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A programme of activities (exhibitions, workshops, teacher training) to promote education and scientific knowledge in local communities far from the socio-economic centres of the country.

EDUCATIONAL LEVEL (age)

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ANALYSIS OF INNOVATION

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1. PROBLEM THAT THE INNOVATION TRIES TO SOLVE

Given the size of Australia, regional and remote areas can be in geographically hard-to-reach places.

These regions can therefore be disadvantaged through lack of access to quality educational opportunities, opportunities that metropolitan-based children take for granted. 

The Science Circus is an outreach programme designed to fill this gap and encourage people all over Australia to value and engage with science.

2. WHAT SOLUTION IS PROPOSED?

Established in 1985, the Shell Questacon Science Circus is a successful partnership between Shell, The Australian National University (ANU) and Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre.

Students from the Master of Science Communication Outreach perform lively presentations of some aspect of science in towns and schools throughout rural Australia.

3. HOW DOES THIS SOLUTION WORK?

Science Circus inspires and engages local communities with science through its interactive public exhibitions, school workshops, workshops for the elderly, professional development workshops for teachers and specialist development programmes for remote Indigenous communities. It also raises awareness of regional science and engineering career possibilities, with the senior high school-focused Beyond School programme.

The programme includes a wide range of proven strategies for involving young people in science and other related areas. It targets those at every educational stage from early childhood right through to senior secondary level.

Given the size of Australia, it is important that the Science Circus embraces new technology and digital capabilities to supplement and reinforce the face-to-face learning experience.

The experience includes a programme for schools and communities that delivers hands-on workshops via video conferencing technology from the studio at Questacon in Canberra.

The Science Circus has five key components:

  • In-school delivery;
  • Professional development workshops for teachers;
  • Public exhibitions in communities throughout rural and remote Australia (interactive science exhibitions);
  • Video conferencing delivery;Science communication education.

The differentiating value and sustainability of this initiative comes from its relationship with the Master of Science Communication Outreach at the Australian National University (ANU). Each year, up to 16 students take part in this initiative to complete their Master’s degree. The degree gives students an opportunity to implement their science communication skills through practical experience.

Since 1985, more than 350 graduates have completed the course associated with the Science Circus programme. 

4. IMPACT INDICATORS AND RESULTS

In 28 years, Shell Questacon Science Circus has:

  • Made more than 8,300 visits to schools;
  • Held 310 professional development workshops for 4,700 teachers;
  • Visited 90 indigenous communities and 490 towns in remote areas of Australia;
  • Reached more than 2.2 million Australians who have experienced the Shell Questacon Science Circus activities.

Evaluation studies show the programme: 

  • Meets a recognised need for high-quality science education in regional and remote areas;
  • Supports science teachers in the classroom;
  • Builds science communication capacity nationally;
  • Encourages greater student engagement with science.

Some students exposed to the programme during the 1980s have also reported long-term influences on their career decisions, leading them to train as scientists and science educators (copies of this study are available on request).

In addition, Science Circus also serves as a research and evaluation tool for academics studying aspects of informal learning and science communication.

5. INNOVATION HIGHLIGHTS

  • Links with the university and science communications students that allow for sustainability, continuing improvement of the information strategy, training of future trainers.
  • Creates opportunities in peripheral areas and those far from population centres.
  • Solid experience over time.

6. GEOGRAPHICAL AREA

Australia.

7. INCOME MODEL

A private company, Shell, covers about 47% of total operating costs.

The rest is funded by payment for the service, at a cost of $5 per student.