A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get involved in the Science and Engineering Challenge, a University of Newcastle initiative to get high school students thinking about careers in (you guessed it) science and engineering.
My task for the two day competition was to supervise and score the students participating in the “Future Power” challenge. This was one of 7 activities we ran throughout the day, which also included catapult, hovercraft and bridge building. The aim of my activity involved supplying power to a city and making the most money. ALL of the kids (as far as I can tell) enjoyed the challenge and there was a lot of excitement buzzing through the room as teams raced to complete their task.
Due to a bit of an administrative hiccup, some of the students had been told they would be attending a building activity when they were in fact scheduled to spend their afternoon with me and 8 power boards, which looked like this:
Pretty daunting at first, right (except for the fluffy headband I guess)? Hence I made a point during my task brief to the students that I’d give them plenty of time to learn how to use the equipment, and that I’d come and talk to each team individually before we got started.
A certain cluster of girls took an instant dislike to me and my power boards. We were not what they were expecting and they weren’t having any of it. As I worked my way closer to their table, I could hear them complaining loudly. I approached them tentatively…
“So, how are you going? Do you have any questions?”
The ringleader folded her arms and huffed at me: “Miss, we don’t get it. It’s too hard. We want to build stuff.”
The other girls nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
And in a moment of sheer eloquence and confidence that I will likely never re-live, I replied:
“Well, it’s just as well you don’t get it already because you only just got here and you haven’t even tried. If you already got it, then it would mean you had psychic powers and I’d probably have to hand you over to the government so they could do crazy experiments on you.”
Unfortunately I didn’t get a laugh (unless you count my laugh), but I did win enough favour to be able to sit down with them without getting evil eyed into the next dimension. By this point, some of the other teams were getting pretty into it, yelling (nicely, mostly) over the top of their boards at each other. Surely enough, once they took the time and energy to try and understand what was going on, the girls grasped the concept and were keen to get started with the competition.
I was reminded of this incident today when I sat down to plan a series of experiments. I felt anxious, frustrated and annoyed with myself for taking so long to plot it all out. I wanted to give up, go home…
But wait a minute. Of course it was taking me a long time. I had never done it before. It was always going to take time and energy to think it out properly. I was never going to be able to jump into this without committing myself to understanding it first.
I’m not a psychic. And just as well,really.