ve continued this mix ever since.

How did your book Observing Offaly come about?

I applied for and was awarded a Percent for Arts Commission from Offaly County Council in 2015 to make a book of photographs about contemporary life in Offaly. It was a dream project as I had permission to delve into all areas of peoples lives, and people were so generous inviting me into their homes and work places. I traveled all around the county with a mission to show the beauty of the boglands and the Grand Canal, and to highlight a county that is often seen as a place to drive through to get somewhere else. I also covered the news stories like the Equality Referendum and the floods, the general election of 2016, the Tullamore show, and the annual pilgrimage on Croghan Hill. I also made a point of highlighting the work of women farmers, who so often get overlooked. The result was a hardback book of nearly 150 photographs, which is for sale in all the libraries in Offaly.

How do you feel you combine art with science in your work?

It could be said that photography is both an art and a science.

The notion of a photograph dawned on one of the inventors of photography Henry Fox Talbot in 1833 while he using a camera lucida as an aid in drawing the Italian countryside near Lake Como. Dissatisfied with his inability to capture the beauty of the refracted image he saw, the artist and scientist began experimenting with chemical solutions to fix images on paper coated with silver nitrate. “How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper,” he mused. Six years later he achieved his goal.

When I’m taking a photograph, the science is a given, it’s not what I’m thinking about. Yes, every time a photograph is taken, light is bent through a piece of glass – this is optics; when the light hits the film or sensor, a chemical reaction takes place. But I’m concentrating instead of the subject, making decisions on how to frame and compose, what kind of light is falling on the subject, what combination of shutter speed and aperture to use, what ISO to set the camera etc etc. That’s the art I guess.

What can we expect from your participation in Science Week here in the Midlands this year?

I’m giving a talk called ‘Drawing with Light – the Science of Photography.’ We will look a bit at what light is and how the eye sees that portion of the electromagnetic radiation we call the visible spectrum. I will be giving a brief introduction into the invention of photography and why 1839 is the year given, even though cameras already existed, as did the knowledge that light had an effect on certain chemical substances. So what happened in 1839, the date given for the invention of photography?

We will also have some fun with everyone getting a chance to try their own ‘writing with light.’

The talks are in Stradbally library and Birr Castle. The event at Birr Castle Demense will include a visit to Mary Rosse’s nineteenth-century photographic dark room, the oldest surviving dark room in the world.

 

LONGFORD TO CELEBRATE THE BEST OF SCIENCE

The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and is a wonderful chance to bridge the gap between science and the public, opening discussion around many important developments and build people’s science capital in the region.

The week-long annual event, which is hosted by the Midlands Science and a number of partners including one of Ireland’s leading healthcare companies, Abbott in Longford, is heading into its sixth year and promises to bring together members of the public with scientists, engineers, technologists and science workshop performers. With over 120 free events on offer across the Midlands region, large numbers of people are expected to turn out to celebrate science this November.

The festival is an excellent opportunity to inspire young adults and the next generation of scientists. One of the activities on the agenda for Longford this year includes a day exploring “What Happens Next?” at Longford County Library on Nov 13th.  This interactive lecture suitable for primary school classes from 4th class up. In the presentations, a series of simple experiments are demonstrated, but paused at a critical point and students asked to predict what will happen next? Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.

This year’s festival also sees the return of qualified marine biologists, Marine Dimensions, where lessons on living things in Ireland’s seas and oceans will take place in Ballymahon Library all day on the 14th of November. This workshop includes a touchpool containing live sea creatures, including starfish, shrimp, anemones, crabs and sea snails and is always a popular Science Week activity with younger pupils.

On November 16th, Granard Library will host the Reptile Zoo Village where a variety of animals from snakes and spider to tortoise will be visiting for the day and on the 17th Midlands Science is delighted to welcome back the award-winning team from ‘Anyone for Science’ – this time to Longford County Library. Their hands-on, age-appropriate workshops are suitable for children from Junior Infants to 6th Class and every child gets to participate in some hands-on science.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,

‘Science is all around us in everything we can see and touch and this is the sixth year that a free programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the Midlands counties. You don’t need to be a science expert or professor to begin to explore the world of science and our festival is an excellent event for giving both children and adults opportunities to think about the world around them and about why things actually are the way they are!

We are particularly looking forward to the ‘Discovery Day, which will take place in Saturday, November 10th in St. Mel’s secondary school in Longford from 10:00am until 2:00pm. The event will be run in partnership with Abbott and will offer a unique opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to experience a whole range of science and technology fun, including science activities with Anyone 4 Science, The Dinosaur Show with Dale Treadwell, The Exploration Dome, The Reptile Zoo Village, the Under the Microscope team, and innovative science activities with Abbott.’

The science festival will highlight cutting-edge research and bring together people from across the scientific disciplines and beyond. A key aim throughout the festival and Science Week itself is to get people thinking about science in a wider context and how it plays a critical and central role in every element of our society.’

See www.midlandsscience.ie for more event details and booking and join us this November 11th-18th in celebrating science in Longford!

Photo:

One of our spider friends from the Reptile Zoo Village

SCIENCE FUN IN WESTMEATH THIS NOVEMBER

The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and promises a full programme of innovative and fun hands-on events. Some of the activities we can look forward to in Westmeath this year include The Exploration Dome; Ireland’s most advanced digital mobile planetarium. The Exploration Dome uses state of 3-D digital projection technology, stunning graphics and computer simulations to explain a wide variety of science subjects such as astronomy and there’s also an under the sea experience. This immersive and exciting experience will be coming to the Gateway Youth Project in Athlone, is suitable for all age groups and each session lasts 30 minutes.

Science Week, which is managed by ‘SFI Discover’ the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, will take science out of the lab and into libraries, theatres, sports clubs and primary school halls, giving people a variety of fun ways to explore and open up a multitude of ideas for a potential future career in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This is the sixth year that a dedicated programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford. It will bring together a large number of interested participants including science communicators, performers and researchers, science and technology speakers, science and TY students, mini scientists and the general public from all over the Midlands and beyond.

‘Inventing The Impossible’ is one workshop which is coming to Abbey Road Studios in Athlone and will feature artist Paul Timoney in character as Leonardo da Vinci with his colleague Mona Lisa. This workshop allows participants to meet Leonardo and Mona Lisa who will show them some pages from Leonardo’s notebooks and explain his process, emphasising the relationship between focused observation and free imagination.

Midlands Science Festival Director, Jackie Gorman said,

‘We are delighted to be heading into our sixth year with the festival and in planning the year’s programme, we have secured some really new and different events and activities as well as bringing back some of the most popular ones from previous years. As always we have partnered with a number of organisations and academia including Athlone Institute of Technology and all Midlands libraries to create opportunities which aim to excite students about science. We will also have high-value science career talks, the return of Mary Ward’s Amazing World of Wonder” which celebrates Ireland scientific heritage and a lunchtime lecture at Athlone Library on painkillers. This is part of a series of bite-sized science talks, where those attending can pop in on their lunch break for some science, free tea and coffee and snacks. You’ll learn something new during your lunch break and we encourage questions and discussion at this event.’

The festival is a real celebration of science and features something for everyone to enjoy. There is plenty planned including “What Happens Next?” by David Featonby who has a particular interest in making science teaching interesting, relevant and fun. This interactive lecture which takes place in Castlepollard Library during Science Week, is suitable for secondary school classes and will feature a series of simple experiments which often have quite unexpected outcomes. Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.

Friday, November 16th brings an all about the science of murder, poisonings and terrorism to the Little Theatre in Athlone. Dr Craig Slattery is a toxicologist and science communicator and he will explain the science of poisons. He will be joined by Brian Gibson of Forsenic Science Ireland, who will explore the world of forensics and how it helps solve crimes including murders. Completing this trio is Professor Andrew Silke, who is originally from Athlone and is now based in the UK. He has a background in forensic psychology and criminology. Due to the issues which will be discussed at this event, this event is over 16’s only. A crime scene will be live from 7.30pm with prizes for those who solve the crime using their smart-phone !

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘We have such a wide array of events this year for Westmeath. Another one that we are really excited about is our Dinosaur event with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild who is well known for his RTEjr Television slots with Albie the Why Guy and Dustin the Turkey featuring wildlife to be found in Irish back gardens. Dale will be joined by some realistic Cretaceous Creatures on this interactive show and looks forward to meeting as many Dinosaur fans as possible this Science Week in Athlone.’

Photo: Ethan from Athlone meeting one of Dale’s larger Dino friends!

Driving the Digital Revolution in the Midlands with Wriggle

Wriggle Roadcaster bus at Citywest Conference Centre.
Pictured is Simon Close, Primarty Level Lead Wriggle.ie, demostrates the ‘Sphere Robitics’.
Picture by Colm Mahady / Fennells – Copyright© Fennell Photography 2018

We are delighted to be providing some very new and exciting training this year for primary and secondary school teachers during Science Week with Irish educational technology company, Wriggle Learning. Using their Roadcaster, training from Wriggle will include Sphero, micro:bit, coding and VR/AR to demonstrate how technology can be used to support teaching and learning in schools across the country.

 
I caught up Simon Close, Wriggle’s Primary School Lead, to find out more.
 
Simon, we are really excited to be featuring Wriggle for the first time during Midlands Science Festival 2018! Your mission statement says, ‘At Wriggle, we pull all the pieces of the puzzle together.’ Can you tell us what this means and a little about what Wriggle do to support a school’s digital journey?
There have been significant changes to the Irish school curriculum in the last 5 or 6 years, particularly at post primary level with the introduction of the JCSA in 2014 and redesign and modification is still happening, which is fantastic. At the heart of this change is the use of technology. However, working with our partner schools, teachers and the wider school community, we have seen first-hand that we can’t simply throw the latest technology at a school and assume that change will happen overnight. The implementation of technology for teaching and learning needs to be considered, well thought out and ultimately, desired by all of those involved.
We support schools with formulating a longer-term vision for the use of technology in the classroom as well as providing the fundamental elements to make it happen i.e. technology, content, support and training.
 
Wriggle’s continuing professional development (CPD) model works with groups of educators in schools throughout Ireland to develop their skills and maximise the use of technology in their teaching. Have you delivered this to many teachers to date and what has the feedback been like?
To date, we have delivered training to more than 10,000 teachers throughout Ireland and we have seen a big jump in the last 12 months from teachers and schools looking to engage with us to deliver CPD. The importance of technology at Junior Cycle has meant schools are now having to utilise ePortfolio’s to store student work, carry out Class Based Assessment (CBA) and potentially introduce coding as part of the short course requirements.
The training workshops that we provide ensure that teachers are comfortable and proficient using the technology that is aligned to elements such as these.
 
Can you tell us about your own background and what led to your current role at Wriggle?
I started out working with our partner company Typetec in their graphic arts division having completed a business degree in DIT. I have been with Wriggle since its inception in 2013 and my roles to date have been focussed mainly around sales and marketing but when working for a start-up you do find yourself getting involved in all elements of the business which can be a real eye opener!
Supported by an incredible team, we have driven strong growth at post primary level and are now partnered with close to 200 schools and manage and support more than 40,000 devices. In 2017 we launched Wriggle Jr. to provide similar products and services to primary schools. I recently started a new role (School Development Director) responsible for the sales and marketing functions for our primary and post primary teams. It’s an exciting time!
 
Do you think parents play a significant role in supporting the digital education of their children? What can they do to support it better?
I think arguably, parents play the most important role in supporting the digital education of their children. It can be a daunting prospect for parents when it comes to the utilisation of technology in school, especially when it’s a personalised device that they bring home with them every day. However, we work closely with parents to provide the reassurances that their sons and daughters aren’t getting access to social media, games or inappropriate content on their devices because we have locked all of those elements down.
We also provide training for parents to demonstrate how they can manage their children’s devices in their own homes by keeping tabs on their screen time, internet browsing history and other useful tips and tricks. It will always be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve but as parents, we need to involve ourselves in our children’s education, technology or no technology.
 
What exactly is the Wriggle Roadcaster?
The Wriggle Roadcaster is a cutting edge 21st  century technology classroom on wheels! We repurposed it from a former library bus and have transformed it into a 21st century mobile learning classroom. It is designed to showcase to teachers and students what technology can do to support engagement and enhance teaching. Inside, the Roadcaster is kitted out with tablets, robotics, drones, coding equipment and other state of the art technological tools.
It travels around schools in Ireland, demonstrating to teachers and students at primary and secondary level how technology can be easily integrated into teaching and learning. It has been such a huge success so far and we’re trying our best to visit as many schools as possible in the months ahead.

HEATWAVES, HURRICANES AND HAIL!

Learn All About the Weather this November in Laois with Midlands Science

The countdown to this year’s Midlands Science Festival is certainly on now and the week-long event will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th. Attendees should expect to find a range of speaking events, workshops and performances about cutting-edge science from world-leading speakers and academics and there will be lots of fun for people of all ages throughout the festival week.
Midlands Science Festival Director Jackie Gorman commented on one exciting, free event which will be coming to Laois this year,
‘How accurate is weather prediction? Is long-range forecasting reliable? Given the real extremes of weather that the country saw earlier this year, we are particularly looking forward to this year’s ‘science of weather’ talk with well-known weather forecaster, Gerald Fleming. This will take place on the evening of November 13th in Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise and we look forward to welcoming people of all ages to explore ‘The Science of a Grand Soft day.’

Gerald Fleming said,
‘I am delighted to be partaking in this year’s Midlands Science Festival and I look forward to coming to Laois to discuss something which is so universal to us all. My talk will explore a background to the science of climate change and will detail the work done in recent decades both to refine the science and to provide adequate, understandable summaries of the key issues to help society decide on appropriate policies and actions. We will examine key questions as to whether we can enjoy a sustainable lifestyle while protecting our atmosphere. Events like ‘Science Week’ are a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at so many different issues that affect us in day to day life and the weather is certainly one which has begun to spark more and more interest, particularly when we reflect on the year which has just passed. I look forward to debate and discussion on the night and hopefully plenty of questions and curiosity about the science of weather.’

Jackie Gorman continued,
‘We are delighted to bringing a whole range of science events to Laois and this particular talk which is open to the public, is one which promises to be both informative and entertaining. Known for his engaging style of presenting, trademark wink and sign-off, Gerald recently retired from Met Eireann, where he had served as head of forecasting for many years. He has been involved in weather forecasting and public engagement with forecasts for many serious weather events in Ireland over the years. Weather is a pretty safe topic of conversation especially here in Ireland. It’s too hot or it’s too cold, it can affect whether schools or transport networks run and it can influence the decision of wedding dates and potential holiday-makers year on year. The science behind the natural forces that cause the weather is extremely interesting and this event will explore views on how we can engage with the challenges presented by climate change and extreme weather events, so do come along and hear all about it on the night.’
This evening will also include students from Timahoe National School presenting findings from their school weather station – ensuring that the next generation of weather forecasters are thriving in Laois! The team from Midlands Science want to ensure that that in rolling out 120 events across Science Week that there is something for everyone and there is no doubt that the weather is of interest to each and every one of us. Check out www.midlandsscience.ie for more details on how you can book this and other events for Science Week 2018 in Laois and beyond.

New Partnership with County Libraries

Local development company Midlands Science is pleased to announce a new strategic alliance with the county libraries across the region are to jointly promote Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) education. This collaboration will include the joint management and roll out of a programme of free, informative and fun workshops and expert speaking events which will take place in libraries in Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath during national Science Week from November 11th to 18th 2018. 
This partnership approach aims not only to encourage an increasing number of schools to engage in Science Week activities but to also provide more venues whereby a vast array of different STEM education activities can take place. This not only makes more logistical sense but will also mean organisers can make the most out of the time and expertise provided by the science communicators and scientists, performers and talented speakers who take part in the Midlands Science Festival each year.
Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,
“We are delighted to announce this new partnership with local Midlands library services and we are now well on the way to agreeing our schedule of events for this year’s annual Midlands Science Festival. The objective is to provide as many high-quality outreach events as possible during our week-long programme during Science Week in order to achieve our goal of increasing the number of students, teachers and parents in attendance. We want to find and foster the scientists of the future and feel we have made great strides over the past six years in encouraging more and more young people to consider science as a possible third level and career option. This collaborative approach will really help us to expand our interaction with key audiences by letting the libraries take centre stage as a key hosting venue and we are really looking forward to sharing more details with schools and the public very soon.’
The Midlands Science Festival for 2018 is shaping up to even bigger than previous years with over 120  events already planned to take place across the region this November. Visitors will see the return of some of firm favourites such as the Reptile Zoo, Junior Einsteins’ Science Club, Anyone for Science and Marine Dimensions sealife workshops but there will also be a number of new and exciting events for this year which will focus on subjects such as technology, heritage, nature and ecology.
Martina Needham, Executive Librarian at Offaly County Libraries said,
‘We are really proud to be working with the team at Midlands Science to deliver a vast array of events, performances and exhibitions with a scientific twist.  We are particularly excited about the Science Book Club initiative which will hopefully encourage our readers of all ages to choose a Science themed read as part of the Science Week Celebrations. Why not join us as we shine a light on the many different ways science surrounds us, share ideas and enjoy fascinating seminars, performances and workshops in our local library this November?’

“Don’t mow! Let it grow!”

We are thrilled to announce something very different and exciting for the Midlands Science Festival 2018 in the shape of bug-centric learning sessions! We are delighted to be welcoming Creative Entomologist, Nessa D’arcy who will explore the world of bugs with some of our very lucky younger audiences. We had a chat to Nessa to find out a little bit more about her work and interests in advance of her workshops…
 
Nessa, how would you describe the role of a Creative Entomologist?
I aim to reintroduce humans to their natural habitat through colourful encounters with insects. So far, this includes insect surveys for conservation, bug-centric workshops and outings, and art which celebrates the beauty, diversity and importance of these essential and under-appreciated ecosystem engineers. Creative Entomologist is a job title I created for myself when I couldn’t bring myself to choose between a career in conservation or my art practice, and I’ve found that great things happen for both when I combine the two!
What kinds of things will the pupils learn about during your Science Week workshops?
The children will take part in a storytelling and video making project on the theme of insect folklore and ecology. We’ll explore legends and urban myths about bees, beetles and other bugs, as well as learning about their needs, their roles in the ecosystem, and actions we can take to help them thrive. I’m excited to see the results, as the storyline and visuals for the video will be guided by the children’s own curiosity and creativity. The aim is also to create something which captures the public’s attention and conveys a call to action for insect conservation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to work with such small creatures?
I have been fascinated by all creatures great and small since I was big enough to terrorise the neighbours with a handful of slugs. As a child I would get upset if someone put a spider out of the house without showing it to me first! The macro world was (and still is) a calm place for me to escape to, a resource in times of stress. Being able to name animals and plants gave me confidence. I’ve seen nature experiences having the same effect on children when I’ve volunteered with OWLS Children’s Nature Club and when I do Heritage in Schools workshops. Throughout my MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation and my work on SEED Madagascar’s conservation programme, my earlier degree in Fine Art always had an influence, and my mum predicted years ago that I would someday combine art and science!
Are your events interactive-are there some opportunities for the mini scientists to get hands-on?
Always. I teach the kids insect-sampling techniques outdoors between spring and autumn, and will be bringing some six-legged friends into my winter workshops. My dream is to have everyone finding, identifying and recording insects in their local area. The more records we have the better we can make decisions about conserving our wildlife. It’s easy to make a real contribution. In my workshop for Midlands Science there will also be a chance to get hands on with art materials!
My mother used to always tell us, ‘insects are just some God’s special creatures!’ What would you say to help a child who is afraid of bugs?
We fear the unknown, and sometimes all it takes to overcome this fear is meeting an insect face to face and learning something about it. The same applies to meeting new people, and we need more of this in both cases! I explain that a bee or wasp that flies near you is just looking for a flower and means no harm. Even the poor vilified false widow spider will only bite if you harass it. I once had a pupil who strongly disliked insects at the start of a workshop but by the end she wanted to take a pair of mating dock beetles home with her to see them produce offspring! I think it was the story of their shiny green romance that won her over. Storytelling has great power to elicit empathy, and I think my enthusiasm and affection for bugs might be a little contagious too.
‘Nessa’s work draws people in to familiarise themselves intimately with insects.’ This statement on your website shows your passion for the bug world. Why do we as a society need to talk about this more and what can we doing to encourage the next generation to do to help?
An experienced natural beekeeper was once asked why bees are in decline, and he answered, “Because we don’t love them enough”. Loving something requires understanding it and what it needs. Most people know that bees pollinate our crops and are at risk, so they will happily grow flowers and put up bee hotels. But it’s less widely known that most other insects are disappearing too, threatening the very functioning of the environment, and flowers alone can’t save them. One of the biggest hurdles to insect conservation is our perception of ‘wild’ as ‘untidy’. Long, luscious grassland full of wildflowers, hedgerows bursting forth with flowers and fruit, and delicious dead wood are all essential habitats for insects. Dandelions are an essential early food source for pollinators, and nettles are the sole food plant of some of our most beautiful butterflies. I get a kick out of sending kids home to their parents chanting, “Don’t mow! Let it grow!”
My parents claim I didn’t learn my bug knowledge from them. This shows that even if you don’t know much about nature yourself, supporting your kids’ outdoor exploration of nature with the help of some books (and now some really helpful social media groups), is enough to encourage them to want to save the world!
Photo credit: Charline Fernandez of greennews.ie.