Practical steps to build science capital in the classroom

How much do you value science?

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.

Many children will have no knowledge of adults who work or have worked in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) 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 the University of the West of England (UWE) 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, highlighting many ways in which you as a teacher can boost your students’ Science Capital:

  • Invite a Scientist

A survey at a recent children’s conference revealed that children weren’t just interested in what scientists were discovering, but also by their personal experiences of working in science. Therefore, inviting scientists into school via the STEM ambassador network, or simply a parent in STEM, and getting them to share what kind of person they are and the key qualities for their job, helps children (especially girls) to identify with their role models.

  • Activities with Real-Life Context

Doing science activities that focus on making the world a better place, have 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 for 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 science are partially formed through the culture they experience at home, but some families do not have the money, time or confidence to visit science centres or museums, so it’s important to find accessible ways to get families involved.

You could set homework that involves a parent, like watching a fun but interesting television programme, such as Operation Ouch! (CBBC), related to your science topic. Or organise a weekend science centre outing with children and their families (apply to the PTA to cover the costs)

But it’s not just families,  schools and teachers are also thought to influence a child’s attitude to science. Attitudes are not formed overnight, and one-off activities are unlikely to have a long-term impact on children’s attitudes, so it’s critical for schools and teachers to transmit messages about how they value science and promote it in and around the school.

This can be tricky in primary schools with the dominance of literacy and numeracy in the curriculum, but there are ways to fit science into classwork. Maybe break a subject up and use a bit of English time to record science findings, or, alternatively, maths time to do data analysis.


None of these actions alone will compensate children for low science capital but a consistent programme throughout the school and in class could have a significant effect. Many scientists and engineers still recall a special teacher who got them into science – you could be that teacher!

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