Impact Study: GirlGuiding STEM Activity

Context and Overview

Sara Elg is a Research Technician at the Centre for Virus Research (CVR) at the University of Glasgow and has been a STEM Ambassador since 2015. She is also a Chapter Lead of the local science outreach group ScienceGrrl Glasgow.

Sara’s outreach team was first connected to Girlguiding through work contacts, with her Stores Officer, Michelle Pearson, and Research Associate, Claire Donald, both being leaders of GirlGuides and Rainbows respectively. When Michelle attended a CVR outreach event, she immediately thought it would be a great opportunity for both her Guides and for the CVR outreach team to help her Guides get their Science Interest badge. Part of the requirements for the badge is to invite a scientist along to a Guides session and talk about their work, and the GirlGuides represented a new challenge for the CVR team as they had never engaged with a GirlGuide or Scout group before. After the first session with Michelle’s Clydebank Guides, Sara’s team was contacted by GirlGuiding Scotland who had heard of the event via social media and requested that they write a blog and newsletter about the visit. This, in combination with the success of the event and word of mouth, lead to the CVR team being contacted by several other Guide and Scouts groups to help them get their science badges. To date, the CVR team have completed six GirlGuide/Scouts sessions and with every event, they receive new invites from other groups.

Sara has been involved in all six of the outreach activities:




Young People Impacted

Total STEM Ambassadors Involved

November 2017

Clydebank Guides

33 Guides


February 2018

Cairneyhill Guides

22 Guides


March 2018

Cumbernauld Scouts

6 Scouts


April 2018

East Kilbride Guides

20 Guides


May 2018

East Kilbridge

15 Guides


May 2018

Kirkcaldy Brownies

24 Brownies



In these groups, the ages of the Girl Guides/Scouts ranged from 10-14 and the Brownies from 7-10. Sara visited each group once and ran activity stands for Guides to circulate around, with activities including:

  • The Glovebox Challenge (timed sorting of pegs and pipetting of liquid in an actual glovebox, as a challenge to get the best time from among your friends, which simulates working in high containment with miniscule materials and samples)
  • CVaRT (colouring in sheets from the CVR colouring book and learning about viruses & research at the CVR)
  • Jelly Cells (building cells in Petri dishes with lemon jelly and sweeties while learning about cell structure, organelles and cellular functions)
  • Build a Virus (learning what makes up a virus and how each structural feature relates to a function while creating a virus of their own imagination)
  • Chlorophyll Chromatography (extracting and separating chlorophyll from spinach)

Sara reports that this new experience has been very positive for the CVR outreach team as they have mainly focused their previous efforts on larger science festivals where a certain type of audience can be reached. For some time, the CVR outreach goal has been to reach audiences in areas where engagement with the sciences and scientists is lower, but these areas and audiences are sometimes difficult to define and to reach. By taking the activities along to GirlGuide groups around Scotland, the outreach team has been given the opportunity to reach these audiences and to spread awareness of science and CVR research. It has also increased their follow on public engagement efforts in areas they struggled to reach before and it continues to be a very rewarding experience. Sara has found that they have also had a tremendously positive experience as STEM Ambassadors and plan on continuing this work as long as invites keep coming. She feels that specifically connecting with GirlGuide groups also allows them to target younger females, many in the process of choosing their subjects; letting them know that female scientists exist and that there is a breadth of science careers for them to go into if they choose to study science.

Of all the groups they worked with, none had had a scientist visit them before. Additionally, no-one from CVR had previously engaged with GirlGuide groups.

Impact on young people

To assess the impact of these events, the CVR team used a sticker chart system. Each chart has three categories where stickers can be put depending on whether participants thought the event was Great, OK or Not so good. Sara reports that so far, they have only received Great (or some OKs) as feedback.

The CVR team have also taken quizzes to some groups and the answers indicate that they have really engaged with the material and with the volunteers. In Cumbernauld, there was a prize draw with the quizzes, and, after the event, one of the Scout leaders told Sara that he was amazed at the behaviour of the winning boy throughout the activity. He said the boy’s behaviour was usually really disruptive and he had never seen him so attentive. He was very happy that the event had encouraged this in him and that he was rewarded for it in the end.

All attendees at the sessions have also been awarded the Science Interest/Global Issues badges which each group was working towards at the time of the visit.

Additional informal feedback, gained through group discussion and questions asked by children, indicated that there is a genuine interest and curiosity about STEM work/studies, science in general and about the activities. The activities showcase the breadth of science careers choices and the accessibility for all people – boys and girls – and increases awareness of the options available if a pupil chooses a STEM subject. As for practical skills, The Glovebox Challenge is a great example of working under pressure with time constraints and in a difficult environment. It requires focus, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The activities also help develop critical thinking and problem solving as a skill. Going forward, the outreach team hopes to have impact on pupil career choices before subject selection occurs, to increase the number of pupils choosing to study a STEM subject by helping with awareness of career options. They have received feedback from one of the GirlGuides directly saying that she felt more inclined to choose a STEM subject after participating in these activities.

Finally, due to the face that so many leaders (and GirlGuiding Scotland) have spread the word of their visits, Sara’s team are seeing an increased number of invitations to visit other groups. The demand for these visits indicates that Sara and the CVR outreach team are providing activities that are engaging for these groups. 

Children were asked what the impact on the activity was for them. Replies include:

  • It was fun and scientific. I enjoyed it.
  • I enjoyed it all around as it was very educational also the free souvenirs. However I feel younger children would not understand.
  • I thought it was good, especially how you made it interesting with the fun activities to make it easier to understand.
  • It was really good and very interesting.
  • It was good that you didn’t talk about for an hour because they gets very boring but I like you done different things.
  • I found it really interesting and definitely made me learn more in the direction of Biology when choosing my subjects.

The CVR also wrote an article for Girl Guiding Scotland about their outreach projects:

Impact on Guide leaders

Sara says that the main impact these events have had on the group leaders is an increased perception that scientists are approachable. The CVR team has become a point of contact for groups and the news keeps spreading, generating more invites to new groups (of various age ranges). It has become clear that there is a growing interest in science-related activities for these groups and scope for further engagement.

All group leaders have seen the CVR team demonstrate each activity and now have the protocols if they would like to carry on doing those or similar activities themselves. Sara reports that most of their activities are also easy for group leaders to attempt themselves, such as Jelly Cells, Build a Virus, CVaRT and Chlorophyll Chromatography. All that is needed are some materials and the protocols.

Sara can see an increase in motivation and enthusiasm for science among leaders as they keep getting invited back or to other groups. One of the young leaders and her friend also volunteered to support a CVR event and helped demonstrate all the activities, showing increased understanding, confidence, motivation and enthusiasm for educating children about science. 

Impact on STEM Ambassadors

Before engaging in these outreach events with GirlGuide groups, the CVR STEM Ambassadors who volunteered were already experienced in public engagement, having been to other events with the CVR team. However, running the activities in the smaller, more intimate groups was different to attending larger events with a steady stream of foot traffic. As a result, the Ambassadors noticed improved confidence in a broad set of new skills in this smaller setting.

STEM Ambassadors’ communication skills have improved over the course of the events, due to the fact that they are using the same activities in similar settings. Many members of the team attend, meaning that by now the team feels like a well-oiled machine when it comes to organising attendance, travel & packing, material purchasing & preparation, activity running and controlling a group of excited pre-teens to teens. They tailor resources, volunteers, activity plan etc to the number of guides and their age and have become better at publicising the events via social media.

The CVR team is also trying to enhance the type and amount of feedback they get from events by asking for written comments rather than only stickers on a chart, to see what else they can learn about improving activities and events.

Their relationship management skills have also improved with each event, as they get more experience in contacting and communicating with Guide groups and new volunteers before and after events. For example, they successfully partnered with ScienceGrrl Glasgow, another public engagement group, for one of their Scout events.

Finally, Sara reports that the team have improved their skills in adapting to the audience - catering to different ages and interest/knowledge levels. They have endeavoured to eliminate the use of scientific jargon and keep activities fun, practical and interactive (with added materials available, such as quizzes, comics, books etc, for those with a larger appetite). With an open mind, they meet each group of Guides/Scouts with mindset to make each person feel comfortable enough to ask a question or talk to them about anything.

Unexpected Outcomes and Impact

According to Sara, one of the most unforeseen (and exciting) outcomes of this work has been the rapid expansion of these sessions, starting with the first Guide event back in November. “The news of our visit to Clydebank and the positive feedback the girls and leaders had for us there really spread and has led to this continuing programme of GirlGuide and Scouts visits,” Sara reports, “and it’s great to see we have inspired some young leaders as well to come along to other outreach activities and volunteer to teach other children about science.” This opportunity to scale and expand the programme after just a few sessions demonstrates the potential impact it can have for other guide groups in West Scotland.  

What would you change for next time?

The CVR team would like to expand their range of activities and try to get more feedback from events and see how they can use that feedback to improve their offering.

Sara reflected on her time spent on the events: “It’s so much easier to get into contact with these types of community groups than you think, they’re always keen to accommodate you and whatever activity you’d like to share with them. Also, once you have got some contacts it really spreads around the network! Always take enough time for travel and setting up - keeping it simple activity-wise really helps here and having something that can easily be adapted to different ages and abilities really helps. If you contact a group and they would like to for a certain badge – find out a little about the badge and the requirements and maybe try to bring something related to those requirements.”

This sound advice is part of the reason that the GirlGuide outreach has been so successful, and why guiding groups are queuing up for a chance to see these scientists in action.  

First published: 21 June 2018

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