Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference 2020+1

Profile photo Jamie Menzies

May 2021

Jamie Menzies will present ‘A balancing act: Transforming science communication through research-practitioner partnerships.‘ as part of Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference 2020+1.


Have you ever noticed how you use your hands to explain science ideas? Science communicators naturally use gestures to accompany speech because when we think we draw upon body-based experiences. In other words, thinking is embodied.

Hands-on exhibits create an important foundation for understanding complex science concepts, enabling learning through different forms of interaction e.g. physical actions, speech, gesture. Yet, exploring how best to support preschool visitors (whose language skills are still developing) in these body-based experiences to promote science understanding is poorly understood.

University researchers and science centre practitioners worked together to co-develop an interactive exhibit for preschoolers, encouraging them to explore and communicate their scientific thinking using actions, speech and gesture. In doing so, we created guidelines for exhibit design and science communication at exhibits. Using a design-based research method, the team analysed preschoolers’ experiences with a balance exhibit to co-create a new body-based learning exhibit incorporating digital technology, communication, and hands-on apparatus.

Our approach required researchers and practitioners to alternate roles: building science centres’ independent research capacity and University researchers’ appreciation of the complexity of real-world settings. Exploring interactions between adults and children revealed that emphasising body-based communication improves children’s understanding of balance concepts beyond expected curricular levels, with certain movements and gestures proving particularly helpful. This demonstrates how science communicators can use a range of evidence-based communication approaches to support children’s learning with exhibits, increasing engagement and making science more accessible for underserved communities (low science capital) who may be less confident with using scientific language, but more confident using actions/gestures to support children’s interactions.

By linking embodied learning theory and practice we produced a set of practical guidelines highlighting how to improve science communication and evaluation, serving as a best-practice model for researcher-practitioner collaboration and impactful exhibit co-design to enable embodied learning experiences.

Author: Jamie Menzies, University of Edinburgh

Co-authors: Zayba Ghazali-Mohammed (University of Edinburgh), Susan Meikleham (Glasgow Science Centre), Sharon Macnab (Glasgow Science Centre), Andrew Manches (University of Edinburgh).


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