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The value of DIY skills for science educators

Written by Ben Newsome on October 26th, 2016.      0 comments

Value of DIY for educators
DIY skills are highly valued!

On posting up a recent science educator position I was contacted by a good friend of mine asking what sort of skills might be needed to fill this type of position. Predictably I mentioned they would need to know their science intimately and be able to communicate these concepts effectively ... however it surprised my friend when I suggested that the ability to create and build things to a timeline in a team environment would also be highly valued. When asked to explain more I mentioned that our educators often have to create new apparatus for new school science shows and are also constantly fixing broken things, often on the fly. One day it could be a broken Lego robot USB port and on the next day we might need to build a sturdy wind turbine for a renewable energy workshop. Put simply, we love DIY skills too!

For us, knowing scientific concepts is just one part of a larger picture
as a travelling science educator. Being able to use hand and power tools is important; for example, imagine being on a remote school country tour and you have to fix a broken piece of equipment before your next show! Having do-it-yourself skills is not just about self-reliance though, it also allows you contribute effectively in multi-disciplinary teams and allows you get a deeper perspective on how things actually work. As a consequence, you can then explain those concepts to the students making you a much more effective educator. I know of a few science staff rooms who highly value people who have the ability to use their hands for this very reason!

Soldering
Soldering circuits

The ability to use your hands when designing and creating working apparatus is incredibly satisfying and is at the heart of the maker movement. For pre-service science teachers looking to secure work in the near future perhaps it's worth learning some extra skills that go beyond what you learn at University? Even if your goal is not to work as a science educator it really is a life skill to be able to know how to weld, understand how to use a drop saw safely, how to work with timber and much more.

Rubens tube on the mill
Drilling holes on our Rubens Tube for the Science of Sound Show


Some people have the opportunity to pick up many of these skills just by hanging around family members and friends but for some it is during high school where they're first exposed to tools you'd find in a hardware store. In NSW where I live the subject taken in high school is called Technical and Applied Studies (TAS), a fantastic course which covers technical drawing, materials sciences, industrial design, project management skills and much more. If you're a bit older I'd highly recommend some of the short courses offered by the NSW Technical & Further Education (TAFE) Colleges or via Community Colleges Australia where you can learn everything from carpentry to plumbing to home mechanics. Seriously, knowing how to fix your car on the side of the road is a highly useful skill!

Building a wind turbine
Building a wind turbine for our Go Green with Giants show for GWS

Of course, you don't have to have formal qualifications to be great at handy work... it just takes practice and some guidance from a mentor. Personally, outside of work I've found that the variety of build tasks at Fizzics has also helped me be able to put together odd jobs around the home!

Drop saw cutting metal

Drop saw cutting metal 

So, if you're looking to get started in science outreach or science teaching don't just think that it's only about the ability to communicate science effectively; think more broadly about how you can help contribute to the interesting experiments and development projects that happen behind the scenes. Additionally, how can you put these skills to good use within the science classroom itself? These handy skills stay with you for life and can only benefit both you and those around you as a result!

Happy teaching,

Ben

Ben Newsome
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