[Administration] New National Initiative Aims to Boost Interest in Science [Education]

‘Children as young as 8 turned off science careers’

Children as young as 8 years old may have made up their minds not to become scientists - because they believe scientists are ‘middle aged white males who never have fun’!

Now educationalists at the University of Leicester have devised support materials, targeting 12,000 new primary school teachers, that break down these stereotypes and provide stimulating projects that interest all children.

The activities include using the Three Little Pigs nursery rhyme and a Young Sherlock Holmes role play.

The experts are part of SCIcentre - the National Centre for Initial Teacher Training in Primary School Science. With the support of industry and through an educational partnership, SCIcentre aims to influence a generation of children.

SCIcentre Director Dr Tina Jarvis, a senior lecturer at the University, said: “SCIcentre believes that capturing the imagination of a child before the age of 11 is crucial for the child to develop a lasting interest in the subject.

“In other words, if the child hasn’t enjoyed science prior to this age then the child may never enjoy science. The subject is then lost to them and makes little sense in secondary school.

“Moreover, by the ages of 8-9, children have formed stereotypical views about the world - which includes science and scientists. In particular, research indicates many children have made up their mind not to be scientists by this age.”

SCIcentre is launching three new projects in order to spearhead improved science education at primary level:

Science and Literacy: Developing links between science and language, fiction and non fiction

The advent of the Literacy Hour means specific time for science has been reduced. The disadvantages of this can be mitigated by linking science activities to the Literacy Hour, including science non-fiction books and scientific writing in Literacy time. A unique feature of the booklet is the translation of scientific vocabulary into Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali. This is intended to enhance young bilingual children’s science understanding in the classroom.

An example of using fiction to promote scientific development is to take the story of The Three Little Pigs and introduce an investigation into the property of materials to keep out rain.

Helping Primary Children Understand Science and Technology: Practical, Oral and Co-Operative Activities

The result of over 8 years collaboration between the University of Leicester and Curtin University in Western Australia, this booklet sets out to broaden children’s appreciation of how science influences their everyday lives. The research found:

Five-year-olds are most likely to draw a generalised picture of a scientist without any distinguishing features,

Six to eight-year-olds will draw scientists as a teacher, artist or a white male in a laboratory. He is often shown as wearing a white coat, glasses, facial and/or eccentric hair.

One of the strategies to help children think about the variety of activities done by scientists is to help children role-play scientific occupations, like the forensic scientist, chemist or astronaut.

Developing Primary Teachers’ Science Knowledge: A bank of self study materials

It is not only important that children have an appropriately modern view of scientists, they need accurate scientific information. These materials can be used by student teachers as pre-course self-study, to support and extend a taught course as an individualised programme or as part of a distance learning teacher-training course. Topics include light and colour, functioning of living organisms and magnets and magnetism among others.

Dr Jarvis said the materials would have several benefits: “These materials introduce children to science before they have made up their mind about not being future scientists.

“Good science teaching in the primary school is more likely to produce confident girls and boys keen to be scientists and empowered citizens able to participate effectively in the decisions of the day.

“This can only help to redress the flight from science seen recently and the fear engendered by sensationalist reporting. By producing materials like these for the Teacher Training Institutions, SCIcentre influences the training of 12,000 new primary school teachers each year at a significant point in their careers.

“As each teacher then potentially teaches 30 school children a year, this is a powerful point of opportunity.”

Materials are particularly targeted at the 80 Teacher Training Institutions but are also suitable for all primary teachers. They have been produced with support from industry.”


For more information, please contact Dr Tina Jarvis on 0116 252 3659, email jar@le.ac.uk, www.scicentre.org.uk, or Frankie McKeon on 0116 252 3709, email fm10@le.ac.uk.

Additional Information

The National Centre for Initial Teacher Training in Primary School Science

SCIcentre enhances UK educational practice by:

  • Helping to improve newly qualified primary school teachers' science knowledge and understanding,
  • Increasing student teachers' ability to utilise information technology in science learning,
  • Promoting positive images of science and its role in modern society,
  • Encouraging beneficial collaboration between teacher training organisations.
  • SCIcentre was established with core funding from the Society of Chemical Industry and is a collaborative venture between the University of Leicester School of Education and Homerton College Cambridge.

    Science and Literacy: Developing links between science and language, fiction and non-fiction

    This booklet was produced by primary teachers participating in a Science and Literacy course as part of the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust project in Leicester. It contains many suggestions based on classroom practice for developing mutually beneficial links between science and language. A unique feature of this booklet is the translations of scientific vocabulary into Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali.

    Helping Primary Children Understand Science and Technology, Practical, Oral & Co-operative Activities

    This booklet sets out to ascertain and widen teachers' and children's views of technology and science using photographs of scientists and non-scientists at work, questionnaires, a picture quiz and an approach to analyse children's writing and drawings to widen their ideas of scientists. The activities are designed to also support literacy and science NC objectives. The project is supported by ICI.

    Developing Primary Teachers Science Knowledge. A bank of self-study materials, developed and trialled by ITT institutions. Focused on the requirements of the ITT science National Curriculum (DfEE Circular 4/98 Annex E) self assessment is in the context of applying new knowledge in classroom situations.

    These materials have been specifically produced to support trainee teachers developing their own science subject knowledge and understanding. Each section refers directly to the Standards for Qualified Teacher Status relevant to science subject knowledge as defined in ‘Teaching: High Status, High Standards’ DfEE Circular 4/98 Annex E.

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    Last updated: 13 December 2000 15:56
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