Practical steps to build science capital in the classroom

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How much do you value STEM?

That will depend on your “science capital”, that is, how much science you’ve been exposed to. Science capital is based on the idea of social capital – that all of us have differing amounts of cultural beliefs, values, qualification and experiences, which we gather from our families and lives, and determine our value in careers and social situations – in relation to science.

Many children will have no knowledge of adults who work or have worked in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers, which gives them very little science capital. This can have a significant impact on children’s aspirations regarding STEM careers, and so increasing children’s science capital is vital to broadening their future career choices.

Capital Gains

Juliet Edmonds, Fay Lewis and Laura Fogg-Rogers, from the Department of Education and Childhood and the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol, are hoping to change the status quo and increase children’s science capital through initiatives in schools. Their new article in the September/October 2018 issue of Primary Science magazine, Practical steps to building science capital in the primary classroom, addresses this from the school perspective, which includes inviting STEM practitioners into their classrooms. There are many ways in which engineers can boost children’s science capital:

  • Go into schools

A survey at a recent children’s conference revealed that children weren’t just interested in the work of people in STEM, but also by their personal experiences of working in STEM. Therefore, visiting a school and sharing what kind of person you are, and the key qualities required for your job, helps children (especially girls) to identify with their role models.

  • Activities with Real-Life Context

Doing STEM activities that focus on making the world a better place, has been show to raise children’s interest and improve attitudes towards science. So why not try engineering challenges? – such as the EU ‘Engineer’ project challenges or borrow the Design Process Box free from Dyson.

Or maybe explore aspects of science and scientists that benefit the quality of everyday life, e.g. the grip on training shoes relative to forces, or the work of Professor Margaret Boden on artificial intelligence (the BBC Radio 4 series The Life Scientific is useful for biographies of modern scientists).

  • A Culture of Science – in School and at Home

Children’s attitudes towards STEM are partially formed through the culture they experience at home, but experiences in schools are also thought to influence a child’s attitude to STEM. While none of these actions alone will compensate children for low science capital, many scientists and engineers still recall a special role model who got them into STEM – you could be that person!

A version of this blog for teachers was posted by Louisa Cockbill on the Curiosity Connections blog.

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