Science Exhibits for Sri Lanka Project

Pilot Project: successfully completed in June and July 2006

Five science exhibits were built by Elon University students with faculty help. These exhibits were brought to Sri Lanka in June and July of 2006 to be shared with school age children. In the pilot project we hope to develop ongoing relationships with Sri Lankan unverisities and government agencies. The collaboration with universities may involve building some parts of the exhibits, translating English exhibit information posters into Sinhalese and Tamil, running workshops on approaches to science education, and monitorinng exhibit activities in schools.

July 2006 Pilot Program Photo Gallery

Media coverage of the Pilot Program:

This summer Elon University funded a pilot project to initiate a traveling science center in Sri Lanka. The National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka has recognized the need for science centers and has joined with us to collaborate on this venture. 

During the Spring 2006 semester, program directors Dr. Crista Arangala and Dr. Martin Kamela worked with Elon University students to develop interactive science exhibits, which included exhibits demonstrating the light spectrum, human skeleton in motion, chemistry of smell, phosphorescence, and visual perception. Each exhibit comes with a poster explaining the science behind what is seen. Elon students involved in building the exhibits included Glenn Barnard, Anne Garfinkel, Katherine Gosney, Kirsten Rhodes, Patrick Tweel, and Allison Arpin, John Clark and Joshua Guske.

Between July 2nd and 7th the above exhibits made their way to three locations in Sri Lanka.  We were pleased to be joined by Sri Lankan undergraduate students Pubudu Weerathunga and Anjani Udagedara (University of Moratuwa), Nipuni Palliyaguru (University of Colombo), and Dushani Palliyaguru (Clark University), who translated the exhibit posters and interacted with the school children.

The first showing of the exhibits took place at the Samanala Children’s Home in Rattanpitya, Colombo. This is an orphanage for 25 boys whose parents died in the ethnic conflict between the independence seeking Tamil forces from up north and the government. The orphanage was originally in the Galle area, in the South-East of the island, and moved to Colombo after the December 2004 tsunami. Mr. Daya Wickramaratne, a retired businessman, runs the orphanage. He says that the psychological strain of the aftermath of the tsunami affected the boys so much that it necessitated the move up north to Colombo.

The boys enjoyed exploring the science exhibits. They asked many good questsion which our university students were happy to anwser. Through their hands-on play they learned some interesting science and as a farewell the boys sang and danced for us.

After we left the orphanage, the three university students, Drs. Arangala and Kamela, and Mr. Arangala, sat in a short eats shop to think about the experience. We agreed that the response of the children was very positive. We also agreed that having Sinhalese speaking students significantly helped make the experience successful.

The exhibits next went to the all-girls Sirimovo Bandaranaike School in Colombo. This is a large (by North American standards), urban, school with good science laboratory facilities and many higly qualified teachers. The Science and Maths Society and the science teachers, Mrs. Damayanthi Rupasinghe and Mrs Jayantha Balagalle, helped us to set up the exhibits.

We were welcomed at the school with the traditional lamp lighting ceremony and an address from Thiwanki Dilshani Liyanawaduge, President of the Science and Math Society. Following the welcome we began showing the exhibits to four classes, so that more than 200 students had the chance to explore science with us. Students asked good questions and were encouraged to do so by the science teachers.

We asked two classes, Grades 8 and 5, to fill short surveys. In addition students wrote comments in a special comment book. Together this feedback on the exhibit experience, by far very positive, and our impressions in monitoring the activities, will help to develop better exhibits in the future.

In addition to the students and the science teachers, a delegation from the National Science Foundation and the National Science and Technology Commission (led by Dr. Sachie Panawala) came to see the science show. The NSF is our partner in this project so it was good to have them with us. Also in attendance was Mr. Douglas Ranasinghe, Director of Science Education at the
Ministry of Education, as was Mrs. Pushpa Kalubovilla, the Principal of the school, whose own background is in chemistry. Mr. Ranasinghe helped with the project by approving the school visit and we look forward to collaborating with him and the Ministry of Education in the future.

The next stop of the exhibits was in the South-East of the island at the Shatraloka School in Karuwalabadda. This is a rural school with few resources where many children come from families displaced by the tsunami. We were welcomed by Mr. Saman Chandana, the Principal, who has been at the school for three years. This is in fact his old school which he attended as a boy. He said that when he took over as principal there were only 6 students in the first grade and he has been working on increasing school attendance so that now there are 20 students in Grade 1. School attendance and effort on school work are major issues at the school as children are needed to help adults with work (many cultivate cinnamon). The other major issues are basic infrastructure at the school (no water in the laboratory, no playground) and science equipment.

At the Shatraloka School we tried a different approach to monitoring student activies. The first group to look at the exhibits were the oldest studetns from Grades 10 and 11. With the help of the science teacher, Mrs. Ramya Silva, students were encouraged to ask questions and explore. These older students were next asked to help with the exhibit activities for the younger students. We were pleased to see this peer-mentoring approach work quite well, and this may be a useful model to follow in the future. Students also filled a short survey which will be used to improve future exhibits. Another benefit of the science exhibits is exposing younger students to university students, who provide a positive role model for the benefits of education. Anjani received close to 20 requests for pen-pals from the students at the school!

Overall the pilot project received extremely positive feedback from the students, science teachers, and administrators of the three institutions. The experience of showing the exhibits in three very different settings will help guide the subsequent efforts in the project.

Drs. Arangala and Kamela have also met with science professors at the University of Colombo. Dr. Sarath Kotagama, Professor of Zoology, and Dr. S.R.D. Rosa, Professor of Physics, have both encouraged our project and have expressed a willingness to explore collaborations in the future.

So what is next? The project develops on several fronts. Planning is underway for the Winter Term study abroad class for Elon students, tentatively scheduled for January 2008. As part of this proposed Winter Term class Elon students and Sri Lankan university students will hold a joint workshop on approaches to science education, work on translating and finishing the exhibits, and go to local school with the traveling science center to monitor exhibit activities for school age children.

Elon students can also be involved in the project on campus by building the exhibits, through either a GST course offered each semester or through a volunteer opportunity.

Elon University and the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka will continue to collaborate on establishing the traveling science center and bringing a larger variety of mathematics and science exhibits to Sri Lanka in the near future. The five exhibits brought to Sri Lanka this summer will soon be housed in a renovated room at the National Museum in Colombo, which welcomes more than 200 children daily on school field trips. Drs. Arangala and Kamela will seek funding for the production of further exhibits and perhaps a "Science Bus", which would serve as the mobile base for the traveling science center.