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Research suggests there is value in involving scientists in classrooms as a way to engage students in science. However, it is not realistic for scientists to visit science classrooms as a regular event. One way of bringing scientists into the classroom is through the videos on the Science Learning Hub. There are a number of ‘short and sharp’ videos of scientists talking about their own cutting-edge research and its applications in society and their personal stories of how they became scientists. These videos were developed through cooperation between New Zealand scientists, web content developers and educational researchers.

Teachers used videos like this one to bring scientists into their classrooms. They found this enabled students to see scientists as ‘normal’ people and to consider science as a possible future career. Students can see how scientists work together, the equipment they use and how to pronounce scientific terminology.

Seeing themselves in science

There is the perception among some students that science is male dominated and scientists are ‘eccentric old men’ who work alone. Research illustrates that students who can’t ‘see themselves in science’ limit their engagement with science. When students learn about the actual characteristics of scientists and how they work and solve problems collaboratively, they come to appreciate that scientists are people like them. Students are more likely to express an interest in science careers after visits with scientists. Also, students are influenced by scientists’ passion for science, which encourages them to make links with who they are and possible future careers.

The research

Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with nine teachers from six schools (four primary and two secondary). In addition, there were nine focus group discussions. Qualitative data in the form of videotapes, audiotapes, observations, field notes, individual interviews, focus group discussions and copies of teaching materials and student work was collected.

Analysis of the data was guided by two research questions:

  • How have science teachers used the ‘short and sharp’ videos of scientists in their classrooms?
  • What do teachers and students think the educational impact of these videos is?

Results

Bringing scientists into the classroom

Teachers and students considered that the videos of scientists talking about their work and lives served two functions:

  • Expanding student understanding of who scientists are, what scientists do and who can be a scientist.
  • Inspiring students’ future career choices.

It is not like just talking. They are talking and doing things, and we can see what they are doing.

Primary student

Scientists talking science with local relevance

The videos linked New Zealand cutting-edge research to current issues in New Zealand to make science more relevant to students. Students felt that the connections with their personal and social lives were important and influential. One commented, “And you get something to connect to. They may make things better through what they do, like the video that showed Christchurch. They understand how much it is going to cost and how they can actually get it to work.”

Scientists expressing concepts using a multitude of modes

Many of the scientists provided an animated description of their area of interest. Teachers and students understood concepts more comprehensively when they engaged with them via a video rather than by reading a book or listening to a teacher. One primary teacher’s comment was, “The digestive video is a really good example. There’re lots of big words in it. New vocabularies. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce some of them… Do you remember they put words on the diagram [in the video]? They heard it, saw it, said it, did it and learnt it.”

Scientists as alternative/authentic authorities within the classroom

The use of videos of scientists introducing ideas meant that a teacher could step away from their usual authoritative role as presenter of information and focus on facilitating discussion. A secondary teacher said, “By having a third person introduce this topic, I have found it much easier to manage a discussion, as the emotional reaction can be vented at this unknown person in the video who they don’t have to interact with every lesson and/or in the school grounds.”

Advantages of using videos in the science classroom

Videos are a convenient way to bring scientists into classrooms. Students can see they are ‘normal’ people who contribute to society and be inspired to consider science among their future career choices. The videos increased the number of possibilities the students had to draw on when they thought about how science might link to their lives and appeared to spark their intrinsic motivation to engage in science.

Students and teachers in the study appreciated the multimodal presentation of ideas and information. From a video, students can see how scientists work together, the equipment they use and how to pronounce scientific terminology. This then gives them the confidence and skills to ‘talk science’. Because they could be replayed, the videos provided students with more than one opportunity to make sense of science ideas.

Bringing a virtual scientist into the classroom provided an alternative and authentic source of authority in the classroom. The study illustrated that, for sensitive and ethical issues in particular, the use of a video allowed teachers to withhold their own opinions and focus on engaging students in discussions.

Watch videos of scientists talking about what they do and how they became scientists.

Young scientists
Becoming a marine scientist
Clean labs
A passion for moths
Passion for space physics

Conclusions

‘Short and sharp’ videos of scientists talking are an effective, time efficient and convenient way of supporting student and teacher learning/teaching and student engagement in science as a regular teaching event, especially when compared with arranging for a scientist to visit the classroom.

I understand more about scientists now. Someday maybe I will become a scientist and do similar things.

References

Bolstad, R., & Hipkins, R. (2008). Seeing yourself in scienceThe importance of the middle school years.Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Falloon, G., & Trewern, A. (2012). Developing School-Scientist Partnerships: Lessons for scientists from Forests-of-Life. Journal of Science Education and Technology (iFirst). doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9372-1.

Rennie, L.J. (2012). A very valuable partnership–Evaluation of the Scientists in Schools Project 2011–2012.Dickson, ACT: CSIRO Education.

 

    Published 1 February 2013