Do the young people in your school feel confident engaging with scientific concepts, terminology, experiences and thinking? Do they believe science is “for them”? In this blog post, Science Museum Group (SMG) Academy Manager Beth Hawkins shares five ways teachers can help learners develop “science capital” – promoting more positive perceptions of, attitudes towards and aspirations within the sciences.

To read more about the research behind these recommendations, click here.

1. Personalise and localise your content

The more we can relate science content to what matters in learners’ lives and local communities, the more we can create “light bulb moments” where they can see the personal relevance and feel closer to the topic. This is more than contextualising science through world events or generic examples; it is about taking some time to find out about the current interests and hobbies of the individual learners in your classroom. This might include discussing how forces link to a local fair or a football match, or how understanding the properties of materials or chemical reactions can help when baking or cooking at home.

2. Show how many doors science can open

Many young people see science as a subject that only leads to jobs “doing science” – working alone in a laboratory or in a medical field. Yet from fashion and beauty to sports and entertainment, business or the military, nearly all industries use science knowledge and skills. Demonstrate that science can open doors to any future career, to help young people see the value and benefit of science to their future.

For ideas and guidance on linking learning to the world of work, log in to the NACE members’ site for the NACE Essentials guide to CEIAG for more able learners.

3. Widen perceptions about who does science

Science seems to have a bit of an image problem. If you search online for images of scientists, your screen will be filled with hundreds of images of weird-looking men with wild hair, wearing white lab coats and holding test tubes or something similar. Scientists are often portrayed similarly in the popular culture that children are exposed to every day – it is no wonder many young people find it hard to relate. Take every opportunity to show the diversity of people who use science in their work or daily lives so that learners can see “people like me” are involved in science and it isn’t such an exclusive (or eccentric) pursuit.

4. Maximise experiences across the whole learning landscape

Young people experience and learn science in many different places – at school, at home and in their everyday life. No single place or experience can build a person’s science capital, but by connecting or extending learning experiences across these different spaces, we can broaden learners’ ideas about what science is and open their eyes to the wonders of STEM. Link out-of-school visits and activities back to content covered in the classroom. You could also set small related challenges or questions for learners to investigate at home or in their local area.

5. Engage families and communities

Our research has found that many families see science as simply a subject learned in school, not recognising where and how it relates to skills and knowledge they use every day. All too often we hear parents saying, “I am not a science-y person”, “I was terrible at science in school” or even “You must be such a boffin if you are good at science.” When young people hear those close to them saying such things, it is not surprising that a negative perception of science can start to grow and the feeling “this is not for me” set in.

Encourage learners to pursue science-related activities that involve members of their family at home or in their local community. Model and encourage discussions which link science to young people’s interests – this will help to show the relevance of science and normalise it. For specific ideas, check out The Science Museum’s free learning resources.

Additional reading and resources:

Webinar for NACE members

SMG Academy Manager Beth Hawkins is running an exclusive live webinar for NACE members on 27 February 2019, exploring the research on science capital and implications for teaching and learning. For details and to register for your free place (or to access the recording and slides), log in to our members’ site.

Beth Hawkins is the Science Museum Group (SMG) Academy Manager. She has been working in formal and informal science education for over 22 years, including roles as head of science in two London schools. Since joining the Science Museum, she has developed and delivered training to teachers and STEM professionals nationally and internationally, and led many of the SMG’s learning research to practice projects.

The Science Museum Group Academy offers inspirational research-informed science engagement training and resources for teachers, museum and STEM professionals, and others involved in STEM communication and learning.
Friday, February 8, 2019