SAW (Science, Art and Writing) Trust: Innovative Science Education for Primary Schools and Beyond

The SAW initiative was developed by Professor Anne Osbourn, at the John Innes Centre in Norwich to break down the barriers between science and the arts.
SAW delivers workshops which use intriguing science images to provide stimulation for educational session, that explore themes through scientific experimentation, art and writing.
Science education provides critical, evidence-based training, which helps individuals within our society to understand and evaluate the world around them.  It is also important for developing our scientists of the future.
However, a relatively small proportion of primary school teachers have a scientific background, often leading to low confidence in teaching science and connecting science to the wider world.
A Royal Society report in 2010 highlighted that, “The findings of academic research show that primary teachers lack confidence in teaching science and mathematics, and that children are being ‘switched off’ these subjects.”
SAW training provides teachers with a new methodology for teaching science thereby helping to improve their confidence and enjoyment.

The Impact of SAW

  • In the UK over the past 18 years, over 6000 primary school children have been taught science directly through SAW workshops.
  • Over 500 early career and established scientists have delivered SAW activities.
  • In excess of 400 teachers have been trained in SAW methodology.
  • Trained teachers are using SAW methodologies in schools locally (Norfolk), nationally (UK) and internationally (Europe, China and the US).
  • SAW has published outputs from their workshops in three books; Saw Showcase, See Saw and Saw Antibiotics
  • In response to the pandemic SAW produced an activity book for children to explore science at home and have continued this annually to create the collection; ‘Help there’s an alien in my park!’, Help our planet’s in peril!’ and ‘Help our rivers need rescuing!’.  These books have been distributed for free to over 4000 children.
SAW allows children to interact with scientists, as well as artists and writers and realise that these careers require many of the same skills and are open to them.  Julia Mundy was a participant in a SAW workshop as a primary school student in 2003/4.  Julia had always enjoyed science, but this was the first time she had ever interacted with a real scientist and the experience made her realise that it was possible to have a career in science.
Today Julia works at the John Innes Centre as a Support Specialist for our Protein Crystallography and Biophysical Analysis Platforms.  Julia still employs art as a means of communicating her science for example through illustrations of proteins and crystals for scientific publications.

SAW beyond primary education

The flexible framework of SAW allows workshops to be developed on any topic, delivering cross-curricular learning opportunities and can be curriculum based, challenge based, or project based.

SAW methodology is not limited to primary school children and workshops have been undertaken with older children at secondary schools and sixth form colleges, as well as for university undergraduate and postgraduate students.

SAW also works with adult groups, for example a workshop called Global Gardens brought adults from different backgrounds together, to explore views and share ideas on global genetic plant resources. As well as participating in practical science, art and writing activities, the group discussed the Nagoya Protocol, a framework for sharing and compensating donor countries for their resources.

Participants found that the workshop, “Stretched their thinking about the ethics of biopiracy” and that it, “Broadened their experience: Giving a greater view of the complexity by discussion.”

SAW continues to be ambitious, extending the roll-out of the programme globally and expanding the programme to feature more adult groups, allowing scientific understanding to benefit societal debate amongst a broad range of publics.