“I got a call from Kerniskova telling me that Zavod Simetris has won the SySTEM 2020 STEAM award and I was invited to attend the Ecsite conference.”
From new tools and methods to the challenges a rural science centre may face on a day to day basis. Danillo spoke at length about the importance of ensuring that inclusion and access are at the forefront of any science centre, after school club or workshop’s agenda. As Danilo explained, providing a space where young kids from rural communities can learn and connect with STEAM subjects is difficult, but it is a void that Zavod Simetris is trying to fill.
Q. Can you first introduce yourself and what organisation you represent?
I am the manager of the blue workshop, which is part of the institute Zavod Simetris in Slovenia. We have been going for about eight years. Two years ago, we got some EU funding which allowed us to move towards the topic of science and technology. Previously to working at Zavod Simetris, I worked in the area of career orientation for young children and I found that an important aspect for a child’s development is the act of learning by doing. From that, I really see the value in what we are doing. We are allowing the children to get involved with science and technology by actually doing it. What I hope is they come out of our workshops and think “I can do this”, giving them the confidence and opportunity to discover their own unique talents.
Q. What areas of STEAM do you focus on?
We have four main areas. One is robotics and programming. The second is more centred around a makerspace, using wood, 3D printers and laser cutting machines. The third one is really about trialling science, so performing and making scientific experiments. But we also have other activities not centred around STEAM. We provide cooking classes, pottery making and sewing classes. Since we are an initiative in a rural area we have to be flexible in what we offer.
Q. How does Zavod Simentris compare to other STEAM initiatives in Slovenia?
There are science centres in the bigger cities across Slovenia. But, kids in rural communities often don’t have access to these centres. We are based in a small village hoping to fill this gap. We have six workshops every week and are currently collaborating with four local schools. However, it is not easy to sustain a centre like this so we try to focus on schools not just in our local area but schools all around Slovenia. I really want to offer a space for children in the local area to go and explore science, learn and try new things.
Q. What are the challenges you face as a rural science centre?
One challenge is definitely attracting secondary school children. We attract many young kids but we really struggle in hitting that upper age bracket. We also face difficulties in financially sustaining the centre. The blue workshop was financed by the EU, but this finance has finished now. Two months ago we started crowdfunding to help us sustain the centre and it was a success allowing us to put money towards the topic of robotics and artificial intelligence to the local community and local schools. We chose this area because not a lot of schools focus on this topic and since we formed this program seven schools have shown interest.
“I really want to offer a space for children in the local area to go and explore science, learn and try new things.”
Q. How did you hear about SySTEM 2020?
A friend who follows our work sent me a message telling me about an EU project that asks organisations who provide science learning outside the classroom to put themselves on a map and by doing so you are in for a chance to win a trip to the 2019 Ecsite conference. I did this and almost forgot I did it. And then I got a call from Kersnikova – who are involved in the SySTEM 2020 project – telling me that Zavod Simetris won the SySTEM 2020 STEAM award and I was invited to the Ecsite conference.
Q. What were the reasons you joined?
Our first motivation was the STEAM award but also the opportunity I saw in connecting with other institutions. We are looking towards branching out into other avenues for our centre, maybe getting involved with some ERASMUS projects. We saw this map as a good opportunity to link up with partners outside of Slovenia and see what else is out there.
Q. What were the main things you learnt from the conference?
For me, the most interesting area was tinkering. I went to four workshops on tinkering and this gave me a lot of ideas for our blue workshop, allowing me to trial many materials. I also liked how this conference was in Experimentarium, as it allowed me to use exhibits, learn lots and see what another centre is doing. One session in particular, which was about financing in local communities was very useful for me. This really gave me the tools I could use in forming a working relationship with the local municipality and other organisations around us.
Q. As a small rural institution can you offer any knowledge or tips to other centres that are in a similar situation to you that maybe didn’t attend the conference?
I think networking in the local area is vital and key to the sustainability of a centre. You never know which interaction may lead you to a new project. For example, two months ago we presented a workshop to a local community using our laser and engraving machine. From that, two people came to us wanting us to give another workshop and they wanted to see how our centre could connect and collaborate with them. This is just one example but connecting and collaborating is key for rural centres to thrive. That is what excites me about the SySTEM 2020 map, the networking potential of it and the collaboration you can have with initiatives from across Europe.
The SySTEM 2020 map is still welcoming new initiatives. More information on how to get involved.