The Primary Science Capital Project
Eight-year-old Dean is a white, working-class Londoner who doesn’t usually engage much during science lessons. As he tells his teacher, Ms Lessing, he’s going to be a footballer when he’s older, so he doesn’t think he needs to learn science…
The question of how to engage and reach more children through science is one that concerns many primary teachers. In this article, we share ideas from a collaborative project between teachers and researchers called The Primary Science Capital Teaching Approach that supports teachers in making primary science more engaging and meaningful for all children.
The Primary Science Capital project
What does a social justice approach to science teaching look like in practice in primary schools? Primary schooling is a crucial time during which children’s ideas about science, and whether it is considered ‘for me’, or not, are formed. To support teachers in addressing these issues, researchers at UCL and KCL (with the support of Primary Science Teaching Trust and The Ogden Trust) collaborated with twenty teachers from primary schools across England to co-develop an inclusive teaching approach that will better engage diverse learners with science.
What is a ‘science capital’ approach?
Science capital is a concept that refers to all the science-related resources, experiences and ideas that a child might have. As an analogy, we can think of science capital like a bag, or holdall, that you carry throughout life, containing all your science-related knowledge (what you know), attitudes (what you think), experiences (what you do) and contacts (who you know).
(Image © 2015 Cognitive)
At its heart, a science capital approach seeks to change the practices in school science which typically value only certain types of ‘science capital’ over the others. Thus, its about changing the practice rather than the child. It supports in building relationships between children and science by broadening the ways in which science is represented, by valuing what all children bring with them and by connecting science with children’s identities, experiences and what matters to them and their communities. The approach asks teachers to adopt a social justice mindset - that is, thinking critically about power relations that can exist in classrooms and inequalities that may go unnoticed. The approach works with any curriculum, supporting teachers to reflect on every aspect of their teaching, and then ‘tweak’ their practice in line with the core principles and ‘pillars’ of the approach. To learn more about the approach please read our teacher handbook and also watch this short video!
What do teachers say about the approach?
"Small tweaks to science lessons"
Teachers felt that this initiative offered something different from other science education programmes: “This is not a new initiative, fad or fashion; this is an approach that appreciates who we teach and where they come from and making that count for something” (Year 3 teacher in a London school). Ms. Davis, teaching at a school in Wellingborough, particularly appreciated that the approach does not entail upheaval of her current teaching plans but a more subtle form of change. She says, “You do not have to re-write your science lessons – it just takes small tweaks”, making it an approach which builds on teachers’ expertise instead of discounting it.
“It’s been the best professional development I’ve done. In ten years of teaching, I think it’s the only thing that has really, really made me evaluate my practice.” (Year 6 teacher, South Coast)
"Personalising the lessons has made science more of a personal connection for the children"
Teachers valued the opportunity to critically test and thereafter reflect on the impact of small changes. They have also enjoyed finding out more about the children’s lives and have noted that efforts are leading to increased engagement in science lessons. Ms Lessing explained: “Personalising lessons has been thought-provoking. It has engaged children from the start of the lesson and has taught me more about the children. It has made science more of a personal connection for the children”. Similarly, Ms Davis said: “Personalising science lessons has meant that I have discovered more about their interests and lives”. Ms Hawker even felt that parents are now getting more involved in school science: “Making learning personal to pupils' own experiences and home life has improved pupils' and parents’ involvement in science”.
And what about Dean, the aspiring footballer? Ms Lessing has been applying the approach throughout her science lessons for over two years. On our most recent observation, we saw Dean not only engaging enthusiastically with the activities but also putting up his hand first to answer teacher questions and excitedly sharing his experiences. After two years of using the approach, Ms Lessing commented:
“Now Dean is one of the children that are constantly engaged in the lessons. And he doesn’t now come across to me as a child who is disengaged in the way that he definitely was at the beginning of Year 3. I think the approach has definitely had an impact on him and I’m also more aware about trying to pick and use their interests.”
Find the handbook for teachers here.
Are you an ITE teacher interested in integrating the approach in teacher education? see this infographic.
Dr Meghna Nag Chowdhuri
Image credits: University College London from the Primary Science Capital Project.