One project being supported is Tree Explorers at UCC. Tree Explorers will make use of the historic and nationally important UCC Arboretum to engage primary school students as well as adults with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) topics. The primary school strand of the project has been specifically co-created with primary school teachers to target schools in communities at risk of disadvantage and social exclusion (DEIS schools).
Dr Eoin Lettice, one of the Tree Explorers project leads, welcomed the news:
"This is fantastic news for the UCC Arboretum. It means that we can build on the work we've been doing in the last year and make sure that as many people as possible can experience the tree collection. The funding will also allow us to develop specific tools to engage school children with the collection and to help foster in them an appreciation for the natural world as well as the beauty and scientific relevance of plants and trees".
Engaging audiences with such living scientific collections has been shown to have significantly positive effects on educational attainment, mental and physical health, attitudes and knowledge of STEM subjects and careers, as well as willingness to engage in dealing with global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. 'Tree Explorers' will co-create, develop and deliver a 3-stage programme of engagement with 3 DEIS schools in Cork city involving in-school activities with project team members as well as visits by the students to the UCC Arboretum - 2,500 trees of over 120 different species.
Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich, co-lead on Tree Explorers: “I am delighted that SFI has funded Tree Explorers. This investment provides us with an invaluable opportunity to further engage with socially disadvantaged communities in Cork city and to generally broaden the reach of our public engagement on STEM-related subjects. The pandemic has served to further highlight the importance of nature in our mental wellbeing and has reinforced for many of us, the importance of preserving our biodiversity. Plants are critical to the survival of the human species not just through the oxygen they produce, but also as key sources of medicine, food, shelter, cosmetics and more. The Arboretum at UCC, through the Tree Explorers project, will serve as our living breathing classroom with the iconic trees at the centre of the learning process”
The adult strand of the project will deliver a tailored "UCC Tree Tour" as well as a series of workshops and talks for the general public throughout. Educational materials, a self-guided map and a series of videos will also be delivered. Tree Explorers builds on the success of the UCC-funded "Open Arboretum Project" which has re-imagined how this tree collection is used for STEM education and public engagement.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society said: “The SFI Discover Programme is a key part of our education and public engagement activity. It aims to support projects at local level, as well as at regional and national levels, to stimulate engagement and understanding with STEM. These projects will play a key role in supporting the public to better understand the evidence behind challenges we have collectively face, and the choices we need to make in the future. We are looking forward to working with these exciting and creative education and engagement programmes, making the excitement and importance of STEM more accessible to a wide diversity of people.”