Engaging our future neighbours with the physics of football

Image: Shutterstock/Adam Vilimek

Looking ahead to the move of our London offices to the King’s Cross area next year, we’ve been looking for ways to work closely with local organisations in order to become a valued part of the community there in Islington.

Among these is the Copenhagen Youth Project (CYP), a community group aiming to create and sustain a positive youth culture that inspires children and young people aged seven to 25. Its the main provider of youth services in the Calendonian and Barnsbury wards.

By adapting our Football and Physics resource originally developed in collaboration with Arsenal Football Club, four special physics-themed sessions were run in the CYP’s usual football activity slot.

Each session involved 30 minutes of interactive classroom time using simple physics demos to demonstrate concepts such as acceleration, how to get the maximum range on a long pass, staying balanced by lowering your centre of gravity, and more.

This was then followed by 30 minutes on the pitch. Besides the 15 or so primary school children, IOP staff members also taught older members of the CYP who volunteer as coaches.

It’s part of our public engagement strategy to show that physics is a fundamental part of our culture – something anyone can appreciate. It seems particularly apt, then, to show its relevance to our national sport.

It also accords nicely with many of the values that we profess as the IOP. It was an opportunity to “exploit the talent we have within our organisation”. Besides being project officer for the Stimulating Physics Network, my colleague Mariana, one of the leads on this resource and collaboration, is a great footballer and engages brilliantly with young people.

It was also an opportunity to work with partners in the King’s Cross area, and the request to collaborate further in the future with us shows that we are easy and rewarding to work with. Perhaps most importantly it shows that we “believe in the equality of opportunity for all and we will confront barriers to inclusiveness and participation”.

It is that last that is the most important aspect of a project such as this – its impact in engaging those children with physics and increasing their science capital.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term, it can be summarised as someone feeling that science is for them. It’s not as simple as saying that someone who didn’t study physics at university has low science capital, because they might go to a science museum at weekends and watch Horizon documentaries. It’s also not something that’s easily measurable. Rather, it’s a concept used in outreach to identify target audiences and plan activities with the aim of encouraging them to engage with science – not just by studying it formally but by continuing to appreciate its value to them, and the whole of our society, throughout their lives.

Aspiration among young people to become scientists remains low above the age of 10 – about 15% – despite children saying that they like science. There is a need for outreach to all groups, not just children, as young people are strongly influenced by the views held by their older siblings, parents, grandparents, peers, and community leaders – hence including those older coaches in our engagement plan.

And maybe, one day, as many of Islington’s kids will grow up wanting to be scientists as footballers.

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Hannah Renshall

Hannah Renshall

Hannah is the IOP’s regional officer for the north west of England. She joined the IOP as an outreach officer in October 2016 after working as a medical physicist and then in outreach/engagement and employment support for hard-to-reach young people
Hannah Renshall

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