14 SES 09 A, Students and Families Voices in Educational Research
Science education for all citizens is a major priority in the EU in order to foment pathways to future innovative markets . In our current society, in which digitalisation and technologies transverse almost if not all dimensions of our everyday life, science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) abilities and digital competences have become key factors with respect to attaining good quality of life. Nevertheless, the European Commission reports that one of the main challenges to building new economic opportunities in the 21st century digital society is to sustainably motivate young students during their teenage years towards pursuing science careers .
Research over the past decades has put forward several student-centred pedagogies for boosting students’ motivation in science learning, under the constructivism umbrella . These pedagogies take into consideration the way that people learn through first-hand, active learning experiences, for instance using problem-based learning, guided inquiry, etc. . Recently, the open science schooling innovative pedagogical approach to science education has been put forward as well, involving the engagement of students in real-life experimentations of practical science applications, bringing meaningful learning experiences through missions undertaken with the local community . Furthermore, the role of family members in science learning missions at home has been proposed alongside open science schooling to further foster motivation and realistic learning experiences translated to everyday life in various science fields including physics, chemistry, social science, environmental science, etc. .
However, we argue that in order to make a new pedagogical or didactic approach more efficient it is necessary to investigate the underlying assumptions and perceptions that the students bring along, particularly in regard to science learning and the importance of this learning in their daily lives. We believe that this is fundamental to foster responsible citizenship in the digital era, as the European Commission calls for closing the shortfall in science-savvy people at all levels of society that Europe is facing . Furthermore, we consider it necessary to hear students’ voices with respect to what and how they learn science in order to maximise their motivation and interest in the subject, as Fletcher [6, p. 5] states that students’ voices are ‘validating and authorizing them to represent their own ideas, opinions, knowledge, and experiences throughout education in order to improve our schools’.
To this end, this work presents our explorations on what the students' perceptions of the meaning of science are in their practical daily lives, a topic less explored in the literature . As students’ daily lives and behaviours are influenced by the people that surround them, including teachers, peers, and family members, (see Bandura’s social learning theory ), we also asked the students what they thought their family members, in particular their parents, expected of them in their learning of science. This could give us insights into the ways that students consider science learning to be meaningful for themselves practically as well as the learning outcomes that they think their parents expect from them. Our findings suggest that older students have a broader and more sophisticated perception of what science learning signifies for them (e.g., science as a process of development) and of what they think their parents expectations are. Younger students believe their parents expect them to learn science to have better career opportunities, presenting a narrower view of the meaning of science. From this, we highlight the importance of the family’s role in supporting the development of critical thinkers and responsible citizens of the 21st century digital society from a young age.
This study was developed as part of the investigations of a European project involving secondary school students from Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, and Turkey. We employed qualitative methods to explore the participants’ perceptions about the meaning of science in their daily lives, as well as what they think their parents expect of them by engaging in science learning. A questionnaire combining open-ended and multiple-choice questions was prepared. In total, 50 secondary students (31 girls) were involved in this transnational project, and 45 fully answered questionnaires were collected. Students participated voluntarily and consent was collected from them and their parents. As descriptive or open-ended questions are usually rich in data, the collected answers required careful analysis. We opted for thematic analysis of the qualitative data, which emphasises the content, focusing on ‘what’ is said rather than ‘how’ it is said [8, pp. 53-54]. Furthermore, we also employed narrative analysis as it focuses on the ‘meaning and linguistic forms of texts’ [9, p. 112]. Within the thematic analysis, the written narratives in this study are focused on the language and meaning in the respective context. Based on prior theories and to describe the content, codes were assigned to the collected data and from them themes were abstracted by the researchers [8, p. 73]. We explored the students’ personal views of science by asking the open questions: (a) What does science mean to you? and (b) In what ways do you believe science is useful in your daily life? A multiple-choice question was also asked to gauge the students’ views: (c) What expectations do you think your parents have about learning science? Students’ answers to question (a) supported their views of science usefulness in their daily lives. Their responses to question (b) were coded, and 4 themes emerged, with slight overlapping: 1) science as a life tool (utilitarian/practical science), 2) science as means of understanding the world (philosophical/abstract science), 3) science as an unconscious part of life (pervasive science), and 4) science as a school subject (siloed science). Data show that most students have a firm idea that science is a vital part of their lives, as a tool, as a way of understanding the world, as an unconscious part of life or as a school subject: ‘science is something that surrounds us all the time. It’s something that we don’t even realise that is happening around us. It’s truly amazing’ (boy, 16).
Utilitarian science. This theme emerged prevalently in the data as most of the students view science as a tool that supports human (technological) development: ‘people probably can’t imagine life without electricity, transport, internet, knowledge. All those things are based on science. Advances in technology and science are transforming our world at an incredible pace, our children’s future will surely be filled with leaps in technology we can only imagine’ (girl, 15). Abstract science. Many students saw science as a way of explaining the natural world as well as common phenomena also in their daily lives: ‘although many people don't know it already, most of what we have in the modern world functions based solely on scientific rigor. Science can be useful to understand how to grow your own plants, what diet is best for you. It also gives insight on how most modern complex mechanisms, including motors, work’ (boy 16). ‘Science is useful in everyday life to understand the world better’ (girl, 12). Pervasive science. Some students expressed that science is in everything and everywhere: ‘Science is our everyday life! Our feelings, air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, human birth- everything is Science!’ (boy, 16). Siloed science. A few students considered science as a school subject: ‘we have it in school and learn (about it)’ (girl, 14). These results indicate a positivist perception of science as a process in constant progress, accumulating discoveries that contribute to human development [10-12]. Answers to question (c) showed that younger students believe their parents expect them to learn science to further a science career, whereas older students believe their parents expect them to become better critical thinkers. We argue this deepened understanding of science importance can be explained by the increasing influence of teachers/peers (mesosystem), as well as parents [13-14].
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