Dynamic Earth and the Syrian Dads group

Dynamic Earth worked with the Syrian Dads group, coordinated by the Edinburgh Council Lifelong Learning Department.

Who did you work with?

We were honoured to work with the Syrian Dads group, coordinated by the Edinburgh Council Lifelong Learning Department. Typically, the group is an English language group for resettled Syrian men in Edinburgh, however for this project, the men brought their wives and children too to support family learning. The reason for this was because group leaders advised that the men often became isolated due to limited opportunities to practise their English. The children were mostly fluent in English from school, and the mums had a workable level too due to being involved in school life.

The dads were not typically involved in their children’s school experience and therefore missed out on both the opportunity to learn together, but also the opportunity to practise English with their peers. In addition, some of the men were looking for work or volunteering opportunities and struggling to find them due to their low levels of English. It was felt that to bring families together to work on this project would help to encourage family learning and engagement plus increase confidence and skill in learning English.

Had you worked together before?

Yes, but previous involved colleagues from both Dynamic Earth & the Council had moved on and the relationship had lapsed.

What goals, values or priorities did you share with your partner that meant you worked well together?

We shared the common goal of creating a safe and supported environment for family learning and encouraging exploration of new science topics together.

Can you summarise the aims of your project delivery in 2(ish) sentences?

Our main aims were to scaffold participant-guided family learning, ensure activities were engaging for all members of the family, support English language learning opportunities and to make the science centre feel like a place the families felt safe and welcomed.

‘The project was too short!’

Member of Dads group

How co-produced was your programme?

  1. Information shared (the offer is decided and provided by you as the lead partner and people join to hear information)
  2. Consultation (the community partner/participants choose from a range of options, involving listening, feedback and discussion, but broader project objectives and delivery are led by you)
  3. Deciding together (community partners/participants support the creation and design phase, bringing new options and joint decision-making. Delivery and evaluation/reporting is led by you as the lead partner)
  4. Acting together (involvement of community partner/participant at each stage - from the planning and design, to the delivery and evaluation – with shared decision-making that forms a partnership to carry out the full programme)
  5. Supporting independent community interest (supporting partner agency, including offered funding, advice, and support to develop the independent ideas and agendas of the community partner).

We decided things together and then formed a partnership to carry it out. We used the ‘Whole Lotta Stuff’ approach in the first session presenting 4 different areas of STFC-linked science for the families to explore and then held a vote to narrow down the area of exploration for future sessions. We had equal votes for Space Exploration and Engineering, so based content around these elements in the sessions that followed. Participants also wanted to experience the Dynamic Earth attraction itself, so within our limited time frame (4 x 90 minute sessions), we couldn’t quite progress further along the scale in terms of Acting Together or Supporting Independent Community Interest.

Can you note down some of the benefits and challenges to working this way?

Benefits: Participants guiding topics for learning meant that there was a high level of engagement throughout activities in all the sessions. The Syrian Dads group coordinators were worried that the dads would be disengaged and not benefit from the sessions, but I can happily confirm that all the dads completed all activities with their families throughout the project, with some beautiful results! It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm from the families and the creativity and thought put into all their activities.

Challenges: As the participants guided content from week to week, there was a short timescale to prepare resources, but mainly there was a lot of translation work required for workshop activity instructions etc. This would have been more challenging if it hadn’t been for one of the wonderful group coordinators who also acted as translator and made Arabic versions of all written materials required for each week. An extra level of organisation was required to get this done, but the outcome meant that there were English & Arabic versions of all materials to help support our aim of encouraging English language practise.

‘I have really enjoyed the whole programme, thank you to all the Dynamic Earth staff for making me feel valued and respected.’

Comment from one of the Dads (The group coordinator said this meant a lot coming from this particular dad, as he is a 'man of few words'

What was the science link?

Participants were particularly keen to learn about space exploration and engineering. We focused on the James Web Space Telescope through exploring IR technology, visited the Planetarium for a show about the various satellites surveying our universe, made models of the planets and also completed some engineering building challenges.

‘I can’t think of better feedback than the fact that all the families have returned every week despite it being a school night and one family having a 7 week old baby!’

Comment from the group coordinator

What happened?

We met with the group for 4 after-school sessions throughout September, usually completing activities and challenges for the first hour and then having refreshments and social time for the adults with more relaxed games for the children. Until this point, the men from this group had only met online due to lockdown, so we felt it was good to have plenty of time to socialise as well.

There was uncertainty over how much the dads would feel motivated or able to join in with the activities however it transpired that the dads were often the first to start activities and encourage their children to join in.

There were also some really lovely instances of the kids completing activities and then sharing their learning with their parents or reading instructions in English and then translating them for and with their parents.

When we visited the Planetarium, our resident astronomer was able to answer lots of the dads’ questions about space, including 'What are Saturn's rings made of', 'Why does everything spin round in space', 'Do aliens exist' and 'Is it scientifically proven that all the other planets in our solar system exist'. It was great to have a forum for the dads to ask all their space-related questions and have an expert to answer them.

During the final session, the dads each stood up in front of the group, unprompted, and spoke about how much the project had meant to them, so our initial concerns that it would not engage the whole family were firmly put to rest!

What challenges might lie in wait for someone wanting to replicate this project?

Ensuring you can arrange a long enough series of sessions that a meaningful relationship can be made. We ran 4 sessions but ideally would have done more if there had been time – I think 4 was the minimum required to build relationships.

Allowing time for translation of material and resources

Where there any surprises?

Mainly that there was such a great retention of participants throughout the project. We often find that for some community groups we work with, families aren’t able to commit to all sessions, so it was pleasantly surprising that everyone could attend all the sessions. It was also a great surprise that all family members felt able to take part in the activities and enjoyed working together after our initial concerns.


How did you capture/measure the impact for this project?

We used the EYU4 Evaluation Tools

Where is the long-lasting change?

This project has laid a great foundation for future projects with both the Syrian Dads group and the Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Team. Thanks to our established connection with the council we have already facilitated a visit for 70 Afghan refugees to Dynamic Earth during the October holidays. These families had been temporarily housed in hotels with very little to occupy the children, other than the limited resources from the council, so a day out to Dynamic Earth helped provide some entertainment for a short time.

We are now in planning stages for our upcoming future projects and will aim to work with the Syrian Dads group again to build on our new relationship. In addition, through the work we have done on increasing Equity, Diversity & Inclusion within Dynamic Earth through the facilitated EYU discussions, we hope to embed community at the heart of our work in the future.