The aim of this project was to explore learners’ perceptions of science lessons in school and the need for science skills in future jobs. During our school’s Visible Learning journey, learners had been taught the benefits of having a growth mindset in literacy and numeracy. However, this did not transfer to science, perhaps because most staff did not feel as confident teaching science lessons. As a result, it was decided that the project should focus on exploring learners’ mindsets in science and the jobs they perceive to require scientific skills.
The project was carried out jointly by a team of three members of staff, a primary 3 teacher, the Principal Teacher completing the project in a primary 4 class and with a primary 6 class. This would allow the project to target both First and Second Level learners, in the Curriculum for Excellence, comparing how mindsets were similar or different towards science. Gender was another area the team were keen to explore, to find out if gender had any impact on learners’ perceptions of science jobs. This report will focus predominately on the data collected in the primary 6 class.
The aim of this project was to develop a more positive perception, mindset and understanding of the relevance of learning science for the future careers of learners, with an added focus on the perception of gender in jobs. After analysing the data, this aim was achieved, as the project had a positive impact on learners across the three classes.
As part of our school’s Visible Learning journey, staff have all previously taught their classes a series of lessons from Muncaster and Clarke’s (2017) ‘Growth Mindset Lessons: Every child a learner’ book. Most learners usually display a growth mindset in relation to literacy and numeracy. However, during feedback from educational visitors it has become clear that this attitude had not transferred to science and other curricular areas.
The science element of the project was to focus on three lessons around jobs that learners would not necessarily relate to the science curriculum: police officers, fashion designers and chefs/bakers. As learners were interested in these jobs, they were chosen to maximise the engagement of the classes. The aim of these lessons was that learners would see how science is used discretely in the three jobs.
It was evident this was successful when comparing the data collected in the pre and post questionnaire. Initially, 29% of learners believed police officers used science in their job, 33% of learners realised fashion designers used science in their job and only 38% recognised how a chef used science learning in their job. In the post questionnaire, learners’ beliefs changed drastically - 87% now thought police officers, fashion designers and bakers/chefs used science in their jobs.
Success of the project was demonstrated in other areas of the questionnaire also. Initially, only 37% of learners could identify someone they knew who used science in their job, and only 17% of learners believed their future career would involve science. The post questionnaire data showed that learners' understanding of jobs requiring science learning had changed. Now 67% of learners could identify someone they knew who used science in their job, and the same proportion of learners believed they would need some kind of science learning in their future career.
On reflection, the team felt that they tried to explore too many areas in too short a time. During the initial planning discussions, gender was an area of interest, but this area was rushed. If the project was repeated, it would benefit from more time being spent examining gender in science.
The project was not completed within our original timescale in 2021, but instead was planned in 2022 due to significant staff absences. As a team, we believed it was important to complete the project at the same pace to allow us to plan, evaluate and make changes together. Also, as the project was being completed across three stages it was crucial that all classes completed the project at the same time, to ensure that siblings/buddies did not share their experiences as this may have invalidated the data collected.
In early 2022, the aims were finalised, and a questionnaire was created which would be used pre and post project to measure the impact on learners. During subsequent discussions, we agreed the lessons to be taught and how they could be differentiated for the First and Second Level in the Curriculum for Excellence. After teaching the initial three science lessons and the growth mindset lesson, it was decided that an additional three lessons were needed to further develop learners understanding. Originally, the plan was to also carry out small pupil focus groups after the initial and post questionnaire, however, due to time constraints this did not happen.
Originally, it was planned that the project would take place over six lessons in 3 weeks as shown below.
However, after completing the three science lessons and analysing the pre-questionnaire, it was decided that more time should be spent teaching about growth mindset, gender and discussing how science is linked to some of the job’s learners aspired to have in the future. Thus, an additional 3 lessons were planned to be taught before the post-questionnaire as shown below:
These additional three lessons meant that a further two weeks had to be added onto the project. However, as a team, we believed they were necessary as although learners had been taught how science was involved in our three target jobs (police officer, fashion designer and chef/baker), it was important to give learners a chance to explore how science is used in other careers. Also, through the original three lessons there was no focus on gender so an additional lesson on gender in science was needed, as questions about gender were included in the questionnaire. As already reported, gender is an area that would benefit from being revisited in the future as information gathered only looked at traditional stereotypes in science.
The project has not only had a positive impact on the learners in the primary 6 class, but also the other two classes participating, in developing their understanding of the importance of science in the curriculum. Given that only 17% of learners originally thought they would need science learning in their future career, this might explain the relative lack of engagement in science. The Curriculum for Excellence Refreshed Narrative (2022) highlights ‘making clear links to future skills’ and ‘making clear links between learning and the world of work’ and this project achieved both aims.
By creating science lessons based on real jobs, learners were able to see why they may need science knowledge in the future. When learners engaged in the chef/baker lesson, they learned how chemical reactions are a regular occurrence. They increased their understanding of chemistry when exploring why the cream turned to butter, milk turned to ice cream and how the yeast affected the bread. Similarly, when learners engaged in the police officer lesson, while investigating the clothes fibres, footprints, water, and gravel samples provided, they improved their knowledge of forensic analysis. They gained understanding about why forensics is not only important to police officers but to the whole justice system. And finally, when learners engaged in the fashion designer lesson, while investigating which materials were waterproof and which were best at insulating heat, they were able to see how identifying the properties of materials is an essential skill. Learners in the primary 6 class were also then able to transfer this knowledge and concluded that science would be important to all types of designers. Interior designers think carefully about the properties of materials they choose to furnish a house.
As a team, it was decided that learners should be given more opportunity to explore science learning in other jobs. From the data collected from the initial questionnaire, a further lesson was planned which allowed learners to explore how they thought science learning is used in some of the most common jobs they aspire to have. The discussions were very positive and learners from the primary 6 class went on to create PowerPoints and Sways explaining what science learning was required in their chosen jobs, and the other skills they would need. All learners were able to see some kind of science link to their chosen job, with some connections easier to make than others.
Gender was the one area of the project that was not explored as thoroughly as we would have liked. After teaching the three science job lessons, it was clear gender had been overlooked. An extra lesson was planned to allow learners the opportunity to share their perceptions on the type of people who would have each job. This activity allowed learners the opportunity to discuss why they thought individuals would or would not have each career. From discussions, learners concluded that some jobs carry a gender stereotype, however, gender is not a prerequisite.
The initial questionnaire results showed that only 42% of learners enjoyed science lessons, and 30% of learners refrained from answering the question. After completing the project, all learners answered the question, with 75% of learners now saying that they enjoyed science lessons. This data suggests that learners have a more positive mindset towards science.
A final change noticed is in teaching practice itself. A lack of confidence and experience of science at school has influenced a fixed mindset towards teaching science. By teaching science through jobs, teachers were more enthusiastic and confident as they could highlight the need for the skills being taught. The lessons created excitement in class, and it was rewarding to see the learners connect the relevance of science and their futures. By working cooperatively with colleagues, we had the chance to share resources and expertise and create more meaningful lessons.
As outlined in the section above, the data clearly shows that the project had a positive impact on the learners in the primary 6 class. When comparing the data collected across the three targeted classes, it can be concluded that this aim of the project was just as successful in other classes. At the beginning of the project, most learners did not believe they would use science after they left school. After completing the project, learners’ opinions dramatically changed with most now believing they would use science after they left school. By providing the learners with real life experiences, they were able to understand the relevance of science in their future.
During the school’s Learning Partnership visit, the Education Officer led a focus group with a sample of learners from the three classes around the aims of the project. She reported to the Head Teacher that learners were able to talk enthusiastically about the science learning that had taken place during the project and how it is relevant to their futures.
Some of the evidence from the project is captured below.
The science questionnaire used at the outset and after the project was completed can be found here.
The results of the questionnaire pre and post the project can also be found here.
A graph showing the proportion of children who expect to use science after they leave school is shown below.
As well as meeting regularly as a team to discuss our progress and to analyse how it could be improved, the progress was also shared with the Head Teacher. As the school currently had a focus on science in the School Improvement Plan, she was keen to oversee the project. Throughout the project, the team had informal discussions with staff and listened to their suggestions. After the project was complete, at a staff meeting, the findings were shared with the whole team. Staff commented that they had been aware of a ‘buzz’ around the science project in the three classrooms after informal discussions with our learners. At the meeting, the team shared the project aim, the collated data and the resources created. Many of the staff were keen to try the lessons with their own class after seeing the impact it has had on the three project classes in the new school term.
This project has changed the mindset towards science learning for the teachers and learners involved. Teachers now enjoy teaching science. Going forward, we are hopeful that this project will be used by other members of staff in the school now that all the resources are available. This would provide more data to compare across the stages as we were unable to explore Early Level or Third Level learners’ understanding. We hope to replicate this project in new classes next year and to also possibly extend it to look at more science job based lessons. We would also like to take more time to explore the perceptions of gender in science jobs.
When creating the questionnaire for the project we asked learners to select all the curricular areas they believed were needed for each of the jobs. This provided some interesting data, and it would be interesting to complete a similar project using different curricular areas to try to improve mindsets towards these subjects. Following Covid, we would also like to organise a careers fair with a focus on STEM. This would give learners the opportunity to have conversations with people who currently have the jobs they aspire to have, for some learners it may be the opportunity that sparks curiosity about a career they had never considered.