Active citizenship through science education
We really enjoyed participating in the Sciencivicus youth exchange in Bucharest, Romania. Below are the objectives of the project as stated by the organisers, ASUR:
“The main objective of this project is to promote a citizenry capable of informed self-government by cultivating civic engagement and a scientific mindset. We also want to raise awareness about the direct connection between one’s critical thinking and the well-being of the society.
Other objectives are:
- Strengthen the skills to identify and fight pseudo-science and twisted scientific norms in the public space;
- Improve critical thinking skills through science activities held in collaboration with scientists;
- Learn about the human right to benefit from scientific progress.”
Michaela Pia Camilleri
“So grateful to have had an opportunity like this. It was really valuable and I enjoyed every second of it.”
“The project combined learning and fun, both indoors at the cool makerspace as well as through various outings in the city of Bucharest. It allowed me to get insight into basic scientific concepts, meet new people from various cultural backgrounds, and gain valuable knowledge that will assist me in my activism and education. Moreover, we had full support from Humanists Malta throughout, both in the weeks preceding the project and also during the trip itself.”
The Sciencivicus Project exceeded my expectations. It was a well-organised and coordinated project with lively discussion and great people. I thank MHA for inviting us to this event, which I hope won’t be the last one we attend!
From Our Diary
3rd April 2022
The organisers met the participants at the hostel in the morning of the 3rd of April 2022 to guide them by foot to the venue of the interchange, the NOD Makerspace, a co-working space developed at the site of an old factory. After a 20 minute walk, the group arrived at the venue where they could have coffee and some snacks.
After these introductions, the Romanian team presented rules and dynamics to be followed throughout the week:
- Bora Bora – When in a group with participants from different countries, if a number of people start speaking in their native language, the other participants can say Bora Bora to request a switch to english
- Tornado – Whenever the organisers call “Torpedo”, participants have to switch seats until they are no longer seated next to people from their countries
- Marco Polo – When the room is noisy, the organisers call “Marco”, to which the participants have to answer with “Polo”. This dynamic calms the room so the organisers can start/continue with the session
- Secret friend – Each participant was assigned a secret friend. The goal is to do small gestures towards the secret friend to better their week, without them realising who their secret friend is. Gestures may include messages, gifts or asking other people to do something nice for the secret friend. The organisers provided small envelopes with the names of each participant, where their secret friend may leave a gift or message.
- Killing friends – Each participant was assigned two other participants, who they have to “kill”. To kill a participant, one has to give them a kiss in any part of the body that they wish, without anyone else seeing it. The victim then has to give their papers to the killer and the killer has now to kill those participants. The last person standing wins.
The next activity was Bingo. Each participants was given a paper sheet with different questions, like “Who has more than 3 tattoos” or “who knows latin dances”. Participants had to move through the room to find participants that matched the questions and write their names in the sheet. Each name could only be used once. The first person to add a name to every question would scream “Bingo”, thus ending the game.
Following Bingo, each participant was given a question. They were instructed to go around the room and ask the question to other participants, while answering their question as well. At the end of this, the group had lunch. Lunch included typical soup and a main dish from Romania, bread and fruit salad.
Afternoon sessions started with an energiser. The group was in a circle with a facilitator in the middle. The facilitator would point to a participant and say one of the following options:
- Tree (participant who was selected would put their hands up; flanking participants would hold the middle person’s hand and hold their arm up as well)
- Toaster (flanking participants would hold both hands, with the middle participant “stuck” between them. Middle participant would jump like they were a toast popping out of the toaster)
- Washing machine (flanking participants would hold both hands, participant in the middle would spin their head to mimic the clothes inside a washing machine)
- James Bond (participant in the middle would hold their fingers up like if they were holding a gun, while flanking participants would slide to the floor while saying “Oh James”)
- Mixer (middle person would hold arms up, hands hovering over the flanking participants, while they would spin)
The afternoon session was a presentation about the Scientific Method, delivered by Dani Petrache. Dani introduced the scientific method and its steps and then divided participants by mixed groups. Groups rotated through different stations, each dedicated to a step of the scientific process.
This was followed by a short break and the Romanian cultural night. During the break, participants learnt a traditional Turkish dance.
The Romanian cultural night included a presentation about the Romenina life cycle (traditions for baptism, weddings and death), food samples of their traditional dishes and traditional dances.
The day ended at 5:40pm, after which the participants had free time. Some of the Maltese team took this time to visit a public garden in Bucharest.
4th April 2022
We started with a presentation by the Romanian team on science in Romania. It was interesting that they mentioned that during the communist regime, science was done to serve the communist agenda, and not towards the search for truth.
After that came one of my favourite presentations of the youth exchange, on digital citizenship, hackers and makerspaces. The speaker started the presentation by asking us one by one to give a rating from 1 to 10 on how much we know about ‘digital citizenship’, and ‘makerspaces’, and to provide a keyword for each. As people gave their answers, she quickly strode over to a flip chart where she took notes of the keywords we came up with. After we were all done, she exclaimed that we had basically collectively summed up what her presentation would be about, before we’d even heard it! I thought that it was an ingenious way to get people interested and personally invested in the presentation. She showed us different definitions (eg. in EU law) of digital citizenship, as well as charts, and I loved that she asked for our opinions on them, as well as giving her own (she agreed with me, for example, that one definition seemed “old-fashioned”, given how massively the internet has evolved and continues to evolve). A quote I took home, from one of the EU definitions (I’m paraphrasing): to shape these digital tools to fit us, rather than to let them shape us.
This connected me to the 2nd part of her presentation, on the ‘maker movement’. I had never heard of this before – she explained it to be a kind of new DIY movement involving, but not limited to, digital technology. She also spoke about ‘hacker culture’, quoting the ‘hacker ethic’ from the book ‘Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution’ by Stephen Levy, invoking some discussion on whether or not hackers make good digital citizens, and whether they can be seen as related to the maker movement. All in all, I thought the presentation was wide-ranging, intelligent and very engaging! Finally she split us into two groups and gave each of us an image – one of an underwater rover, the other a planetary rover – and asked us to discuss and solve some problem using this technology, as if we were makers ourselves.
The 2nd presentation was about the right to privacy, encryption, and specific tools out there that we can use to protect our privacy. I liked how matter-of-fact this speaker was – he seemed very keen to give us real-life, practical advice. This actually ended up working somewhat against him, after he was inundated by questions from participants which were overly specific, in my view, disrupting the flow of his presentation: “how secure is WhatsApp?”, “what about Telegram?”, “should I install an antivirus on my Android phone?”, “which one?”. He showed interesting videos on the Caeser cipher, and modern techniques like 256-bit encryption. He asked us for reasons why we feel we have a right to privacy (eg. wanting to keep a separation between work and personal life, avoiding discrimination based on racial or medical factors, etc.), then provided us with a slide which included the best reason of all: “not your fucking business!”. He explained to us the ‘browser fingerprint’ – how the combination of variables that are accessible by a website can easily be used to uniquely identify your device (these include browser version, window size, time taken to load the website etc.), cookies and how they can be avoided (using browser addons like Ghostery or uBlock).
5th April 2022
The first session in the morning was a biology session on the topic of viruses and bacteria. The speaker explained the differences between both, and also explained how both can affect the human body differently and are to be treated differently in cases of sickness. For example, antibiotics are only useful at treating bacterial infections but do not treat viral diseases. Moreover, the presenter emphasised the importance of checking the ingredients of soap and hygiene products; it is important to consciously choose those that do not contain chemicals that might be harmful to the body, such as products that include taurine and cortisol, that can affect our hormones.
At the end of the session there was a demonstration on how to wash our hands properly. We were each given a pair of latex gloves and had to ‘wash’ our hands using paint, ensuring that each part of our hands is covered properly (in paint).
The second session was a debate. The theme chosen for the debate was the introduction of vaccine mandates. The group was divided into 4 different teams, representing a different problem frame: the anti-vaxxers group, the government, the medical and hospital directors, and an NGO fighting for human rights. Another group of participants represented the journalists and went around the different teams collecting information and opinions.
A representative from each team introduced the main points and arguments of their perspective. Afterwards, there was time for questions and counter arguments from the different groups.
At around midday we had lunch.
The following session was a presentation on pseudoscience. It delved into subjects such as Essential Oils, Crystals, Homeopathy, Evolutionism, Cryptozoology and Lysenkoism. The session listed some background information on each topic and disadvantages related to these concepts. Moreover, it was explained that such topics are not science as they are not based on the scientific method.
The last session was a presentation prepared by Rafel, Michael and Martina on Contemporary Science in Malta. The presentation featured an interview with a Maltese scientist, Dr Marie Claire Gatt.
In the afternoon, after the workshops, we went on a city walking tour called ‘Communism and the Monarchy’. Our tour guide showed us around various landmarks in Bucharest that are significant to its last 200 years of history.
In the evening, the group was provided with a dinner at the hostel. The Maltese group also prepared the Maltese cultural dinner for the following day in the evening.
6th April 2022
Seismic Tour 11am
We went on a special kind of tour of Bucharest City. Dragos, who is a Seismology expert, took us around the city and highlighted buildings, narrated stories and gave us different perspectives on the history of the city from the point of view of earthquakes. We started off in a square, and then went around a couple of buildings that had completely collapsed. We then stopped at a grey building opposite the National Treasury which had a red-circled-sign on it that indicated that it would collapse if an earthquake hit Bucharest. The last one dated back to 1977. Dragos noted that these roads where ill-designed for civil services to enter. We then proceeded to the road that connects the main university building and the architecture department. Dragos noted that the low-lying building of the university was well-designed for earthquakes contrary to the building opposite which had been abandoned. Ironically this dilapidated building is being used in the inside for the kitsch Instagrammable umbrellas. Dragos ended his tour on the main street of Bucharest where he showed us several contrasting buildings. Some of which had fallen had been restored efficiently, others where in danger of falling and other were completely abandoned.
We then had lunch at 2pm.
Astronomy presentation 3pm
Stefania held a presentation about her love for Astronomy, explaining her journey and difficulties of learning the subject with limited eyesight. She explained that because of her impairment, she could see the nightsky more clearly and this motivated her to take up astronomy. Stefania showed us some interactive websites that could help us understand the constellations and the movements of the moon. She ended the presentation by talking about astrology and certain inconsistencies within this theory.
7th April 2022
The day started with a visit to NOD makerspace, the place where the sessions were being held.
The participants were then divided into two groups, to debate astrology. One of the groups had to defend that Astrology was a scam and should be prohibited, while the other group had to take the opposite position. Groups prepared their initial arguments, questions to ask the other group and counterarguments.
After the debate, there was a presentation about the history of science and its role in society.
In the afternoon we went to one of the university campuses in Bucharest to see a kind of fare. To be honest, I didn’t stay long. All of the posters were in Romanian and I couldn’t understand what I was meant to be seeing. It felt like a “freshers’ week”, but not being a Romanian student I couldn’t relate. Many companies were there I suppose recruiting students as potential employees. I heard that there were meant to be some experiments/demos that we could see, but I only found one: somebody demoing a kind of robot dog.
8th April 2022
The first session was a presentation on Physics and Chemistry and Human RIghts Vocabulary. The presenter spoke about the history of science, how the way science is done changed throughout the years, also because of changing influences (from religion, states and governments).
After that the next session was a bingo activity with each person having a list of items related to human or civil rights. Each statement had to be filled with insight or information from another participant.
Every participant was given a blank white t-shirt. We all had to paint or write on it concepts which are related to science and human rights. The higher the creativity, the more interesting.
The group then had lunch.
The first item after lunch was a killing game where a killer was chosen to ‘kill’ the rest of the participants by pulling out their tongue. One person then had to guess which is the killer, before the latter kills all the participants.
After lunch, the participants were divided into several groups. Each group was given around 6 letters. The participants of the group had to come up with words that start with those chosen letters and are related to science (and which scientific field) and civil rights. For example: R for Revolution.
The session ended with each person finding out who their secret friend (chosen on the first day) was and the killers that remained alive throughout the week.
The final session was the Turkish Cultural Dinner. They presented their country and showed us a video, and then served some traditional Turkish food