One of the first steps in starting a Teen Science Café is to connect with some local teens and explore the concept with them. The most likely question from the teens will be— “what is a teen science café like?” After giving them a description, you might ask them, “Given what I have told you, why would you and your friends come to a teen science cafe?” This is a key question to explore to ensure that everyone understands the café concept, and that the things most important to the teens are prominent in the program.
You might try this exercise to get them thinking about how the experience might feel to them. At our first planning meeting, we broke our teens into small groups and asked them to select the adjectives below that best described what they feel a teen science café should be like. Similarly, they would identify words they would not associate with a successful teen science café.
After the groups have discussed the adjectives, bring them all together and look at the word choices each team has selected that describe a successful café and an unsuccessful café. There will be differences in words. For example, some may associate “loud” with disruptive, while others associate it with the teens being excited and engaging well with their peers and the STEM expert in conversation. This is a great starting point to then explore – what would make it “loud” in a good way, and what would make it “loud” in a bad way and how can the teen leaders work to get it right?
Similarly, “controversial” topics may be uncomfortable to some teens. But one of the key outcomes for teens who participate in science cafés is that they learn to consider multiple perspectives before making up their mind (Hall and Mayhew, 2012). Given the current national discussion on free speech on college campuses, this is a great way to help them understand how to present their perspectives and ideas in ways that open up a conversation rather than shutting it down, thus allowing them to hear multiple perspectives and to better be able to weigh evidence and implications of STEM advances.
- Download the table in a Word doc cafe.environment for use with your teens.