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Public Engagement at Manchester

Creating Accessible STEM Outreach Activities

On Wednesday the 19 February, Engagement@Manchester hosted a best practice event centred on creating science outreach activities that are accessible and engaging for young people with sensory impairments.

The session was chaired by Emma Nichols, Public Engagement Manager, Department of Physics and featured guest speakers Robyn Watson, a teacher of the visually-impaired from Thomasson Memorial Sensory Support Service and Sam Tygier from Tactile Collider.

Attendees participated in hands-on activities with some of the tactile resources, explored what makes for accessible science, and found out about opportunities for getting involved with accessible science events planned for summer 2020.

What activities did the attendees try?

Robyn set up some activities so that attendees could step into the shoes of the children with sensory impairments by experiencing everyday tasks blindfolded. Attendees had to slice vegetables, guess what was inside of different tinned goods, match socks and put toothpaste onto a toothbrush. Having had a go at the activities, Robyn challenged attendees to consider how this experience could help shape the development of their own science outreach activities for the visually impaired.

Attendee Dr Naomi Curati said of the activities, “I found the workshop fun and thought-provoking. It has prompted me to think critically about how accessible the engagement activities I am putting together are to people with sensory impairments, and given me some ideas about developing tactile props.

What did Robyn say about creating accessible science outreach activities?

Robyn opened the event by exploring what is needed in creating accessible science outreach activities for children. Her key considerations included:

  • Children with sensory impairments come to science outreach sessions to be excited by science, not just to learn about science. Particularly when working with children with sensory impairments or complex needs, enjoyment is key as this is often not accessible in schools and at events.
  • As a scientist or engagement practitioner, don’t assume any prior knowledge on behalf of the children. Ask questions to gauge their knowledge and experience and think carefully about how you describe research, concepts and activities, without patronising the children.
  • Make sure that demonstrations are simple enough for someone with no prior knowledge or experience with science to understand and keep a steady pace as children with complex or sensory needs can take a longer time to process information.
  • The level of sensory impairment will vary between children as will academic ability so build in time for the children to do the activity to completion – it may take longer than you think.
  • Reflect on how you can adapt your activities by using a range of different sounds and making them visually exciting with use of different colours or bright lights etc. Aim for fireworks – i.e. short bursts of wow!
  • Delivering activities is about how you frame things – you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of science, making topics exciting and accessible is key.

Take a look at more top tips from Robyn in this short film.

What did Sam say about Tactile Collider?

Tactile Collider is a project that aims to teach children with sensory impairments about particle accelerator physics and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Launched by Dr Robert Appleby in the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, the project is also led by Project Managers Dr Chris Edmonds and Robyn Watson. Funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the project attempts to create a new model of scientific communication for the visually impaired and directly tackles the issue of communicating with under-represented audiences about science.

The Tactile Collider project has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2019 European Physics Society (EPS) Outreach Award, the 2019 RNIB See Differently Awards and our own Better World and Making a Difference Awards. The communication frameworks used by Tactile Collider can be used for all audiences and represent an innovative approach to encouraging diversity and outreach in science activities.

Sam detailed how Tactile Collider coordinates its engagement activities:

In performing outreach activities and giving students access to scientists, Tactile Collider aims to inspire students to see physics as a viable career option. Students take part in four participatory workshops which start with particles and magnets, using equipment such as 3D jigsaws with embedded magnets. Students then go on to explore the science behind particle acceleration and the Higgs boson. Tactile Collider also have an embodied learning session where groups of students are given a sentence that they have to act out, such as ‘Protons in the Large Hadron Collider go around the ring at 11,000 times a second’.
Some of the other accessible activities created include the CASSIE model accelerator, where students get to see how different components fit together by feeling a five metre diameter scale model of the accelerator, and the ‘sonic collider’ which allows users to experience, for example, particle collisions and acceleration through sound.

Sam also shared what he has learnt about delivering accessible science:

The biggest surprises that Sam has found in delivering accessible science are making assumptions about a sensory impairment as there are a wide range of them as well as how genuinely excited the children are about physics.

To deliver science outreach, effective communication and clear instructions are key in making activities more accessible as well as building formative evaluation into the process. Also, you have to be prepared to adapt by having backup activities and spare materials as there may be missing people and equipment on the day as well as being prepared to accommodate a range of needs and abilities in your students.

Take a look at more top tips from Sam in this short film.

Tactile Universe and Emma’s tips for creating accessible science:

Finally, Emma introduced us to some of the 3d-printed galaxy models from Tactile Universe – an award-winning project at the University of Portsmouth Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation to engage the visually impaired community with astrophysics research.

Think about different ways you could explain your topic – those pretty space pictures in your talk might be lovely to look at but are they really crucial? Robyn and I put together an event last year for a small group of children with visual impairments, and my brief asked for no Powerpoint presentations, worksheets or information handouts, but lots of hands-on activities and things that engaged different senses. Rather than those constraints limiting people, the activities they came back with were really varied and brilliant, and would have been great with any schools group.”

An opportunity…

Emma and Robyn have been awarded funding from STFC Wonder Match, which provides opportunities for community organisations and researchers to meet together and develop ideas for engagement activities. As part of their award, they are planning to deliver engagement activities for primary and secondary school pupils with sensory impairments in June.

If you are interested in finding out more about this opportunity and/or would like to take part in a workshop run by Emma and Robyn in April/May to help you craft your own accessible science activity, then get in touch with Emma at emma.nichols@manchester.ac.uk

Engagement@Manchester – 15 May 2019, 1.00-2.30pm with Dr Emily Dawson, UCL

Engagement@Manchester – 15 May 2019, 1.00-2.30pm, Michael Smith Building (lecture theatre at entrance)

Increasingly as public engagement practitioners we are asked to look at ways we might engage with more diverse audiences. But what do we know about who, how and why people do (or do not engage) with science.

In our next Engagement@Manchester best practice session, our special guest: Dr Emily Dawson, UCL, will present on the topic of “Equity, Exclusion & Everyday Science Learning”.

Emily’s work focuses on how people learn about and engage with science, with an emphasis on equity and social justice. Her research and teaching explore how some science education practices across the formal and informal education sectors (i.e. from schools, to museums, to watching TV at home) set certain kinds of people up to be successful when they engage with science, while other people are set up to fail.

Seeing Emily talk and hearing about her research really challenged me about my work and inspired me to think differently about how I do public engagement. Her work is relevant for anyone wanting to do public engagement no matter what discipline you are in.” – Prof Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement

All welcome to this best practice session. No registration required.

Do get in touch if you have any queries.

Dee-Ann Johnson
Public Engagement Manager | Office for Social Responsibility | The University of Manchester | 0161 306 3231 |Twitter: @uomengage

Join us for our final Engagement@Manchester session for this academic year

Community Engagement: Empowering Young People, featuring special guest Ruth Ibegbuna – Wednesday 16 May, 13.00 – 14.30, Discovery Centre, Manchester Museum

Ruth Ibegbuna, is the Founder of RECLAIM, building on her successful teaching career to develop innovative strengths-based work which enables young people to achieve their potential. RECLAIM is a youth leadership and social change charitable organisation. Ruth was listed in The Sunday Times as one of the 500 most influential people in the UK, in The Debrett’s 500 in 2016. She was also listed by Virgin and Ashoka as one of the top six female change makers internationally.

In this Engage@Manchester session, Ruth will be talking about and answering questions around empowering young people, working side by side with them to build a fairer future. She is an expert in encouraging young people to believe in their inherent abilities and to demand the best for themselves and their lives.

Following the talk, join us for cake and coffee. If you only make it to one engagement@manchester shared learning session this year – then make it this one – for a healthy dash of inspiring engagement practice.

No need to book. Drop in.

More about engagement@manchester can be found here:

Engagement@Manchester: Policy, Health and Culture – 21 March 2018, 1.00-2.00pm

Our next Engagement@Manchester session will be on policy, health and culture. Improving health and wellbeing has been recognised as important by policymakers and engaging in the arts is proving to have an impact on building health and wellbeing.

When and where: 21 March 2018, 1.00-2.00pm, Zochonis B24

Drop-in and join us to hear from:

  • Colin Lorne is a Research Fellow in AMBS working on the Health Foundation-funded project Devolving Health and Social Care: Learning from Greater Manchester. He will give a whistle stop tour of Greater Manchester Health Devolution.
  • Mary Tully is a Reader in Pharmacy Practice in the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry who works in the Division of Informatics, Imaging and Data Sciences as Director of Public Engagement for Connected Health Cities and is co-lead for Public Engagement for HeRC. Mary will share her experiences of using citizens’ juries to influence policy on health data.
  • Wendy Gallagher, Arts and Health Partnership Manager at Manchester Museum and The Whitworth, will discuss the importance of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing and the recent report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. The report contains strong evidence that creative and cultural activities can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Wendy will also highlight some of the strategic developments across the health and culture sector.

This engagment@manchester session is brought to you by Suzanne Spicer and Anna Bunney.

Impact and research partnerships: E@M lunchtime session, 7 Feb 2018, 13.00 drop-in

We are delighted to announce that the next Engagement@Manchester lunchtime share session will take place on Wednesday 7 February 2018.

Drop-in and listen to colleagues who share their experiences of impact and research partnerships. Join a discussion on the current context on public engagement and REF2021 and discover what expertise and support is available to build research partnerships.

TITLE: Impact and research partnerships

WHEN: 7 February, 13.00-14.30

WHERE: Room 3-210, University Place


  • Dr Sarah Marie Hall (School of Social Sciences) – Everyday Austerity project (winner of the inaugural Jo Cox Prize for Public Service and Active Citizenship)
  • Dr Emmanuel Pinteaux (Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology) – Stroke, Self and Brain workshops in partnership with The Stroke Association

Followed by discussion and information concerning:

  • Current context around impact and public engagement – UOM and REF2021
  • Internal expertise and support to build research partnerships.

All welcome!

Judith Gracey & Rachel Kenyon, Research & Business Engagement Support Services

Engagement@Manchester: Working with schools and young people 17 May, 1– 2:30pm

Engagement@Manchester: Working with schools and young people – 17 May, 1 – 2:30pm, G38 Coupland 1 Building.

In this session, led by the Student Recruitment and Widening Participation team, you’ll have the opportunity to hear from Staff and Students who have experienced a diverse range of outreach activities involving young people from across Greater Manchester and beyond.

There will be case studies from PhD Students, an academic school and researcher-led projects. We will also highlight support available for you to start/expand/contribute to schools liaison work in your academic school. A perfect event for staff and students brand new to working with schools and young people and wondering where to start.

There will be coffee & cake at this event, our final engagement@manchester for this academic year. The session is open to all, so please pop in and see how you can get involved.

If you have any suggestions or topics you’d like covered in next years Engagement@Manchester sessions – please let us know on engagement@manchester.ac.uk

We hope to see you there!

Emma Lewis-Kalubowila, UG Recruitment and Widening Participation Officer (Academic Enrichment STEM), The University of Manchester

Public engagement can lead to impact – E@M session with Paul Manners from NCCPE – 25 Jan 1-2.30pm

Public engagement can lead to impact with Paul Manners, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement

25 January 2017 1.00-2.30pm, Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum

Join us for this month’s Engagement@Manchester lunchtime learn and share meeting when we are pleased to welcome Paul Manners, Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

Over the last year, the NCCPE has completed a major review of how public engagement fared in REF 2014. During this excellent opportunity, Paul will share the headlines and explore the implications for REF 2021.

All welcome.

Suzanne Spicer, Social Responsibility Manager, Office for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 306 3047
Email: suzanne.spicer@manchester.ac.uk