Scientists, researchers and educators want to bring their scientific knowledge to a wide range of audiences. Most are especially interested in helping non-scientists understand the sometimes difficult scientific concepts. But especially engaging children with scientific topics is incredibly challenging. To reach them, an additional element is needed, namely fun! Isabel Murillo Cabeza explains for the #FEMSmicroBlog how funny and engaging children’s stories can bring science closer to young audiences. #MicrobiologyIsFun
Science outreach for children is challenging
The aim of researchers should be to engage people with scientific topics. But since audiences are highly diverse, more than one type of strategy is needed to get their attention.
Sometimes it is difficult to use appropriate language that makes sense to others who are unfamiliar with the terminology used in a particular discipline. And if the audience is also young, it becomes even more challenging. Luckily, games and books provide a world of fun to children, so they are perfect for bringing science closer to them.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children understood complicated science in the form of funny stories? Wouldn’t it be magical to bring science to children with fantastic characters full of life and with exciting things to explain? Could children’s books help disseminate science? Of course, they can.
What’s a good science story for children?
Writing a children’s story seems like an easy task. After all, who has not created a story from scratch when talking to children?
But it comes with some challenges. To reach children’s imagination and promote their curiosity, characters are needed that are easy to understand to bring life into often otherwise dry scientific concepts.
Most importantly, the story should be catchy so that every child wants to read it again and again. Other elements to take into consideration are the length and the difficulty of the story: it should neither be too long nor too complicated. If it contains illustrations, even better!
Reaching children’s attention using stories has been made possible by the writing competition “Science-me a story” organised by the Spanish Researchers in the UK (SRUK). In 2018 I wrote a short story for children and it won a prize.
Since then, a new world of opportunities to discuss microbiology with children has opened in front of me. The greatest prize for me is that children can now better understand the world of microbes.
My story, “Hello, Ms E. coli!”, is about a little girl called Hannah who meets a bacterium called E. coli. They talk about their lives while Hannah is using a microscope. The friendship between them is touching and personal but also full of information about microbiology, which is given in a way that children can understand.
Everyone can learn from children’s science stories
Without even realising, children are learning while reading. Both characters are adorable and the conversation between them is credible and accessible for young children.
I also made the story interesting for adults by adding hidden messages as they will probably read the same story repeatedly with their children. These messages, amongst others, are about antibiotic resistance and the roles of women in science.
As a children’s author, I am delighted that this story has been used in schools on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This important event aims to encourage girls to pursue science studies.
Educators also used the story to teach children microbiology techniques and how to use microscopes to observe microbes, just like little Hannah and Ms E.coli! I have participated in online talks with children and teenagers from 6 to 14 years old, who are always very curious about the story and my life as a scientist!
Recently, my story, along with those of other winners, has been published by Penguin Random House in a book called “Science-me a story. Stories for young researchers”. The book is downloadable for free from the library of The Lilly Foundation.
The story has been also made accessible to children via an audiobook. I had a lot of fun recording it with my daughter Hannah. Yes, Hannah, the same little girl who met Ms E. coli!
About the author
Dr Isabel Murillo is a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Bristol. She has been a researcher for more than 25 years and now she focuses her efforts on education and pedagogy. Isabel is interested in developing fun ways to teach microbiology which in turn helps educators communicate their subjects to students. She has also published two short stories for children, “Hello, Ms E. coli!” (available soon in print) and “The little virus who got lost” (available online).
About this blog section
The section #MicrobiologyIsFun for the #FEMSmicroBlog highlights the lighter side of microbiology, the fun in doing research, and fun facts about microbiology. It also includes interviews with scientists or examples of how playful approaches to communicating science are able to reach broader audiences.
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