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23 October 2017

New Teaching Approach Developed at King's Proven to Increase Interest in Science

Researchers from the Enterprising Science project, based at the School of Education, Communication & Society, shared their findings at the National STEM Learning Centre in York.

The desk of a science teacher covered with material for experiments
The desk of a science teacher covered with material for experiments

A new teaching approach, four years in development and trialling, was launched earlier this month at the National STEM Learning Centre, York. The approach offers new hope to the long-standing, intractable problem of how to better engage more young people, from more diverse backgrounds, with science.

The approach is part of the Enterprising Science project based at the School of Education, Communication & Society at King's College London, and co-designed by teachers and researchers from King’s College London and University College London. 

Deputy Director of the project, Dr. Heather King, King's College London, said: “Our findings show that students and teachers benefited from the approach. In particular it improved students’ understanding of science concepts and content, as they found science more relevant to their lives.” 

As one boy put it, “Yeah, I feel like we get a better understanding because we can relate to what [the teacher]’s teaching us”. Another agreed “I think it’s quite cool, because you think: ‘Oh yeah, that’s related to my everyday life’ and you’re, like, ‘I’ll remember that now’”. As another put it: “It brings everyone together. Everyone has something to say, instead of it just being one or two people that know the answer”.   Some classes also recorded marked gains in attainment.

“The approach is about broadening what counts as teaching and learning science," added Professor Louise Archer, UCL Institute of Education.

"It comprises three main pillars: the first, personalising and localising, goes beyond contextualising science, to help students find personal meaning and connection with science. The second pillar involves eliciting and valuing students’ experiences, identities and interests in class, linking these to the science content. The third pillar seeks to build the different dimensions of science capital – for instance, a teacher might regularly highlight how what the class are learning can be useful for any career, not just science jobs.”

The project builds on the team’s prior research in which they developed the concept of science capital -  the science-related resources that someone possesses, such as their science-related attitudes and dispositions, knowledge, interests, behaviours and social contacts. This previous work found that the more science capital a student has, the more likely they are to see themselves as a science person and aspire to continue with post-16 science.

Focusing on schools with high proportions of students from socially disadvantaged communities, the Enterprising Science project team for worked over four years with 43 secondary science teachers in schools in London, Newcastle, York and Leeds. Data from the 2016/17 academic year were collected via pre/post surveys with 244 intervention students and surveys with 1,871 students who were not taking part in the study, including those from the same schools as the intervention students and a carefully selected set of comparison schools. The research also collected extensive data from classroom observations, discussion groups and interviews with students and staff.

The research found that:

  • Intervention school students began the trial with significantly lower levels of science capital than both the national average and comparison students. But by the end of the year, intervention students had closed the gap with comparison schools and recorded a statistically significant increase in their science capital.
  • Students who were taught using the approach expressed much more positive views of science and its relevance to their lives in their post-test surveys
  • There was an increase in the percentage of students saying they would like to study one or more science subjects at A level, from 16% (pre-intervention) to 21.4% (post-intervention)
  • Students reported increased regular engagement with science outside school– and decreased percentages of students who ‘never’ do science activities outside of school – particularly in relation to going online to look up things about science and talking with others about science.

Teachers also agreed that using the approach increased student engagement with science, led to better understanding and improved behaviour. As one teacher explained: “What I’ve noticed is when I use the approach, I can see it in their meerkats, they pop up and you can see the engagement”. Another reflected: “More students get more work done and there’s less disruption. There’s more interest”. 

In this story

Heather King

Professor in Science Education