Q&A: Science education through storytelling
Published: 17 Jan 2020
How children learn science is being transformed through storytelling. Churchill Fellow Dr Sai Pathmanathan (2016) travelled to the USA to investigate how science education can be made more accessible and appealing.
How did you become interested in science education?
SP: I have worked in science communication for over 18 years now, which led me to run educational workshops for children. Working after school with families from diverse backgrounds has been the most rewarding work I have done to date. As well as focussing on family science engagement through storytelling and children's media such as books and films, I have also started to explore community engagement, creative spaces for engagement, and working with different age groups and diverse populations.
Why is storytelling important for engaging young children in science?
SP: Storytelling and children’s media can take complex science, values, cultural understanding and practical life skills to much wider audiences than other media, because of the associated family engagement. Through running in-school workshops, after-school family sessions and science clubs, I have seen first-hand how the interest of children and their families can increase when we use elements of storytelling and clips from children's media.
What were your key learnings from your Fellowship travels?
SP: My research in the USA revealed that you don’t need the most polished resource materials and equipment to engage with families. High-quality sustained engagement on a small scale is just as important - and likely to be more valued by communities. Ultimately it doesn’t matter about the project, tools or materials you use, because the most successful engagement comes from the inspirational and passionate individuals facilitating the activities.
What have you been working on since you returned?
SP: A lot of the activities and events I took part in during my Fellowship were to do with food, which got me thinking about the science behind nutrition, balanced diets, as well as how integral food is to culture. The workshops I held on my return became increasingly food-based and I found that the families responded well to cross-curricular workshops linking science, illustrations and poetry. This gave me an idea for a book to engage children with health and nutrition through humour, drawing on the things children enjoyed in my workshops.
What’s next for you?
SP: Last year I saw something on Twitter about the Faber and Andlyn BAME (FAB) Prize. It was created to help unpublished black and ethnic-minority writers and illustrators find representation and publishing deals. I decided to submit the manuscript of my book idea and, a while later, I found out that I had been specially commended. This was a wonderful surprise and so nice to have that recognition. I'm slowly learning more about the industry, through this Prize and BookTrust Represents, and hope to publish something drawing on my Prize entry and Fellowship findings in the near future.