Seeking Science Communicators!

For the past five year, the Midlands Science Festival team has been working with science engagement professionals to help us reach new audiences, improve how we carry out our work and continue to promote science as a critical part of culture and society.

Every year we try to find and build relationships with people who are interested in having or facilitating conversations about science and highlighting just how much it is a part of everyday life. Science communicators help shape our thinking. They help us to make science more accessible, help us to come up with new and innovative ways to spread science stories and they often introduce us to a more diverse range of new networking and learning opportunities across the different sectors of science communication and engagement.

Our events are for all people of all ages involved and interested in conversations about science, whether you are a scientist who does science communication as a part of your job, a volunteer, or a full-time professional in science communication and public engagement. If you would like to talk to us about getting involved in some of the work we do please get in touch and we look forward to hearing from you.

Beach safety, life boats and more for Tullamore!

Photography : Jeff Harvey

We are really excited about having a local volunteer from the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) at this year’s Midlands Science Festival.


Ronan Adams, who is originally from Tullamore, will be returning to his old stomping ground (primary school) to talk to young pupils about everything from beach and water safety, saving lives at sea and how lifeboats work.

Sir William Hillary is credited with founding the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, later renamed the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854. The way in which people use the sea has changed dramatically since the RNLI’s foundation. More people are using the water for leisure so our lifesaving service has had to change accordingly.

The RNLI saves lives at sea but beyond the fantastic work they do on lifeboats, on the water and at beaches, they also play an active part in the community too. We are delighted to welcome Ronan to local schools where he will talk to children all about safety in the water, things like why we have life guards and coast guards and how important rescue using life boats works. Ronan is the Sailing Manager at the Royal St. George Yacht Club

We think the pupils will really enjoy this one and hopefully they will learn something valuable too!


In Conversation with Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy T.D.

With just a few weeks to go until Science Week kicks off, we caught up with friend to the Midlands Science Festival, Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy T.D. Minister of State for Health Promotion to talk about the importance of science education promotion, national STEM initiatives and what we can be doing to encourage a love for science at as early an age as possible.

In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in investment in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education from government to engage young people with STEM but the number of people applying to STEM courses still needs to be increased. Is there enough being done to make schools/teachers aware of the importance of the national STEM agenda?
I think it is great to see an increase in the number of people applying to STEM courses. Initiatives like Science Week, Smart Futures and the brilliant work being done by Science Foundation Ireland are helping to improve public engagement and an increased uptake in STEM education courses. Of course there is always room for improvement but significant work is being done by the Department of Education and Skills to encourage increase participation in STEM courses.
The Department launched the National Skills Strategy 2025 in January 2016. The purpose of this strategy is to provide a framework for skills development to drive Ireland’s economic growth over the next 10 years.
A significant element of this strategy is to raise awareness of STEM courses and careers through innovative initiatives as mentioned above. This strategy also envisages a review of how STEM courses can be further incentivised and supported in Higher Education. A review is also going to be carried out on career guidance services and how STEM courses are promoted in schools particularly to female students.
In our work we have noticed the impact inspiring teachers can have on attitudes towards science. Do you think we could be doing more about primary level to encourage a love for STEM at an earlier age?

All of us remember the most inspiring teachers during our time in school and if teachers are passionate and engaged in STEM subjects then this will encourage children in Primary Education to engage with STEM.
Science Foundation Ireland runs a very successful programme called Discover Primary Science and Maths (DPSM) which supports teachers to advance science, technology, engineering and maths in schools and to make them more stimulating, relevant and visual for children.
In 2015/2016 over 800 teachers participated in a programme of Continuous Professional Development for STEM course. Over 500 schools participate in the Awards of Science and Maths Excellence which encourages and rewards schools for promoting STEM.
The Discover Primary Science and Maths (DPSM) programme has a network of 56 Science Foundation Ireland ‘Discover Centres’ that provide engaging science education outside the classroom environment. These centres include Dublin Zoo, National Parks, observatories and aquariums.

The challenge of attracting girls into STEM continues. What are the barriers do you think – Is it difficult subject syllabus, lack of career guidance or the perception that these subjects are still more male dominated?
This is no doubt a challenge for policymakers to change the perception of STEM carriers as being women friendly and in fairness I think progress is being made in this regard.
Smart Futures is a Government and Industry supported education programme supporting STEM careers in Secondary Schools and among career guidance teachers in Ireland. Smart Futures is working with Connecting Women in Technology (CWIT) to encourage more women to choose STEM career options.

A recent survey by Smart Futures found 65% of undergraduate women found ‘fitting in’ to be the most important factor when choosing a third-level degree programme. This highlights the importance of tackling negative stereotypes of STEM careers which can discourage women from making that first step towards a career in STEM. There are positive changes being made and the survey showed that initiatives like Science Week are helping to change the negative stereotypes. I also think it is hugely important for potential STEM students to be inspired by positive role models like the famous female scientist Mary Ward from my own hometown in Ferbane in County Offaly.
Smart Futures is a Government-industry initiative providing access to STEM careers information and role models to second-level students, parents, teachers and careers guidance staff. For this to succeed, volunteers are necessary. What would you say to encourage more people to get involved in this initiative to change perceptions of careers in STEM?
I would encourage all schools to engage with Smart Futures programme. As discussed above it is making significant progress in promoting STEM in schools at every level.

Exciting new science curriculums at second level are scheduled to be introduced over the coming years, will this make a difference to securing the next generation of scientists and engineers in your view?
If the image of careers in STEM being the preserve of ‘nerdy’ students and not for everybody then the new science curriculums proposed for Secondary Schools will need to inspire students who in the past may have made alternative careers choices. Careers in STEM can be extremely rewarding and they are among the best paid careers in the country. Every effort must be made to educate the next generation of the hugely varied career opportunities within the STEM sector.

Stuck for summer holiday activities?

PlaydoughPlaydough is a great way to help children develop control and strength of the muscles in their fingers and really use their imagination ..Here we are making a whole variety of cupcakes! They can learn to roll, press, flatten, shape..The possibilities are endless and it’s so much fun too!

Some sweet memories..

Science of Choc 1Not that we are allowed to pick favourites, but this was a very special event indeed! You can listen to podcast below to find out more about why we love chocolate and the science behind it!

Sea Life Fun for Midlands Schools

marine picDid you know that seals, dolphins and porpoises are regularly sighted off our Irish beaches?
Well, we have more excitement on the way this November in the form of a wonderful organisation called, Marine Dimensions, a social enterprise dedicated to marine environmental education, research and conservation. The mission of Marine Dimensions is to enhance understanding and appreciation of marine biodiversity through education, research and community based participation.
We will be hosting a number of workshops during the Midlands Science Festival through the travelling School of Marine Biology, bringing biologists and sea creatures to the region and who knows maybe we will inspire some future marine biologists in the process!


Stories of Science Success

scoil mhuire science 1The Midlands Science Festival team was delighted to catch up with Fionnuala Doheny, principal of Scoil Mhuire this week to hear all about some of the wonderful achievements the school has had in science in recent years. Heading into its third year, the Midlands Science Festival promises over 90 events across the region this November, making it the biggest and best science festival the region has seen yet.

With some of the science based activities explored at Scoil Mhuire, it is back to basics such as learning all about what floats and what sinks or gaining an understanding of light and dark through the study of shadows, but more recently students have had the opportunity to build rockets and ipads have also been used lately to access science and engineering and maths information. The school recently worked with ‘Get Smart Media’ and completed lessons on graphic keyframe animation, frame by frame animation and video editing and computer programming. In addition to all of this, a number of pupils recently visited Tullamore Library to hear from a female speaker working in the world of engineering, 6th Class pupils visited Tullamore College science lab where they were shown science topics and experiments from the second level curriculum and some also had a visit to multinational company, Ericsson in Athlone where they were given a tour of the facility and learned about the research being carried out there.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,

‘There is a long history of achievement in science and maths in Scoil Mhuire and we are delighted to have been able to work with the staff and pupils over the past few years bringing in events such as the Science Bubble Show and the Reptile Zoo Village and seeing the impact these type of events have made. We have also been in a position to deliver JUMP Math to the school in partnership with Ericsson and the philosophy around this programme is founded on a belief that all children have the capability to perform well in maths but its methods aim to remove common myths and psychological barriers to effective learning in this essential subject.’

Scoil Mhuire has received several awards from Science Federation Ireland dating back to 2006 when the school first achieved Digital school status. In 2010 the school was awarded Science and Mathematics Excellence and this was repeated again recently in 2015.

Fionnuala Doheny said,

‘Scoil Mhuire has always recognised the importance of science and maths and it has always been our goal to introduce an understanding and love of these subjects as early as possible in the classroom. It is our belief that once an appreciation of maths and a curiosity of science is established, often through fun activities such as maths trails, boat making or attending Midlands Science Festival events, it will stay with them forever and indeed many of our past pupils have taken up careers in the world of science and maths. This year two of our past pupils have achieved scholarships from the Naughton Foundation as recognition for their outstanding results in the Leaving Cert. Both students are taking up science courses at third level.’

Rediscovering Waste!

rediscovery centreWe are delighted to be bringing something very different to this year’s festival in the form of recycling. The Rediscovery Centre is a social enterprise dedicated to providing community employment and training via innovative reuse enterprises which use waste and unwanted materials as a resource and raw material for new product design.

Rediscovery Centre scientists, designers, business managers and craftsmen are united in a common purpose of sustainability through resource efficiency and life cycle design.  We are really looking forward to welcoming our friends from the centre as they bring demonstrations and educational activities to the region this year, which highlight the benefits of effective resource management and encourage everyone to REDISCOVER the value of waste.