The ‘Hoe?Zo! Show’ project

The Hoe?Zo! Show project (lit: How?So! Show) is a science communication project for 9-11 year old children. The project teaches children basic scientific skills and fosters their natural curiosity. We developed an education module for the children, which they complete with their own teacher in their classroom before visiting the Hoe?Zo! Show in a local theater.

The project specifically focusses on geographical areas without a nearby university to reach children that are otherwise not frequently reached by science communication. In 2021-2022 the Hoe?Zo! Show project visited theaters in six cities in the Netherlands.

The theater show
In the theater show, children can ask a team of four PhD candidates any question that they might have. The PhD candidates do not know which questions the children will ask and need to produce an impromptu answer. The PhD candidates do not only answer the questions, they also visualize the answers using a collection of props. To ensure accurate answers, the PhD candidates are allowed to use the internet for a restricted amount of time. The PhD candidates are trained in presentation skills and improv before they go on stage.

A video impression of the show with English subtitles can be found to the right.

Examples of children’s questions

  • “Does a woodpecker never get a headache?”
  • “Why is the sky blue?”
  • “Why is Donald Duck so popular?”

Education module
The education module consists of four lessons: ‘What is a good question?’, ‘How do you find and judge information’, ‘How can you make new information?’, and ‘How do you present your findings?’. Each of the four lessons consists of a work sheet for the kids and a manual for the teacher. Furthermore there are movies, a poster, and two different experiments that can be used in class. All materials are freely available through this website (in Dutch only).

Training for PhDs
One of the aims of the project is to train PhD candidates in outreach skills. Outreach is an important aspect of science, but formal training is often not available. As part of the project, PhD candidates complete a two-day training. The main aim of the project is to teach PhD candidates all of the skills necessary to continue outreach efforts on their own work after the project.

The training program consists of different modules on presentation skills and improv theater to make the PhD candidates comfortable on stage, writing and practising research pitches aimed at ~10 year olds to learn how to provide a clear description of their research, developmental psychology to understand how to best reach children and foster their curiosity, and extensive practising of answering example questions using props. The PhD candidates also receive a media training to prepare them for future interviews and media appearances.

After their visit to the show, the teachers were asked to fill out an evaluation of the Hoe?Zo! Show. The evaluations are overall very positive, the scores of the three most important questions are below.

Are the scientists in the show a role model for the children? Average: 4.5 / 5.0

Did the show reach children who are otherwise not exposed to science? Average: 4.5 / 5.0

How much did the children enjoy the show? Average: 4.8 / 5.0

The initiators
The Hoe?Zo! Show project was developed by dr. Lennart de Groot and dr. Barbara Braams.

Lennart is geophysicist at Utrecht University and studies the behavior of Earth’s magnetic field. He is engaged in outreach, and frequently appears on radio and television. He also often contributes to articles in the science pages of newspapers and popular scientific magazines.

Barbara is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Free University Amsterdam, with expertise in brain development of children and adolescents aged 8 to 18. She is author of ‘The risky brain’, a popular science book. She often gives lectures and interviews in national media.

The project is funded by a grant (50 k€) from the ‘science communication call’ of the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) to Barbara Braams and Lennart de Groot.