Brain Awareness Week 2017: How About a Science Café?

If you haven’t started thinking about Brain Awareness Week (BAW) 2017 (or even if you have), brainstorming for your event(s) is a good way to get cracking on your BAW Celebrate BAW Image_Squareplans. Types of events during BAW vary greatly, targeting many different audiences and covering a large range of topics. From laboratory visits for elementary students to symposiums for college students to concerts for all ages, BAW has it all!

One event type to consider are science cafés: “events that take place in causal settings such as pubs and coffeehouses, are open to everyone, and feature an engaging conversation with a scientist about a particular topic.” They encourage a dialogue between scientists and the public and are a uniquely informal and fun way to not only disseminate scientific knowledge, but also discuss it.

Their effectiveness as an educational tool may be most apparent in events geared towards young people, in particular teens. Teens are increasingly participating in science cafés, which bolster their interest in science and encourage them to pursue STEM fields in college and as careers. In an article by the National Science Teachers Association, geophysicist and science educator Michelle Hall, explained the benefit of a science café geared toward this age group:

…‘“[I]t gives kids a voice and helps them learn skills and get comfortable with adults outside their families and schools,” she maintains. “The scientists have to pitch their presentations to the teen leaders, and the teens give them feedback. This is a big role reversal for these kids, and the scientists take their words to heart.” Presenters are asked to keep their talks briefer than they would at an adult café “because teens have lots of questions,” she explains, adding that the program is intended to be a series of lively conversations among teens and presenters, not a lecture series.”

Science cafés are a relatively new event type and, unlike lectures, symposiums, and other common event formats, are largely based on Café Scientifique, first organized in 1998 by Duncan Dallas in Leeds, England. Michelle Hall and geophysicist Michael Mayhew were inspired to bring the benefits of science cafes to high school students after hearing Duncan speak at an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in 2006. With the aid of the National Science Foundation they established the Teen Science Café Network, which has spread throughout the United States.

If you are wondering where you can participate in a science café near you, check out this website and, of course, consider organizing a science café on the brain for BAW! A lively conversation between a neuroscientist and your target audience with some delicious refreshments, anyone? Also, be sure to check out our event ideas and remember it’s never too early to start planning for BAW 2017 (March 13-19)!

– Amanda Bastone

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