Family science engagement: Sai Pathmanathan’s Story
Published: 26 Apr 2018
Science education consultant Dr Sai Pathmanathan travelled to the USA in 2016 to investigate science engagement and learning for families through storytelling and children’s media. Sai’s Fellowship has helped her to become more ambitious in the issues she addresses in her work and in forming collaborations aimed at making science learning accessible to all.
Through running in-school workshops, after school family sessions and science clubs, Sai had witnessed how the interest of children and their families increased when she used elements of storytelling and clips from children's media. She had also become interested in initiatives that take learning out of museums and ‘science festivals’, settings that might alienate parents and carers not comfortable with science, and into more informal settings.
On her travels over the course of eight weeks Sai sought out science education initiatives that incorporated these elements, as well as attending two high-profile conferences and meeting experts from prestigious organisations.
Sai was impressed with the impact of all-inclusive makerspaces (places where people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge), community champions and role models in enabling science education to reach diverse communities and audiences. She observed how hi-tech resources were not required for successful initiatives, and how sustained engagement was more effective than increased scale.
Since Sai returned from her Fellowship travels she has worked closely with a variety of clients on outreach projects in Tower Hamlets, London. Aiming to raise aspirations in science in one of the city’s most deprived boroughs, Sai’s work has benefitted from collaborations with schools and other organisations, and the support of the local community and enthusiastic families. Parents who have attended Sai's afterschool family workshops have put her in contact with their workplaces, local city farms and nurseries to encourage further community science engagement.
Below: Sai spots a marine iguana while in the the Galapagos Islands
Interested in hearing more about Sai’s findings from her Fellowship travels, The Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) invited Sai to join them on a trip to the Galapagos Islands to observe outreach initiatives aimed at increasing awareness among young people of the impact of plastic waste in the oceans. This trip inspired Sai to run her own engagement events, called 'Plastic=Not Fantastic!', with further funding from WCMT.
These events enabled Sai to raise awareness of this issue among communities that may not have ever visited a beach, let alone appreciated the need to reduce plastic pollution in our waters. Sai plans to continue her work on this topic at afterschool and lunchtime clubs, and has now redesigned her workshops so they are entirely free of single-use plastics.
Sai is building up a network of individuals and organisations who are interested in community engagement and making science accessible to all. She has been approached by schools, educational organisations and academic societies to consult on diversity issues in public science engagement, community makerspaces and how to integrate storytelling and animation into primary science.