Science is for parents (and grandparents) too!

I’ve just had the pleasure of evaluating the outcomes from an course run by the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York, with the aim of teaching parents and grandparents the science that their children get taught at school. For the past few years, this ‘Science is for parents too’ course has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, which means it is free to attend.

This has been a really nice project to evaluate, partly because Alex, the course tutor, and his colleagues at CLL, have clear outcomes of what they want to achieve through the course. They want to increase attendees’ confidence in helping their children with homework, increase people’s knowledge about the science that children are taught in school, improve people’s attitudes towards science, and they also want these positive changes to be transferred to the children.

Having clearly defined outcomes like this is helpful for when I’m designing the evaluation because I know what it is I’m trying to measure against. So, for this course, we did a pre- and post- questionnaire design, asking parents using a Likert scale (Strongly agree to Strongly disagree) with statements about their confidence, whether they read about or watch science programmes, and their understanding of the science taught in schools. I combined this with a longer questionnaire after the course with open-ended questions to allow attendees to write in their own words about their experiences. This gave some really rich detail about the effectiveness of the course, including some unexpected outcomes, such as that one parent had been inspired to set up an after-school science club!

We also administered a pre- and post- course questionnaire to the children of the parents attending the course, and we had a control group of children whose parents were not attending the course. This allowed us to test the children’s knowledge of science and attitudes towards science, with the pleasing findings that:

  • Children whose parents attended the courses showed an increase in scientific knowledge throughout the course, with a control group showing smaller increases in knowledge or no improvement in knowledge over the same period.
  • A greater proportion of children whose parents attended the courses would like to be a scientist after the course compared to the control group.

I’ll add a link to the report once it has been published, but I wanted to share the parents’ responses to the question ‘do you think you have benefitted from taking part in the course’. Here, I coded all their responses into categories, and then in Wordle, I used the advanced settings to tell the software how many times that code was mentioned. So, the larger the word, the more times it was mentioned. Knowledge, the largest word, was mentioned by 10 different parents (out of 22).

Wordle of benefitsThis image nicely reflects back to some of the other things I’ve blogged about in the past: often, participants in projects feel there are different outcomes to those intended by those running the course, for example, here, three people mentioned that the course was helping them with their jobs, and two wrote of the value of being on and seeing the university campus. I think this highlights the value of using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods – without giving parents the opportunity to discuss their experiences in their own words, we might not have seen the wide-ranging benefits that this course can have.

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