The CMU Portugal National Co-Director and Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI) President, Nuno Nunes, accepted the challenge launched by the initiative “Cientista Regressa à Escola” (Scientist Returns to School) to visit his primary school and share his experience as a researcher with young students through science workshops.
Nuno Nunes, who spent his childhood on the Portuguese Island Madeira, went back to his school “Escola Básica da Pena,” in Funchal, where he studied until age 10. In a “time travel” back to where his education started, Nuno mentioned, “I have great memories about that time. Back then, I had no idea I would become a Computer Scientist, maybe because computers weren’t accessible to everyone. At that time, it would have been great to have someone coming to my school to share their experience. That’s why I’ve accepted this challenge. It is a great initiative, and I’m happy to participate.”
Currently, a Full professor in Human-Computer Interaction at Instituto Superior Técnico, Nuno shared his experience with two groups of 9/10-year-olds while teaching them the basics of coding using Sphero Edu. But most important was to adapt the teaching methods to the audience by using interactive and engaging tools where children could be part of the experience.
During the activities, Nuno taught how Artificial Intelligence worked using ChatGPT and created a conversation with Cristiano Ronaldo using this AI model. Students were invited to place the famous football player questions that would be answered through this AI solution. One of the kids wanted to know, for example, if Ronaldo remembered his mother, who went to school with him in Madeira, and another one asked him how he had become so rich and how he could do the same.
Throughout the activity, Nuno also pointed out some examples of his work and of the projects he leads, namely the Arcadia Project, an initiative focused on climate change.
The overall feedback and participation of the children were highly positive. Many questions were placed, some easier to respond to than others, but Nuno said, “when faced with those kids’ questions impossible to respond to, sometimes a laugh is the best answer!”
The initiative was a success and a great experience not only for the children:
“It was a unique experience to return here after all these years. But more importantly, it was a great opportunity to talk about my work and hopefully inspired children to pursue the careers they want”, Nuno Nunes.
‘Cientista Regressa à Escola’ is a science outreach initiative where researchers/scientists return to their primary schools to share their academic and professional experiences with students. The educational program is implemented by Native Scientists, a non-profit organization connecting underserved children and scientists, that aims to promote scientific culture and literacy to young children, inspiring them to follow a path in science. Since it was launched in September 2021, 16 scientists have had the opportunity to return to their primary schools. Joana Bordalo, who leads the program, says, “We want to assure that every child in Portugal, no matter their background, is allowed to meet a scientist from their hometown before entering middle school.” By the end of 2023, another 33 visits are already planned.
More about the initiative here.