What is science capital? and what does it look like in the classroom?

About the author

Dr Jenny Koenig (@JennyAKoenig) is a teacher who combines science and maths teaching at secondary and university, and particularly enjoys working with students who have specific learning difficulties or mental health issues that impact on their learning.

What is a science capital approach?

There was a lively discussion in answer to this question. Some felt it was better called a “lens” rather than an “approach”. It’s a way of thinking – a mindset – rather than a list of things to do.  Science capital is a "lens" through which we can think about factors that lead pupils to make decisions re A levels, degrees, careers as well as continued engagement outside the classroom and school, developing an interest, a passion for science that leads to intrinsic motivation to learn more.

Some wondered whether science capital a new term for an old idea i.e. relevance and contextualisation. However others felt that it was very much more than that:

“… a personalised contextualisation approach. Looking at what the students bring to the classroom and how you can build on this. It is different from putting science into context.”

“… about bringing students personal experiences into class and relating them to science, links to careers, creating an atmosphere in class where everyone is able to contribute and feels that their contributions are valued.”

“… it sort of turns the relevance thing on its head with the teacher NOTICING what the children bring, not the other way round.”

“It is - "eliciting" finding what your students know already and their experiences, "valuing" very tricky - deep valuing or superficial valuing and always linking back to your LOs.”

Why is a science capital approach important?

“It's important because we need more young people to engage in science in a wider context than just passing exams at the end of school. We need them to be passionate about science and inspired to keep studying beyond school and then make a difference to the world.  …also to be able to relate what they are learning to their lives!”

“It's about children "seeing" themselves and/or things they relate to within the subject you're teaching, and that ultimately leading to a more diverse group of young people choosing science pathways later on.”

What does it look like in the classroom?

Here we had quite a few ideas:

  1. The idea of eliciting students’ experiences and valuing them came through – finding out about your students – their hobbies and interests - is important. Finding out whether anything in science relates to what their parents do at work e.g. hairdressers use hair dye, car mechanics work with levers, oils, fuels.
  2. Set homework tasks for pupils to interview parents on topics covered in lessons. E.g. "explain to someone at home what a lever is. Then ask them if they use any levers at work". Parental feedback at parents evenings was very positive.
  3. 'Parents assembly' to show them experiments they can do at home. If the maths and english leads do it, why can't we?
  4. Sharing assemblies when students share their creative work & explain the science as "experts" to peers & parents & can be v. helpful. There's research suggesting it's vital to change parents’ attitudes to STEM due to their influence on children's views.
  5. Run ‘Science for families’ and ‘engineering for families’ at as after-school clubs - not teaching either subject, but allowing exploration and linking to careers.
  6. Get as many STEM related visitors – e.g. STEM Ambassadors -  into the school as you can to speak to pupils. 
  7. Trips were suggested especially to science museums and activity centres.

There were concerns that we are adding workload, pressure and planning especially for those in areas of high deprivation. Alister Talbot (@AlisterTalbot) pointed out that it's not a strain on planning - it's all about making small tweaks to lesson maps using an elicit, value and link approach.

Thanks go to all those who took part in the twitter chat and contributed their thoughts!

Download 'The Science Capital Teaching Approach' (pdf, 1MB) from the UCL website.

Science capital teaching

This article is a resilt of #ASEchat: Getting science capital ideas into the classroom that took place on 10th Sept 2018.
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