By NEMO Science Museum, in the Netherlands

In youngsters we trust: how to make STEM popular for, but definitely also by young people.

Often projects are being developed for young people, by adults. In addition, an activity is often tested with young people. But rarely together with young people. In the EU Hypatia project we have approached this differently: we work together with young people and they actively contribute to the project.


How did we use to work with young people before?

NEMO Science Museum, Hypatia’s project coordinator, has a wide range of educational programmes for different levels and ages. These programmes range from worksheets to extensive projects such as Space travel in the classroom. All educational programmes and activities are always tested with students of all ages, in and outside the classroom.

In the museum, visitors can repeat centuries-old research and they can also participate as test subjects in cutting-edge scientific research. Also, they can come into contact with scientists. Science Live and NEMO Research & Development are just two of the research programmes that offer such opportunities.


Why did we want to change the way we work with young people?

The answer was given by young Sanne van Beem from the Netherlands who wrote  a welcome critical note in Hypatia’s blog: Getting young people enthusiastic for STEM: It’s not as hard as adults might think it is. Sanne gave us several lessons: teenagers  often feel that adults are just teenage wannabes and motivation starts with giving teenagers ownership! Involving companies teenagers can visit can  be a great incentive for young people as it enables them to depict themselves in the future. Organisations that wants to involve teenagers can encourage them by providing  funding, showing them their contribution is taken seriously! And don’t forget to award the schools that do encourage their students to participate. And last, but not least, leave the parents assisting in catering purposes, because teenagers always want to eat!

The results of working with young people are just as varied as the teenagers are. This variety emphasizes the importance of inclusiveness of all young people in communication where you want to reach young people. You can and should EXPECT EVERYTHING!


How do we work with young people now?

Through Hypatia we learned to take teenagers as serious conversation partners. We work with young people and young people bring an active contribution to the project. We do this through youth hubs (or youth panels) and an editorial team, the Editorial Board.

In the Netherlands, we coached teenagers through a masterclass on journalism organized together with NEMO Kennislink (NEMO’s news website on science behind the news). Also, we have a beautiful collaboration between teenagers and industry in which we organize youth hubs where young people give companies feedback and input on their problems.

The purpose of the youth hubs was primarily for testing activities, getting feedback and understanding better: how do we reach the young people? The form in which the hubs took place was variable: a mixed group, boys and girls or even young people individually, sometimes a group of young people; mixed or from one school or young people together with adults.


What was the result of this cooperation?

Working together with teens and a solid feedback system resulted in co-creation with teens, where creating Youth Hubs delivered valuable feedback on the activities Hypatia developed for their Toolkit.

The Editorial Board  also did a great job developing the content of the Expect Everything campaign.  See for yourself on the website; blog posts; tweets; Instagram; Facebook posts; YouTube. How about starting with the video What do they have in common? in which the Dutch Editorial Board introduce themselves?

What does this give us for the future?

In NEMO we will keep the format of the youth panel / editorial board as part of the museum strategy and in future interaction with schools. Next to that a youth panel is being offered as part of new partner contracts.

The conclusion is that to be able to reach teenagers you need to trust them: that is how you can make STEM popular for, but definitely also by young people.

Image: DigiDaan. Courtesy NEMO Science Museum