Science on the Street Aims to Make Learning Fun

Mar 13, 2017

DIYbio Boston at the Cambridge Science Festival, a partner for this year's Science on the Street Cape Cod.
Credit Mackenzie Cowell

We’re used to hearing about upcoming concerts and movies. This weekend, there’s another option - called Science on the Street. Think art or food festival, but with science instead. Jill Neumayer-DePiper, director of Cape Cod Regional STEM Network, shared what it's all about.

LL: What kinds of activities or exhibits will people find at Science on the Street?
We have exhibits from school groups, museums, and non-profits and other groups on Cape.  What makes us unique is that we ask that exhibits all include the doing of science, engineering, or technology.  For younger students, there are exhibits that are around boat building and ramps. For a bit older students, we have the LegoWed robots, coding in the computer lab, and activities with biochemistry and DNA.  We also have exhibitors from the media center who are sharing a green screen and ones from the Aviation program who are sharing their new machinery.  And we have students who are sharing their school projects, which gives them an opportunity to show off what they have learned and helps others learn about what is happening in schools, too.

We mix up the exhibits to have the space be interesting for families and community members - so a middle schooler and a parent can both be engaged in new learning - and we have volunteers from the college and from business and industries.  In this way, it is a time for knowledge sharing across groups-- hearing from college students about their microbiology projects and from engineers from Lockheed Martin and OpenCape about what they do, too.  The volunteers and community involvement help make this interesting because of their own experiences as well. 

LL: When you go to an art or music or food festival, the goal is just to enjoy yourself. Do science festivals have to be educational?
While the goal is to enjoy yourself at art and food festivals, I think that that goal is to also expand your thinking about art and food - and have more options or at least a lot of options in one place.  And that is what we do here, too.  In that way, it is a learning experience, where attendees get to engage in activities that they may not be able to fit into one afternoon otherwise.  Being able to do work with model railroads, build in an augmented reality sandbox, and try out a welder is similar to having many different food stalls, I guess.  And from that variety, we think that we engage lots of different people in different types of learning.

Main goals are to expand individuals understandings of science and engineering and what it looks like on Cape Cod.  For example, science isn't always in lab coats, and technology doesn't only mean coding.  It also includes learning about energy efficiency and what components of design support something in being aerodynamic.  In our case, these activities are fun, but they are about science and engineering.  We hope that when attendees see all of the science and engineering here, they can see themselves in these areas or are inspired to learn more.

LL: Cape Cod Regional STEM Network has been organizing public science events for a number of years. What kinds of lessons have you learned about how to get people excited about science?
Keep it local.  And work on depth.  For us, this means that we try to include as many groups in our area as possible, for non-profits to student groups, to councils and museums.   And then ask them to really showcase what they do.  While STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it means more than that to us - STEM is about innovation and problem solving, and we ask exhibitors to highlight the innovations and critical thinking that they do, rather than have a cursory attention to STEM.

We also are partnering this year with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and Cambridge Science Festival, as they both have a history of successful events and deep roots in our community.  We find that working with these two groups has helped us have a broader reach for this event.