[University home]

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.

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.

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:
http://www.engagement.manchester.ac.uk/resources/engagement/

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

SPEAKERS:

  • 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 Matters: Developing Table Top Science Activities

In this Engagement Matters post Sheena shares her six top tops developing a table top science activity.

There are lots of things to think about if you want to create a successful table top activity. Before you do this it may help to go (or help at) an event in which there are a variety of table tops activities to see what you think works and what you think does not work so well. Also do look at what happens in museums, visitor centres, exhibition spaces and galleries as often there will be examples of excellent practice there.

These are my six top tips for making a good table top activity.

1: Purpose: What is the purpose of your activity – what do you want people to take away from the activity? Do you, for example, want to share a research mechanism and therefore develop a game or prop to visualise this or initiate discussion and raise awareness about the field of research you are in? Always consider your purpose before going any further as it will help shape everything including helping you plan evaluation.

2: Audience: Who is the target audience that your activity is aimed at? One activity will not necessarily suit all ages so consider what is age appropriate and likely to hold interest. Can you trial the activity with someone else first – friends or family just to see if it works? I have used my children as guinea pigs for many of my activities and believe me friends and family can be amongst your harshest critics! On the plus side, my children know quite a lot about parasites now – a fact for which I am sure they are grateful…

3: The “Hook” and Levels of Engagement: Often it is helpful to have different levels of engagement to hold your audience. Ideally you will have a hook that draws people to your stand – this may be something eye-catching or something that resonates with people perhaps because it is relevant to them (the words eye-catching, relevance and resonance are important to consider when planning your “hook”). However, a hook is not enough to keep people involved and ideally you want a longer more meaningful engagement. So what games or activities do you have? If the activities are for children is there something for the parents too? Often this may be you yourself talking through the science and its importance and relevance. If you are struggling to come up with a hook or suitable games then do brainstorm with other colleagues, students and helpers.

Disclaimer: Do not necessarily use posters! I have put this in bold as many researchers are used to displaying information in poster format and therefore default to that. However, lots of small pictures, too many words and jargon are quite frankly off putting. In fact, so off putting can “the poster” be, I have found that some institutions have a blanket policy that does not allow you to display posters in an event. However posters can be a great way to frame your activity if used appropriately – either by using them as a screen to separate your activity from others or as an information source. So, if you DO use posters, ensure they are focused on key messages and use plenty of big, attractive images. Are there analogies you can use to help the message come over? Also consider where you place the poster – if posters are behind you then how can people read them-consider the size of text and where you place the key messages if the posters are to be placed behind you. I have previously put posters on the floor and found many people stopped to read them than perhaps would have looked at posters on the wall.

4: Flow through: This may seem obvious but ideally you want to structure the activity so you have a clear logical flow through of people. You may have your hook then for example encourage participants to move along the table or tables where your next activity (and perhaps another helper is poised) and so on. It is worth taking a little time to consider this as good flow through can really improve the activity.

5: Take home message: What is your take home message – what do you want people to leave with? Is there something they can take away with them to do at home or find out more info? Again, worth planning at the outset.

6: Evaluation: Last but not least – how will you evaluate the success of the activity? Has it worked for both you and the people you wished to reach? If you know the purpose (step 1) it is much easier to know what you will evaluate. I suggest, in the first instance you keep evaluation relatively simple. You can even see if you can build part of the evaluation into the activity so it is part of the fun. There is excellent guidance on evaluation through engagement@manchester here.

I hope these tips will help you plan your activity. Have fun and good luck! Do remember that all the best activities have been crafted from lots of trials, so don’t worry if not all elements of your activity come together – they may need refining to get them just perfect for your next event.

See related posts:

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement, The University of Manchester

Twitter: @UoMEngage | @sheencr | #EngageMatters