09 June 2019

Teach physical oceanography in Welsh

I've spent five years learning Welsh, heavily subsidised by the university. And what has the university got out of it? So far not much! I've talked Welsh to some Welsh-speaking families on Open Days, and pointed out to them that there were financial rewards to doing some of your education in Welsh. But did any of these then yield a student to Bangor University? I have no idea! So maybe the impact so far has been zero.

Then I got an email from Stella, the lady whose job it is to lure Welsh-speaking prospective students to SOS. A Welsh-speaking school would visit our lab. Was I willing and able to help out? I said yes! Even though it's a bit scary. 

The school visit would be Monday. The week before I mailed Stella. What was the idea? What would we do? I like to be prepared for such things. I might need to look up some terminology! But Stella was away. Luckily Dei, our Welsh academic, was around, and on Friday afternoon we went through the experiments we have. In Welsh, of course. All experiments were physical oceanography! With wave speeds and density contrasts and whatnot. There even was one with fluorescence and microplastics but we left that. I don't think even Dei had ever done it! 

That weekend I made a cheat sheet. I wrote down how all experiments worked as it is amazing how fast you can forget such things. And I made a vocabulary list. Lots of terms I don't use every day! Density contrast, Equator, evaporation, etc etc. Useful stuff! And then it was Monday. 

I made sure to get in early and bumped into Dei. He was already doing more setting up! No sign of Stella. Our Welsh-speaking student, Dan, was there. (I think we have two!) And there was work to do: we use water tanks for the experiments, and Dei had started filling them. A bit too vigorously! One was overflowing and flooding the lab. Oh dear. Luckily I know a place where the cleaners keep their stuff. I nicked a mop and set to work. While I was doing that we distributed the experiments. Dan got salinity-driven circulation; I got temperature-driven circulation; Dei got wave speed. 

While I was still mopping Stella showed up. She would just scamper around a bit. I asked her to assist me the first time I would do my demo. It would be nice to have back-up for the first run! Doing this sort of stuff when you are a bit uncomfortable with the age group to which you do it, in a language you're still far from fluent in, is a bit trying. And she was OK with that. 

I checked my cheat sheet one last time and then the guests arrived. Time to perform!
Stella and Dei did the welcome and told the pupils what we would be doing, and subdivided them into three groups. And one group was mine! 

I subdivided them further; I had five tanks, and about 15 pupils, so three a tank. I had them use ice and food dye and warm water to create some temperature-driven circulation. And we related that to what happens in the actual ocean, including linking it to biological processes such as coral bleaching. Stella butted in from time to time. I think it was OK! And then time was up. The pupils tidied up. That's always interesting; firstly, it's hard to empty the tank without splashing water everywhere. That works well with teenagers! And we had been working with food dye, while the school uniforms featured a white shirt. Oh dear! But they seemed to have an uncanny talent for keeping their clothes clean...

The second round I did on my own. And I was too fast! I had time to spare. How to keep 15 teenagers entertained? Not easy! But then we had a break. I got ready for the third round, got me a coffee and listened to Stella doing a presentation about SOS. 

Then it was time for the third round. This time I was prepared for being done too soon! We had a spare experiment set up and I added that. And it worked! Then we had to tidy up again. Stella and Dei rounded off the day with thanks and goodbyes and then they were gone. I survived my first ever outreach event in Welsh! And I have a chance again as the next school was booked for only two weeks later! 

(ps I was so focussed on getting through the day I took no pictures at all!)

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