The Science Capital Holdall

Research teams at King’s College London and UCL Institute of Education, University College London have been applying the lens of ‘science capital’ to better understand young people’s engagement and participation in science. The findings have led to the development of a science capital pedagogical approach. In this post, we share what we have been doing – and we would also love to hear your views!

Science capital – a term that refers to an individual’s science related resources and dispositions – can be thought of as a bag that you carry throughout life that contains what you know about science, how you think about it, what you do, and who you know. The idea draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, who discussed the importance of economic, cultural and social resources for helping people to ‘get on’ in life.

The concept of science capital was first developed in the ASPIRES project, a longitudinal study tracking how young people develop their science and career aspirations from age 10-18. The study found that young people who had more science capital were more likely to aspire to science-related careers in the future.

These ideas have since been developed in the Enterprising Science project, which conducted a national survey that showed that only 5% of young people have high levels of science capital (mostly boys, South Asian and from socially advantaged backgrounds), while 27% had low science capital, the latter thus being least likely to consider taking science qualification or seeking a science-related career (see our open access paper for more details).

As part of this 5-year research programme, we have been working in collaboration with secondary science teachers to develop a science capital pedagogical approach and find ways to deepen, broaden and increase students’ engagement with science (our participating teachers described their experience of adopting a science capital approach in a series of short videos).

The approach is based on a social justice agenda and involves working with the diversity of knowledge and experiences that students bring with them to the science classroom, whilst also seeking to broaden what ‘counts’ in the learning environment.

The science capital teaching approach builds on good teaching practice and includes three key aspects:

  1. personalising and localising;
  2. eliciting, valuing and linking; and
  3. building the science capital dimensions.

Personalising and localising focuses on going beyond contextualising science content, to incorporate what is relevant and meaningful to particular students. Teachers are encouraged to elicit students’ various personal and cultural experiences, explicitly value these as legitimate resources within the science classroom, and thereafter link them to curriculum science. Teachers also work towards incorporating various dimensions of science capital into their lessons, such as highlighting the transferability of science skills and encouraging science-related conversations and activities outside the classroom.

In adopting this approach, teachers reflect on their practice and consider what resources, knowledge and behaviours they tend to regard as ‘scientific’. By broadening these perceptions and recognising more ways that students may enact an interest in science, teachers are able to help more students see themselves as ‘science-y’ and able to continue with science study and careers in the future.

The emergent results from teachers and students have been very promising – as one teacher explained “It’s making me happier as a teacher!”.

We are currently developing a professional development pack for teachers detailing the science capital teaching approach. See the Science Capital Research website for the upcoming publications and resources!