Interview: Maddie Moate, CBeebies star and engineering evangelist
With new episodes of her 'behind the scenes'-style series now out, YouTube and and CBeebies star Maddie Moate tells E&T she hopes to inspire youngsters to engage with STEM subjects.
“Kids are born scientists because all science is, at its essence, about asking questions about the world around us and observing things and noticing things.”
So says Maddie Moate, 29, whom parents with young children will know as a breathlessly enthusiastic CBeebies presenter specialising in engineering and technology.
Her ‘Do You Know?’ series guides viewers behind the scenes at factories to see the manufacturing process behind everyday items ranging from toilets to bread to toothpaste, and uncovers the science behind these. In a sign of her growing fame, Moate’s engagement to Greg Foot, a fellow science presenter who features in many of her videos, was tabloid news fodder earlier this year.
The first episodes in a new series of ‘Do You Know?’ were aired earlier this year by the BBC’s children’s network, with another batch of episodes due in September. Moate also has a large social media following and a YouTube channel featuring content including a video about paper being made out of elephant poo and another about a project in Bali that turns discarded bottle caps into 3D-printer filament.
Meanwhile, in ‘Do You Know?’ she addresses gravity by going down a water slide and chats about the effects of yeast in the context of a birthday cake.
“I studied theatre, film and television,” says Moate, by way of acknowledgement that she herself is not actually a scientist by training. “I didn’t go back to science until later on in life. I often ask myself why I didn’t pursue STEM subjects to begin with. For me, I think it’s because it just wasn’t a visible career.
“I think this is especially true of girls. I’m stereotyping, but I think that at the time, when I was making big future decisions at the age of 14 or whatever ridiculous age it is, I thought, ‘Well, what do I want to do for the rest of my life? I want to do something that’s fun and I want to do something that I understand.’
“I was already doing drama and singing and dancing outside of school and because I was doing extracurricular activities that I’d already done exams in, I kind of felt that I was already on that ladder. I could visibly see people on television or on the stage enjoying themselves and having successful careers. So naturally that was what I wanted to do.”
“I didn’t know what a scientist looked like. Or my perception of a scientist certainly wasn’t someone like myself. I think what’s brilliant about shows like ‘Do You Know?’ is that actually by making science so visible and by finding joy in it, hopefully that will inspire, or at least influence, young kids to continue pursuing their natural passions for those subjects.”
At school, Moate admits, she “didn’t even know engineering existed”. She adds: “I think the reason why engineering is so fantastic, and actually why women would enjoy it, is because it combines science and maths and it applies them to the real world.
“It’s not very often, especially at school, that you get to see the relevance of science and maths. You sit in maths lessons in particular and you think, ‘I’m never going to need to do this in the future.’
“You can sit through a lesson on forces and think, ‘This is not important to me’. But what engineering does is it brings that into the real world and I think for a young kid, as soon as they can see how learning is relevant to them, then suddenly they care more.”
She insists the show is far from patronising, however: “Something I’m quite adamant about is that there’s very little that is too complicated for a child. You just have to describe it in a way that the child understands.”
That said, children’s limited vocabulary can sometimes be a challenge.
“In the first series, we covered magnets,” Moate explains. “Now, magnets are quite simple in the grand scheme of things. But when suddenly you can’t use the words ‘repel’ and ‘attract’ because young children might not have heard those words before, and you have to then change the language, that process of simplifying can mean things suddenly become more complicated.
“Sometimes, trying to simplify things leads to more problems, interestingly.”