The Science Festival Alliance’s Just Add Science program
Launched in 2015 with funding from the Simons Foundation, the Just Add Science program supported new or substantially expanded initiatives that experimented with outreach in settings where people aren’t expecting an encounter with science. Nine initiatives received a total of $80,000 in awards for Just Add Science activity. With three lead festivals for the Just Add Science program added in, this means that at 12 science festivals focused on how to “reach people where they are” in 2016.
What is Just Add Science activity?
Just Add Science activity is characterized as science programming taking place in a context that integrates into the normal course of people’s lives.
Many science festivals have found success with this approach by adding science experiences to existing events and venues where crowds are already gathered. Actual examples have included science programming inserted into “non-science” festivals (cultural festivals, music festivals, art festivals, etc.), state and county fairs, professional and college sporting events, health expos, powwows, farmers markets, busy shopping malls, and even Renaissance Festivals.
These efforts truly “meet people where they are,” and engage with audience members who may never attend a science event on their own accord. By engaging people in the midst of activity, the Just Add Science approach has the potential to show that science is relevant to things they already care deeply about. Similarly, Just Add Science activity that is not overtly labeled up front as “science education” may be effective at creating new open learning experiences for anyone with pre-conceived notions science.
Quality Just Add Science outreach requires a clear understanding of the audience you will be working with. It also may involve a twist on collaboration, as you find yourself trying to sort out how to best fit into someone else’s larger event framework. This may mean that initiating Just Add Science activity for the first time takes more planning and relationship building than you first expect. However, this activity is generally cheaper to produce per person reached, since it doesn’t require a large marketing budget.
Three categories of Just Add Science activity for science festivals
1. Just Add Science in the context of a science festival schedule:
Example: Science Day at the Ballpark during the Philadelphia Science Festival
Each year the Philadelphia Science Festival, includes a Phillies home game in their schedule of events, partnering with the professional baseball team and other collaborators to present a range of activities for the tens of thousands of fans that happen to be attending the game. Along with hands-on science activities—many of which are baseball related—stationed throughout the stadium, Science Day at the Ballpark often includes presentations on the stadium’s Jumbotron, announcements made over the loudspeaker, and a science twist to pre-game ceremonies. All of this activity combines to deliver an overall message of the relevance of science to the assembled fans—and beyond: video of a robot throwing out the first pitch on the first Science Day at the Ballpark made ESPN’s national highlight reel.
Example: Student Days at the Renaissance Festival during the Arizona SciTech Festival
The Arizona Renaissance Festival is among the nations largest, and during special Student Days thousands of school children join in the fun. Thanks to programming from the Arizona SciTech Festival they also learn about the science developed during the renaissance and how it changed the world. This event has now become a popular field trip tradition for classes throughout the state, and resources created by the Arizona SciTech Festival include a study guide for teachers with pre- and post-activities that ensure they make the most of their time.
Example: Science Tent at the Arkansas State Homecoming Game during the Arkansas Science Festival
The Arkansas Science Festival carefully planned for its first celebration for over a year. Once the dates for the weeklong festival were picked out they were able to book venues and touring acts, and start working with collaborators. After planning for months, the festival found out that the first Saturday of their schedule had just been announced as a major holiday for their hometown: it would be the date of the ASU homecoming football game. What started as a major scheduling conflict became a fantastic outreach opportunity when the festival team secured a prime position in the traditional tent city outside the stadium for a science tent. The tent featured activities for all ages for the day, launched working weather balloons with fanfare from the tent, roasted hotdogs with a large solar cooker, and sent science tent emissaries into the crowd.
The science tent experience is described further in the introduction to this article published in the Journal of Science Communication.
2. Just Add Science outside of a science festival schedule:
Example: Science on the Street, produced by the Cambridge Science Festival
Evaluations have shown that the Cambridge Science Festival delivers new experiences to an audience that is at least partially new to informal science learning. However, the Cambridge Science Festival launched its Science on the Street program to ensure that it was reaching new audiences in other regions of Massachusetts. Science on the Street staff carefully chooses cultural gatherings and events that fall outside of the regular schedule of the Cambridge Science Festival, and works with collaborators to deliver an experience that injects the spirit of the Festival into those gatherings. What began as small-scale experimentation by festival staff has now grown to encompass a year-round initiative that provides the opportunity to connect new audiences, scientists, and collaborators from around the state.
3. Just Add Science is the festival:
Example: Science Learning Tent at the Arlee Celebration
A cultural highlight of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Arlee Celebration powwow draws visitors from around the region for traditional dancing, drumming, and cultural celebration. The Science Learning Tent, coordinated by the University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Area, provides an inviting space where young powwow visitors can experience hands-on STEM activities while learning from local STEM and higher education role models, “near-peer” high school interns, and spectrUM educators. Family Astronomy Night extends activities into the evening with stargazing, astronomers, telescope activities, and popcorn.
Although spectrUM has had an activity at the Arlee Celebration for years, taking a larger-scale collaborative approach to the science tent shifted the event from an outreach model to an on-the-ground, community-based approach. Setting aside the time needed to develop a deeper relationship between spectrUM and the Flathead Reservation community advisory group, resulted in a more extensive set of activities fully integrated into the Arlee Celebation. Importantly, in the course of a more involved planning process the community advisory group into an autonomous, self-powered STEM and education collaborative working on behalf of their own communities under the title, “SciNation on the Flathead Reservation.”
Example: Science and Technology Days at the Missouri State Fair
The Missouri State Fair draws hundreds of thousands every year, so when a St. Louis based organization called SCOPE (Science and Citizens Organized for Purpose and Exploration) was looking to reach rural audiences they decided to launch a science and technology pavilion at the fair. In four days the pavilion used interactive exhibit tables and special events and competitions to connect tens of thousands to an array of collaborators.
SCOPE has since brought this basic approach on the road everywhere from major airshows, to county fairs, to the state capitol. An important part of the success of these efforts is to pair hands-on science activities with meaningful interactions between the academic community, medical development and technological sectors, and high school students in science related activities like 4-H and First Robotics clubs. When SCOPE does outreach, a representative from each of these groups is present to help engage students in science activities and to help parents see that a career in the STEM field is attractive and attainable. By including a diverse group of collaborators at each event, SCOPE is even able to help attendees visualize the exact pathway that a student can follow to a career in science or technology.
2015/2016 Just Add Science program awardees
In 2015, the Just Add Science program received 28 applications asking for more than $325,000 combined to carry out Just Add Science activity in 2016. From these, nine received awards totaling $80,000, with the amount of each award varying. Although the final product of these awards may end up differing significantly from the original descriptions in applications, brief descriptions of each application are provided here:
– The Arkansas Science Festival’s “Science Sports Saturday”: a science tent at a regional farmers market in the morning of the festival’s first Saturday, followed by a tent integrated into the tailgating for the Arkansas State homecoming football game. A 5K run and 1 mile kid’s fun run will lead into the farmers market science tent. Arkansas State cheerleaders and mascots will participate science activities in the lead up to the homecoming football game.
– The Nebraska Science Festival’s “Science Day at the Ballpark” program during a home game of the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA baseball team), and during the festival schedule.
– “Science on Parade,” a collaboration of three Florida festivals, St. Petersburg Science Festival, Indian River Lagoon Science Festival, and Jacksonville Science Festival, to present floats in major parades in each location, followed by hands-on science activities at the culminating events for those parades.
– North Carolina Science Festival’s “Traveling Science Roadshow,” comprised of two multi-day, science “road trips” designed to reach the under-served “Inner Banks” area of North Carolina. Each road trip will include pop-up style events coordinated with local collaborators, and culminate in a main event such as an appearance at the Smoke on the Water BBQ Festival.
– Southern Kentucky Science Festival’s “Science Across the Bluegrass,” program, a series of guest appearances and hands on activities at five non-science festivals throughout Southern Kentucky.
– Science Festival of the Capital Region’s “Just Add Science” program (based in Schenectady, NY), a series of embedded science activities at non-science festivals and concerts throughout the greater Albany area.
– Long Island Sound Science Festival’s “LI SoundFest @ Playland,” integrating special science-based events into Friday and Saturday evenings at a popular amusement park for the month of June.
– TinkerFest’s “Day at the Fair,” (Based in Ashland, OR) integrating a Tinkerfest tent into the Jackson County Fair.
– Texas A&M Physics and Engineering Festival’s “Just Add Science in Aggieland and Beyond” program, bringing hands-on experiments into a public market in Bryan, TX on multiple Fridays, and integrating science outreach into several Texas A&M football games.
Other examples to explore:
Some tips and questions to consider:
This resource is an example exhibitor interest form on a festival website.
Images from the Science Day at the Ballpark 2013 Event at the Philadelphia Science Festival.