You’ve probably heard of cultural capital, but what about science capital? In this blog post, Science Museum Group (SMG) Academy Manager Beth Hawkins outlines recent research on young people’s engagement with and attitudes to science – and how understanding this can help schools increase take-up of STEM education and career paths.

At the Science Museum, engaging people from all backgrounds with science, engineering, technology and maths is at the heart of what we do. Over the past six years, we’ve been working with academic researchers on a project called Enterprising Science, using the concept of science capital to better understand how young people from all backgrounds engage with science and how engagement can be increased through different science-related experiences.

Recent research conducted by University College London with over 40,000 young people across the UK found that while many find science interesting, few are choosing to study science post-16, or consider pursuing a career in science. This is because they struggle to see that science is “for them” or relevant to their lives.

Why should we care?

In one way or another, science is continually changing and improving the way we live. It makes and sustains our society and will help us understand and solve the big questions our world faces. It is a creative and imaginative human endeavour, a way of thinking, asking questions and observing the world around us.

As such, science can open doors and can be invaluable in almost any job, across any sector. It is predicted that by 2030 the UK will have over 7 million jobs that need STEM skills, and it has been recognised that science can help broaden young people’s life choices and opportunities by keeping their future options open, especially among lower socioeconomic groups.

What is “science capital”?

Science capital is a measure of your attitude to and relationship with science. It is not just about how much science you “know”; it also considers how much you value science and whether you feel it is “for you” and connected to your life.

Imagine a bag or holdall that carries all the science-related experiences you have had. This includes what you have learned about science; all the different STEM-related activities you have done, such as watching science TV programmes or visiting science museums; all the people you know who use and talk about science; and whether science is something you enjoy and feel confident about.

How can science capital research be used?

At the Science Museum, we’ve been using science capital research to reflect on how we develop and shape our learning programmes and resources for schools and families. The research also underpins the training we deliver for teacher and science professionals through our new Academy.

For schools, the researchers have developed a science capital teaching approach that can be used with any curriculum.

The research suggests a science capital-informed approach can have the following benefits for learners:
  • Improved understanding and recall of science content
  • Recognising the personal relevance, value and meaning of STEM
  • A deeper appreciation of science
  • Increased interest in/pursuit of STEM subjects and careers post-16
  • Improved behaviour
  • Increased participation in out-of-school science activities
Ready to get started? Discover five ways to help young people develop science capital.

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