Vision and Objectives: In line with our objective to embed brain health initiatives in Irish schools, FutureNeuro established connections with three identified schools from the SciFest panel. These schools included an all-girl city school, a rural midlands school and a West of Ireland school. Teachers from the three schools undertook to work with students to create brain health initiatives for National Science Week. FutureNeuro researchers offered the students lectures on their own personal and professional journeys into brain related research. Equally, FutureNeuro researchers offered to judge the initiatives in person in each of the schools. The objective of bi-directional engagement informed this process. The target groups were girls, rural school communities and schools who were not traditionally used to participating in National Science Week initiatives. FutureNeuro Researchers were equally targeted to share their knowledge and skills of Brain Health and secondly to adapt their own research journey for a school audience.
Inputs: A series of both in-person and virtual collaborative meetings were established with the EPE Lead, FutureNeuro Researchers, teachers and student representatives to establish what aspect of Brain health would be explored and how best to approach this. Where two of the schools focused on specific brain-related conditions, the third focused on therapeutic approaches for maintaining brain health. All schools were to receive a One for All Voucher and Certificates of Participation.
Students from Drumshanbo Vocational School exhibit their Brain Health Initiative at SciFest for National Science Week.
Outputs: The establishment of strong connections with the participant schools is a very positive output. Equally, this model established greater engagement with schools and SciFest and, as a consequence, school related STEM. It provided FutureNeuro Researchers with a platform to share their research journey with school students and staff. It also opened avenues for schools and FutureNeuro staff to collaboratively develop and deliver Brain Health Initiatives in education.
These connections will also be leveraged to support teachers and FutureNeuro Researchers to work collaboratively in the development and delivery of a Brain Health Series of Webinars which can be cascaded to students. Secondly, there is opportunity to collectively create educational tools in the process. Thirdly, schools will be invited to pilot the inclusion of brain related topics into the health and Wellbeing pillar of SPHE.
Outcomes and Evaluation: The creation of this collaborative initiative has enhanced staff capacity to appreciate the value of meaningful engagement with knowledge beneficiaries and service users in this instance school teachers and students. A roadmap has been established to build School STEM into FutureNeuro’s strategy and into individual research programmes. The initiative has affirmed the importance of ‘Bidirectional Engaged Research’ in the Center going forward, and has led to the identification of specific research topics and questions of great interest to teachers and students. We invited reflective feedback after each workshop and lecture, are recorded high rates of satisfaction. Typical qualitative quotes from school representatives included:
“Students found the researcher presentations very interesting and informative” (teacher)
“the students were encouraged to take more of an interest in this area of research and helped them realize that new discoveries are being made by Science Researchers all the time”.
Student feedback stated it was great to hear of researchers taking different career paths before engaging in active neurological research.
Equally, feedback from FutureNeuro staff who visited the school stated “It reinforced my belief that we should engage more with rural schools. The science teacher reported that a large proportion will not progress to third-level education”.
The success of this initiative will inform the running of the Brain Health initiative in Schools going forward.