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  • In 2017, Sue Fergus and her students at Toko School in Taranaki began a Curious Minds Participatory Science Platform (PSP) project to distil oils and hydrosols from locally grown plants. Through the PSP, the school was able to purchase equipment and make connections with local experts. The project presented Sue and her students with rich opportunities to learn about the process of science. They also put their maths and communication skills to work, making use of the natural connections between these learning areas, with significant impacts on student learning.

    Building science capital

    Science capital refers collectively to the science knowledge, attitudes, skills and experiences that individuals develop during their lives. It includes key aspects of:

    • what you know – your science literacy
    • how you think – your attitudes and dispositions
    • what you do – science-related experiences and activities
    • who you know – social contacts.

    Everyone has different amounts of science capital. In general, students with low science capital do not see themselves as being able to do science or be scientists, and they limit their engagement with science. Students with higher science capital are more likely to engage with STEM subjects and pursue STEM-related careers.

    Schools play an important part in building science capital. For example, providing rich opportunities for students to engage with science in authentic contexts helps them to develop their scientific literacy and to develop a science identity.

    Toko School’s ongoing distillation project demonstrates how science capital can be built. First, Sue and the students develop their science literacy, extending their conceptual knowledge and learning about the nature of science and the science capabilities – how science works. This includes asking questions, conducting investigations and interpreting the results in a real-life context. The input from a local expert and two off-site visits are also highly valued.

    I have even seen myself as a scientist, and the science process all of a sudden has taken some true meaning.

    Sue Fergus

    Students seeing themselves in science

    Through the project, students experienced the entire distillation process, from planting lavender and other herbs through to harvesting and distilling and then packaging, marketing and selling their products. Students recognised the science involved in growing and harvesting the plants and distilling the hydrosols and essential oils. There were also multiple opportunities for pursuing technological learning outcomes.

    When students are excited about their learning, they share their knowledge with their whānau. Sharing with the wider community also presents opportunities for personal development (for example, presentation skills and confidence) as well as building science capital within the community.

    Who you know

    The Toko School distillation project benefited enormously from links with local expert Jim Bennett, and students were able to link their learning to what they saw on field trips to both his lavender still and Methanex, an industrial distillation plant. The Hub article Connecting with scientists has insights on how to locate experts willing to make online or school visits. The associated activity Communicating with scientists – interview techniques and protocols offers a framework to help students get the most out of the experiences.

    It can also be valuable to share videos of New Zealand scientists discussing their work. The article Scientists talking to students through videos highlights the benefits of short, targeted videos.

    You may also find that a citizen science project fits with the unit that you are planning – see our citizen science section. These projects provide opportunities for students to engage in ‘real’ science, and many include opportunities to connect with scientists and ask questions about the projects.

    Related content

    This project is covered in the 2020 Connected article Making scents.

    One of our core purposes at the Hub is building authentic relationships between the science and education communities and supporting those communities with real-time interactions. Find out more in the article The Hub and social media: How can we help?

    SLH and the science capabilities is a recorded webinar that shows how to use Hub resources to develop students’ science capabilities.​​​​

    Useful links

    Inspiring the next generation of scientists provides practical pedagogical advice on building science capital in the classroom. The article gives a brief introduction to an approach known as Elicit–Value–Link.


    Archer, L., Dawson, E., DeWitt, J., Seakins, A. & Wong, B. (2015). “Science capital”: A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending Bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 922-948.

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

      Published 28 May 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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