“Suddenly, science is all part of your life”. Changing attitudes through teaching.

Many parents attending the “Science is for Parents Too” course which I recently evaluated said the same thing: they had been ‘turned off’ science when they were at school and couldn’t see it’s relevance to their daily lives. Then, when their children came home and asked for help with science homework, they don’t feel confident enough to help. This then increases the chances of the children themselves thinking that science isn’t for them, isn’t relevant, or is too hard.

Over the past few years, the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York, with support from the Wellcome Trust, have been trying to address this problem by running a course designed to teach parents the science that their children learn at school. It aims to increase their scientific knowledge and their confidence in helping their children with science homework. And it seems to be working! Parents are talking about what they have learned on the course with their families over dinner, they are doing simple experiments with them at the weekend, and they feel more able to support their children with their homework, for example one mother said “now I’m like ‘yeah, look, I can help, I can have a look’, rather than ‘let’s wait until Dad gets home’”.

As well as increasing participants’ knowledge and confidence, parents have reported changes in attitudes. I asked parents in a questionnaire “Has the course changed your views or attitude towards science in any way? If so, how?”, and put the 16 responses into the Wordle below. As I’ve said before (here) I like to use these to start thinking about the codes, or themes, that come from the responses. “Yes” is obviously prominent, as is “positive”, and “interested”, but some of the smaller words are interesting too.

ViewsFor example, the word TV is there, because two respondents said that they watch more science on television since the course, for example one person wrote “Yes, in a positive way. Watching TV programmes with science in them, are not daunting”. Another parent said that she likes to “listen to things like the Life Scientific on the radio now, which I didn’t use to, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it, I was probably more ‘I won’t bother with that because I won’t understand what is going on’, so this has sparked more interest.” These quotations indicate that the course is having positive effects beyond those it intended.

What I’m really interested in is whether these changes can be sustained over the longer term, and I want to do a follow-up questionnaire with parents in 6 months time, to see if they are still talking to their families about science, and if their enthusiasm for science still stands.

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