Dr Jean-Christophe Denis, Ogden outreach officer at the School of Physics and Astronomy at Edinburgh University, has been involved in a lockdown project led by the Edinburgh BioQuarter to provide curiosity boxes packed with fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) activities to children in local communities.
Jean-Christophe was approached by both local schools and BioQuarter’s community science engagement manager, Cathy Southworth, to initiate the project to provide enough STEM activity boxes for children in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The School of Physics and Astronomy contributed to the £20,000 raised to finance the project and provided logistical helps thanks to the good relationships already established with the local community.
“Over the past years, we have done a lot of work to develop good relationships with our local neighbours so that we can mutually benefit from our interactions,” explains Jean-Christophe. “We have been running weekly science clubs in schools in Craigmillar and Moredun, delivered tailored activities for local schools, a local holidays programme offered by Edinburgh City Council and helped organise the Craigmillar science festival since its start. We believe that it is our duty to engage with the communities near us and build bridges between our campus and local residents.
“Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis put a stop to our activities in these communities,” continues Jean-Christophe. “We know that these times are very challenging for all of us, and we wanted to do our part to support local families. Schools had informed me about the difficulties some families face regarding access to materials to do home schooling effectively. When Cathy mentioned the idea of sending STEM boxes to the community, I knew this was the answer and the right thing to do."
Eight-year-old Seamus is delighted with his STEM box, as his mum Kara explains:
“Seamus loves STEM work and it really captured his imagination over lockdown. His grandparents sent him a microscope for his 8th birthday in May and he set up his own YouTube channel 'Snake creations' to share the science videos he was making with his dad.
“When we realised the STEM boxes were available we were thrilled. A lot of children will be keen to do activities over the summer whereas before lockdown, when boundaries between school and home were clearer, the end of the school year would have drawn the line for educational pursuits,” concludes Kara.
Mhairi MacDonald, deputy headteacher at Niddrie Mill Primary School, made the initial approach for support. “Like many families across the city, lots of our children and their loved ones have found lockdown difficult,” says Mhairi. “Some have experienced more financial difficulties and have struggled without the structure and resources that school usually brings. A number of families also do not have a garden, so keeping the children entertained in a contained space has been challenging. During COVID we have had many families in crisis looking for support to make their home a more positive place to be.
“We are limited to what we can offer but reached out to Edinburgh BioQuarter and asked if they could help,” continues Mhairi. “They provided us with these wonderful exciting science boxes, fully funded. These boxes were offered to all children locally to offer equitable experiences during lockdown.
The Curiosity Box provides a range of STEM boxes. Find out more here.