Picking up on the theme from our previous post of changing the world through education, our series on exceptional people who are creating positive change continues with Eija Myötyri, who develops workshops that inspire a new generation to become scientists and mathematicians.
What is your quest?
I create workshops for kids involving mathematics and physics. I try to make them inspired, interested, curious… to light a little flame inside them, so when they grow up and choose what they want to do, maybe they will make the world a better place!
How are you going about it?
I work with a university. They have an awesome laboratory with all kinds of cool stuff I can use with the kids — the kinds of things that people don’t normally have access to.
Schoolteachers bring their classes to Eija’s laboratory for a fun and engaging day of science education.
She explains that, as far as practicable, she tries to design workshops that are related to cutting-edge research happening at the university.
We look at current research and ask “how can we simplify this for the kids?” For example if some researchers are looking at new types of solar cell, we might create a workshop where the children make a small hydrogen-powered engine move, using solar cells to make the fuel.
She and her team also try to cover areas of the school curriculum where schools lack the resources to do hands-on experiments.
What are the key challenges?
Finding a way to simplify things; to put it in language that school children can understand. You can’t use degree-level math or physics, but we can introduce some new concepts. Even if they don’t really understand or remember them, when they hear it again later on they recognise it and remember that it was fun.
Eija faces this challenge with help from others doing similar work, both at her own workplace, and from across the globe via the Internet.
I have colleagues who do the same things I do, only in different fields — electronics, chemistry, or arts. We work together, brainstorm things, give each other ideas. Then there’s Google! The Internet is a huge resource.
Once she has the ideas, Eija develops them into a structured, educational and fun workshop.
What keeps you motivated?
A major source of motivation comes from seeing how absorbed the children become while taking part in one of her classes, and from the positive feedback she has received from children and teachers alike.
I like working with people. It’s fun when you see the kids sucked into something that you devised — you know you got it right then they forget everything else and just go with it.
Who is with you in your quest?
As well as her colleagues, and of course the teachers and students who attend her workshops, Eija has support from many sources.
We are part of the LUMA network — a Finnish STEM education organisation. We also have the university itself; just recently junior engagement has been selected as a key areas for the university to focus on. There’s also collaboration with different university labs, enterprises, businesses, the Heureka science centre, and many schools.
Who or what inspires you?
I just think it’s fun! When I started doing my own experiments in the lab, I was in awe that this was something I could get paid to do!
Having previously worked as an academic researcher, Eija came to work in this area out of a sense that there was something missing in her working life.
When I was in school myself and was asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I would answer “I’m going to make the world a better place!” Very young and idealistic! Then I studied and became a researcher and it wasn’t working for me, but I still wanted to use the things I had learned.
Even if I can’t single-handedly make the world a better place, I can still share my knowledge with as many people as possible and maybe a few of them will make the world a better place.
What advice would you give to others wanting to do something similar?
Eija emphasises that you don’t need a laboratory or expensive equipment to help children engage with the natural sciences.
There’s all kinds of fascinating science that you can do with equipment you have at home — things you find in your kitchen or garage. Google and get excited! If there’s something you don’t have, you can probably find it on Amazon.
Now it’s your turn
Inspiring others is one way to create positive change, and you probably already have the skills you need to start.
Things to think about:
- Could you use your existing skills and knowledge to change the world?
- What could you do to inspire others to make positive change?
- You don’t have to go it alone! Is there an organisation that could help you to help others?