Science United Festival provides a platform where, despite the existence of borders, students and their teachers can engage in a virtual community to celebrate their science projects while receiving feedback from refugee scientist mentors. We believe that emergency education, through technology, can provide a borderless world of learning for displaced students. Students can engage in opportunities to learn new science concepts collaboratively, with each other, and cooperatively, from each other.
The Science United Festival provides an online science fair for displaced students and their teachers to share science projects with a global community and receive encouragement and feedback from refugee scientist mentors to help foster a love for science, grow scientific literacy, and spark interest in science as a potential future career.
The refugee education context is filled with challenges for teachers, having to teach classes where students vary in terms of age, language skills while frequently coping with trauma. Teachers of refugee students are often discouraged from teaching science because of the language barrier and the lack of appropriate educational material and curriculum developed for the refugee classroom. In addition, the refugee classroom can also be isolating as refugee/displaced students and their teachers often do not have the opportunity to interact and learn from other student groups with similar experience outside their community.
Refugee and displaced students who experience interrupted education are often excluded from education in hosting countries and have few opportunities of attending science classes, leading them to lack incentive for learning science. Access to education has been further disrupted as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNHCR, the COVID-19 pandemic affected refugee students the most, leading to each refugee child missing an average of 142 days of school from the first school closure until March 2021 (20). Both school attendance and school progress have been impacted severely for refugee students due to their lack of access to digital learning (19). The same report estimates that 78% of refugee children had limited-to-no access in learning opportunities during pandemic-related school closures. It is important to provide students with not just an education but also the opportunity to be part of a community of learners where they can interact and learn along with other student groups with similar experience. Over the past decade and even more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been efforts to integrate technology into the classroom as a way to engage refugee learners (19).
Refugee students have limited access to information about future careers and professions that may one day be available to them. Students often look up to their teachers as role models and source of inspiration, yet it is not often that displaced students have contact with role models they can relate to in terms of cultural background and/or life experience. Moreover, students need to come in contact with stories of individuals who have succeeded and they themselves identify as displaced.
Science education supports socio-scientific decision making and problem-solving, and is important to support genuine scientific literacy for global citizenship. Experiential science education is essential for refugee students because it supports the students’ problem-solving skills, new language acquisition and practices socio-emotional skills.
There are many benefits to teaching science in the refugee classroom. First, engaging in learning science provides an active learning environment where students engage in activities that are relevant to the real-world. The active learning approach is an important tool to support meaningful learning (2). There are many features of the active learning approach used in science outlined by Christensen, Knezek, and Tyler-Wood (2015). These features include relevance to real-world problems, authentic solving of real-world problems, application of prior knowledge and experience to solve new problems, collaboration with others, integration with other subjects, and engaging in self-directed learning. In addition, teachers have reported that students who engage in active learning are excited about science class and often look forward to participating in the activities (12, 16). Positive dispositions can be especially engendered when the activities are made personally relevant to the child (1, 5, 12,15). In addition to making connections to students’ experiences, the activities should be teacher-guided and student-centered and not teacher directed (5, 12, 21). The Festival encourages teachers to learn with and guide their students learning of science topics by using their interest and prior experiences.
There are also benefits of engaging in active practice based science learning for language acquisition. According to Stoddart, Solis, Tolbert, and Bravo (2010), practice-based activities do not require students to have a mastery of the language in which instruction occurs. Second, engaging in the practice of science provides students with the opportunity to acquire a new language by putting vocabulary in context. Students can demonstrate their understanding through a variety of means either orally, pictorially, or through writing. It is highlighted that students experience and learn different language functions through the process of hypothesizing, explaining, predicting, and reflecting, while also engaging in activities that support their abilities to observe, describe, explain, predict, estimate, and infer (3,12).
Educational research has shown that students respond well to role models who are relevant to their cultural background (4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 18).
Science United Festival’s goals are to give refugee/displaced students the opportunity:
- to present their science project to a global community at the Festival website.
- to interact and learn from other student groups with similar experience from around the world through the use of the Festival website comments feature with support from their teacher.
- to get feedback and encouragement from refugee mentors who are professional scientists and science major college/graduate students.
- to discover the possibility of a career in science by viewing the refugee mentors’ video-stories available in English and each mentors’ native language.
- to build their CV and receive a certificate for their participation.
Creating a teacher learning community and providing workshops allows the space to motivate and train teachers who are working in difficult situations (O’Sullivan, 2010). Science United Festival aims to give refugee/displaced students’ teachers the opportunity to build their network and participate in a community of educators who work in the same context as them. Participating educators will also receive support for their project through mentorship and professional learning opportunities. Following the Festival, educators will be awarded a certificate for their participation and receive credit for their work on the Science United Project and Science United Festival’s website.
Science United Festival’s goals are to give the opportunity for refugee/displaced students’ teachers:
- To build their network and participate in a community of teachers who work in the same context and interact through the Festival website and teacher meetings.
- To motivate and support their students to work together on an exciting project and to share their scientific learning through the Festival website.
- To receive support about their project through professional learning opportunities and mentorship from the Festival Organizing Committee.
- To receive credit for their project on the Science United Project and Science United Festival’s website.
- To be awarded a certificate for their participation in the Festival.
Science United Festival’s goals are to give the opportunity for refugee/displaced scientist mentors:
- To serve as a role model for vulnerable students.
- To motivate students with similar life experiences by sharing their journey of becoming a scientist in a video-story produced in collaboration with the Festival.
- To build their CV and receive acknowledgement of their participation with a dedicated page featuring their picture, their bio and their video-story at the Festival website.
- To be endorsed on social media and receive a certificate of participation.
- To build their network and participate in a community that supports science for refugee students by interacting through the Festival website and mentor meetings.
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