Let’s just get this out there…having kids at home during a pandemic is unbelievably stressful. Rules of screen time, peer socialization and benchmarks of achievement seem to have fallen by the wayside. If we have to find a silver lining here, it’s that most everyone is at home now and fully aware of how important science is to our future. It’s times like this we have a real appreciation of folks like Sarah McAnulty who have been raising the bar for outreach and science education for years with Skype A Scientist (SAS). SAS is a fabulous resource to get scientists talking to classrooms, and the SAS team has been ramping up their pandemic outreach efforts like rockstars. 

Even as bigger programs are doing more, good-hearted trainees and faculty who have stepped up for families as well. Drs Jennifer Honeycutt and Audrey Hammack both reached out to their friends and family via social media offering different kinds of help to beleaguered families and offered some protips on how you can do the same.

Audrey trained as a chemist at UT Dallas and scored her dream job helping people troubleshoot engineering resources on campus after completing her doctoral studies. Earlier this week, Audrey reached out via Facebook to offer to help folks with homebound kids struggling with online assignments. An accomplished part-time tutor, Audrey said she usually meets students one on one, but has done video tutoring before. Inspired by a friend who posted a similar offer, Audrey had nothing but good things to say about her tutoring experiences. 

Audrey said that questions students are struggling with often just need a new way of phrasing or a different example to help the lessons hit home. “Students can only get so much from hearing one person or reading a chapter,” she said. “Just showing them a new way to think about the problem or giving them a real world example is incredibly helpful.” 

Jennifer has volunteered for SAS in the past and let her followers know she would happily talk to their kids about brains, rats (!!), behavior and more. Jennifer is launching her own lab at Bowdoin College in July and said, “hands down the best part of doing these things is seeing little girls faces light up when they see a scientist who looks like them telling them about all these cool things. Showing them that you can be queer, have tattoos and pink hair and do exciting science is just the best.” 

Asked what they recommend for folks looking to help out homebound families, both cited free platforms like Skype and Zoom. Zoom provides free 40 minute video conferences, and you can add on more time and bells and whistles like recording, chat features, calendaring and more for a monthly fee. 

Other advice was confidence, creative hands on examples and excitement. Audrey’s offer to tackle a host of topics from physics to chemistry may seem daunting to some, but she reiterated that often times homework problems are expert level challenges, but things that are phrased in ways that maybe aren’t clear. “It’s really easy”, she said, “to forget that you are, in fact, a well-educated expert.”Jennifer encouraged others to try doing a small lesson. “Even 30 or 40 minute sessions are valuable to families. It helps kids feel connected and parents feel supported.”

For how to get started, Jennifer said questions students come up with in virtual discussions may not have answers yet, so launching lessons with a creative question is a great starting point. An easy example she uses to show the value of cramming lots of neural information into a skull is to ask kids to put a large piece of paper into a cup. “It’s hard to do if you don’t crumple the paper,” she said. “After they squish up the paper,  you can start talking to them about the sulci and gyri of the brain and how they help get more information into small spaces.” 

Get those cups and pieces of paper out, science buddies. You have a captive audience and cool things to teach them.

Big ups to the scientists who are helping out. If you have a favorite science outreach person or organization that’s helping educate students during the pandemic, drop us a Comment. We’d love to amplify it!

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