17 Aug 2018 Attractions Management Handbook
 

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Attractions Management Handbook - Getting Engaged

Insights: Science Centres

Getting Engaged


Science museums and centres across Europe are embracing science capital to help develop more inclusive and integrated learning opportunities for all visitors. Dr Amy Seakins and Dr Heather King tell us how

Tom Tits Experiment in Sweden offers free workshops to schools to help build the science capital of local children and their teachers © THOMAS AZiZ
Tom Tits Experiment in Sweden offers free workshops to schools to help build the science capital of local children and their teachers © THOMAS AZiZ
Every moment in a science museum is an opportunity to engage and shape visitors’ attitudes towards science © Science Museum, London
Start from the personal, lived experiences of learners – then build upwards © Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Science attractions could benefit from engaging in long-term partnerships with audience groups © SpeedKingz/Shutterstock

Science capital can be seen as the bag of science-related knowledge, experience and attitudes that you carry throughout life – what you know about science, how you think about science, what you do, and who you know.

This concept is being adopted by a growing number of science engagement organisations and educational policymakers as a way to (re)think what we might do to improve people’s engagement with science. Our research explains why some students feel unable to identify with science and highlights the need to reflect on how institutions provide experiences that resonate with visitors’ varied personal lives.

The concept of science capital draws from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who coined the notion of capital – the social, cultural and symbolic resources that individuals variously possess to ‘get on’ in life. Science capital is a form of capital that combines all the science-related social and cultural resources that Bourdieu defined.

By analysing a series of surveys carried out in the UK*, we’ve identified a distinct relationship between a young person’s aspirations towards science and their science capital: just five per cent have high science capital and are more likely to continue with science post compulsory schooling; 69 per cent have medium science capital; but more than a quarter (27 per cent) have low science capital – the least likely to take science-related qualifications or a science-related career.

Importantly, the construct of science capital tells us more than who might aspire to a science-related career. It helps us understand why for some young people, science is not for them. It can also help us to think creatively and effectively about what we might do to improve everyone’s engagement with science within our sites and spaces.

TWEAKING SCHOOL SCIENCE
Over the last few years, our research team has worked extensively with teachers and schools to explore ways to build student science capital to support more students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, to engage with science. By encouraging teachers to reflect on their practice, and identify small changes or ‘tweaks’ to existing lessons, we’ve helped teachers create learning environments and opportunities that build science capital.

We recommend starting from the personal, lived experiences of learners and building upwards. It’s about eliciting the experiences and interests that students already have, valuing these, and then linking these to canonical science.

It’s about encouraging learners to speak with their family and friends and others in their community about science, to recognise the science in their everyday lives, and to acknowledge the many ways in which they participate in science-related activities. These principles apply within classrooms, but also outside school in other learning spaces and visitor attractions.

SCIENCE CENTRES CAN HELP
For museums and science centres, our findings from the classroom highlight the need to reflect on the ways in which institutions provide experiences that resonate with visitors’ varied personal lives – and provide suitable spaces where individuals can build on their existing resources to fill up their science capital bags.

A science capital approach to museum and science centre practice would include using visitors’ prior experiences for educational programmes, eliciting and valuing their contributions, and linking these to science. It might include long-term partnerships with audience groups.

A further valuable role would be to highlight how science can open doors to all sorts of jobs and how it can also lead to active participation in societal decision-making.

By showcasing a wide range of science-related roles and careers, hosting debates and discussions, and encouraging science-related conversations, science museums and centres can encourage and help visitors of all ages to build their science capital.

BUILDING SCIENCE CAPITAL
Discussions and applications of science capital are spreading and growing. The British Science Association and Science Museum Group provide practical examples. The concept has also gained interest at a policy level across Europe.

In summary, a science capital approach does not suggest that a lack of awareness or interest explains why students choose not to pursue science or, similarly, why people do not visit science centres or science museums. Rather, it explains why some people feel unable to identify with science: they do not have the resources or experiences that would lead to a more full science capital ‘bag’.

Our findings suggest that future initiatives and policies should aim to build learners’ science capital and reflect on the design of learning experiences. This will ensure that more learners from varied backgrounds, experiences and interests will develop greater science alignment.

*Archer Et Al. (2015) ‘Science Capital’: A Conceptual, Methodological, And Empirical Argument For Extending Bourdieusian Notions Of Capital Beyond The Arts. Jrst, 52(7), 922–948.


About the authors

 

Dr Amy Seakins and Dr Heather King
 

Dr Amy Seakins, engagement coordinator for evaluation and impact, Imperial College London. Formerly research associate, Enterprising Science project, King’s College London. a.seakins@imperial.ac.uk

Dr Heather King, research fellow and deputy director, Enterprising Science project, King’s College London; research focus on supporting educator practice in school and out-of-school settings. heather.1.king@kcl.ac.uk



VISITOR CONNECTIONS
By engaging visitors of all generations and backgrounds, science attractions have the power to change our perceptions, experiences and expectations of the world around us

NORWAY’S NATIONAL PRIORITY

 

Målfrid Snørteland director and Per Inge Bøe project manager
 
Målfrid Snørteland director and Per Inge Bøe project manager Jærmuseet, Nærbø, Norway

Norwegian educational authorities and the Norway Research Council have embraced science capital – one of our country’s three main goals in 2016-19 is to Grow Families’ Interest in Sciences.

At Jærmuseet’s ten regional science centres, we already have exhibitions and activities aimed at reaching this goal, but four of our facilities will now specifically focus on this strategy to embed more systematic and effective assessment methods and evaluation tools.

For example, Trondheim Science Centre will organise workshops involving the whole family, ranging from children through to grandparents. Courses and MakerSpace activities aimed at inspiring and motivating families to work together will be evaluated by questionnaires completed before and after the workshops to see whether the families’ attitudes towards science changed.

This new focus on science capital will certainly push us to be more systematic and inclusive in our approach to audiences. Rather than focusing on entertainment, we’ll be more aware of how to communicate and better engage our visitors in learning about science.


"This new focus on science capital will certainly push us to be more systematic and inclusive in our approach to audiences"

 


© mariia golovianko/Shutterstock

MakerSpace activities inspire and motivate families to work together

SWEDEN REACHES OUT TO TEACHERS

 

Cecilia Ekstrand
 
Cecilia Ekstrand Education manager Tom Tits Experiment, Södertälje, Sweden

Before joining Tom Tits Experiment, I worked as a teacher with an engineering background, so I believe it’s important to ground work in robust concepts. While looking for the right paradigm for Tom Tits science centre, I heard a lecture on science capital at the 2013 Ecsite conference – and knew I’d discovered the right tool!

Since we started to apply the learnings of science capital at Tom Tits, we’ve developed teacher training. Although local school visits to our science centre are free, many teachers weren’t bringing their students because their own science capital was rather low and they didn’t feel comfortable enough with science to facilitate a visit. To overcome this barrier, we decided to run teachers’ workshops.

Science capital has also helped us to debunk biases. One workshop required visiting teachers to build a dome using teamwork. I love assembling furniture and compared this task to it, so I expected enthusiastic responses. But most of the teachers shut down! So I then switched to a cooking recipe analogy and got very positive results. The objective was to demonstrate that skills used to plan and deliver meals (or build furniture) involve engineering, shifting each teacher’s mindset about science and technology.

Parents are also a key audience as they play a pivotal role in their children’s education. To help build up their science capital, we’ve also trained our staff to focus on adults during family visits.


"Visiting our science centre is free for local schools –
yet many teachers weren’t taking their students"


 


© Tom Tits Experiment

Science attractions should extend the science capital of teachers and adults

SCIENCE SPARKS IN POLAND

 

I?owiecka-Ta?ska, PhD
 
Iłowiecka-Tańska, PhD Head of research department Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw, Poland

For the research team at Copernicus Science Centre, science capital is a very inspiring concept. To get a broad picture of school children’s science capital, we launched a nationwide survey and found that the most common source of science capital is from parents motivating their children to engage with science.

We also found that fewer children in Poland compared with those in the UK thought they’d met a scientist. As many scientists who interact with our visitors dress informally, the children may simply have not realised that they’d just met a real scientist! So we may change that.

Furthermore, we’d noticed that school children from similar backgrounds didn’t interact with our exhibits in the same way, so we tested the hypothesis that those with higher science capital experienced deeper engagement. But the results were very surprising: there was no direct relation between science capital and visitor behaviour, indicating that our exhibits already cater to a wide audience.

We now plan to test whether there’s a correlation between science capital and the motivation to learn and engage in cognitive efforts. Copernicus is central to spreading this concept in Poland and, as science capital is also proving effective in mobilising broad educational coalitions, we’re also interacting with policymakers, teachers and academics.


"For the research team, science capital is a very inspiring concept"

 


© Copernicus Science Centre

School children from similar backgrounds don’t interact with exhibits in the same way

STEMMING FROM THE UK

 

Beth Hawkins
 
Beth Hawkins Learning resources manager Science Museum London, UK

The Science Museum Group has been working in partnership with King’s College London on the Enterprising Science project since 2012 to develop the science capital concept. We recognise that it will help us create experiences to engage all our visitors with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

As such, the number one core priority in our 2017–30 strategic ambitions is to ‘Grow Science Capital in Individuals and Society’. Our organisation-wide effort will translate science capital learnings into operational realities – and you can follow this process on our ‘Transforming Practice’ blog.

Our museums play a key part in the STEM engagement landscape by supporting and encouraging audiences to extend their learning within and beyond our sites. Science capital gives us an insight and understanding into what influences and shapes people’s attitudes towards science, which can help us to identify new ways to reach out and connect with absent or infrequent visitors.

We want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and where every moment in our science museum is an opportunity to engage and shape our visitors’ attitudes towards science – from the website, front desk and cafés through to the galleries and exhibitions.

We’re gradually rolling out a reflective practice approach through workshops and toolkits to shape and design our exhibits and experiences, such as our recently opened interactive Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery. We wanted the labels in the gallery to make a link between our exhibits and our visitors’ everyday lives. The text for the Icy Bodies exhibit, for example, originally mentioned that dry ice is commonly used for special effects at theatres – but after reflecting on our science capital research we changed this example to the cinema, making it more relevant to a wider audience.


"Science capital can help us to identify new ways to reach out and connect with absent or infrequent visitors"

 



Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery was developed with science capital in mind

Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2017 issue 1

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