A Native Scientist workshop: How I explained skin cancer to kids

To explain my research to school pupils, I aimed at simplifying the notion of ‘cancer’, how it can invade and metastasize. I focused on skin cancer and to better illustrate it, I built a set of three interactive schemes mimicking the different skin cell types and how they can be affected upon unprotected sun exposure. For that, I bought some beads in a toy store with different colours representing different skin cell types, as well as some beads which glowed in the dark to represent ‘malignant cells’. Then, I constructed a ‘cancer cell detector’ (an analogy for specific examinations usually performed in the hospital).

This cancer detector consisted of a simple dark black box, with which we were able to check which ‘cells’ became malignant due to irresponsible sun exposure. Afterwards, pupils and I discussed different ways to prevent skin cancer, such as avoiding exposure to the sun when it is at its highest point in the sky (between 11 am and 4 pm), using sunscreen, appropriate clothes, hats and sunglasses. At this point I got to my main take-home message for the participants: we must protect our skin. To reinforce all the new keywords discussed and consolidate new learnings, I finalized my intervention with a simple word search game.









This outreach project was part of a ‘Native Scientist’ workshop, a science plus language workshop that not only promotes science, but also celebrates diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). It took place on the 2nd of December in Amsterdam and brought together a group of expat Portuguese-speaking scientists (living and working in the Netherlands). Together, we explained a total of five different science topics to school pupils who speak Portuguese at home.

What are Native Scientist workshops?

90-minute workshops that connect immigrant pupils and scientists to tackle educational disadvantage and promote science and language literacy. Native Scientist is a non-profit organization founded in 2013 by two Portuguese Scientists – Joana Moscoso and Tatiana Correia. The project consists of creating a network of international scientists that want to have real impact by organizing workshops that inspire and raise the aspirations of immigrant pupils.

In my workshop, other scientists explained other topics. Andreia spoke about working on a company that produces vaccines. Marta explained the steps behind the development of new drugs. With Fabiana, the Portuguese pupils understood how the heart and the circulatory system works throughout our body. Cátia showed them how big the solar system really is and where the Earth is located compared to other planets.

Andreia | How to produce vaccines
Marta | How to develop new drugs








Fabiana | How the circulatory system works
Cátia | How big the solar system is








How was the experience?

Absolutely great! Explaining science in our mother tongue is a challenge because our working language (and science language in general) is English. Furthermore, designing a creative, clear and appealing approach of my project was demanding. However, all the effort was worth it.

Cancer is a sensitive subject. Unfortunately, it affects many people around us, and with these pupils it was no exception. At the beginning of my explanation I had 3 kids talking about their experiences with cancer affected family members. It was extremely sad, however, it made my ‘mission’ even more important and my responsibility even bigger!

The Native Scientist event was much more than promoting science in a very simple way and encouraging bilingualism. For me, it was a precious opportunity to reinforce my cultural identity, speaking in my mother tongue and increasing the impact of my work. For pupils, it was a chance to meet Portuguese-speaking people other than their families, encouraging them to speak their mother tongue in a social/learning environment. At the same time, they felt fascinated for taking part in a science-related workshop.

With this testimonial, I hope to inspire my colleagues to bring this fantastic idea to the countries in which they are based in. It has shown a huge impact in the communities attending the workshop in terms of both language exchange and science dissemination.

As Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Written by Catarina Salgado, ESR08