Simon Smith

Fire Investigation and Research Team (FIRT) co-ordinator - Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS)

Why did you become an Ambassador?
During my time in the fire service I have come to love science and the practical application of the science learnt during my vocational experiential career. I feel it is vitally important students are not put off learning about science and how it interacts with everyone on a daily basis; just because of an incorrect perception science is not for everyone. It is all too easy for students to feel science is only performed by “scientists” in white coats and is therefore is only for academically minded people. Many students and pupils seem to feel science is too hard to understand and is only about learning boring facts. They feel they will be bullied for showing an interest  and be called a “geek” for example. This is what drives me to be a STEM ambassador. I feel the need to explain the way science is vitally important to the role of the fire-fighter and fire investigator. I feel the need to explain science to the less academic student and the late starter. I wish to encourage them to understand how science will directly affect them, whatever profession or trade they may follow in later life. I can remember many inspirational teachers and mentors that have influenced my understanding of the subject. If I can inspire just one person to come to love the subject as much as I, then I feel my time has been well spent. If nothing else the country will need practically minded people with an understanding of science to be future care and emergency staff such as fire-fighters, forensic investigators, nurses and paramedics.

My reasons are not entirely altruistic; part of my role involves the training of fire staff, and by being a STEM ambassador I have ready access to teachers, lecturers and the broad spectrum of my fellow STEM ambassadors, to interact with and learn from. This has allowed me to hone my Continual Professional Development (CPD) in instructional skills (teaching, coaching and mentoring). Furthermore being a STEM ambassador has introduced me to a wide network of likeminded people who have been very useful to my full time role.

How much time do you commit to Ambassador Activities?
As STEM activities are considered to be part of my CPD I am lucky in that I am able to carry out some STEM work during my full time work hours. This is always directly related to fire science and fire safety. Two birds with one stone. If I assist with activities outside my main role I would undertake these outside my normal work hours. I commit to approximately 5 – 20 hours per month

What activities have you been involved in?
I have presented fire science to all age ranges from “early years” to undergraduate. I recently joined the Royal Society of Chemistry as a volunteer at some of their chemistry days in primary schools. I have assisted in their “Chemistry at work” KS3 days at secondary schools, academies, grammar schools and specific days at universities. I have delivered presentations on forensic fire investigation to KS3 and FE students. I have also presented on forensic fire investigation to academic students at universities. On a different note I recently used my managerial skills and qualifications to assist at a STEM presentation in financial management at KS3.

What do you feel were the positive outcomes for the pupils?
I feel pupils respond to real world explanations of scientific principles. If this is allied to the dramatic world of fire science, then it is easy to grab and keep their attention. It is also easy to connect scientific principles to fire safety messaging at the same time. I tend to teach with the use of analogy. Teachers and tutors have reported to me during feedback session that they have personally obtained a greater understanding of some scientific concepts due to the analogies I use. I have had several of my analogies copied  by teaching staff and tutors for use in their teaching. I take this as a massive complement.

What do you feel were the positive outcomes for yourself?
I obtain a great feeling of personal emotional satisfaction from stimulating pupils towards a greater understanding of scientific principles. I have been able to deepen my personal understanding of science by reflecting on what I deliver to pupils and attempting to give clear explanations to them. I also have been able to improve as an instructor by learning different methods from teachers and other STEM ambassadors. Finally and not least, I have improved my confidence, in both my subject and my ability to explain my subject.  Because my role means that I may have to explain difficult concepts to a court of law and members of a jury, this has been invaluable to me.

Do you have any tips for future STEM Ambassadors?
Be yourself. If you are not an academic and you have an understanding of science and use scientific principles in your profession or trade, then this only adds strength to the concept of STEM delivery. You need to be confident you are able to reach the pupils. So practical demonstrations, movies and case studies are often much better than large numbers of PowerPoint slides. I do use computer aided delivery through a computer and projector. But what they don’t want is to be given a boring list of facts.

 

"Be yourself. If you are not an academic and you have an understanding of science and use scientific principles in your profession or trade, then this only adds strength to the concept of STEM delivery."