Scientist in Residence Program Improving Children’s Image of Science and Scientists

Larry Flick

In School Science and Mathematics 90:3 (1990) pp.204-214

Much of the literature suggests that a stereotyped popular perception of scientist persists and that children are directly affected by this perception. This American study explores children’s perceptions of scientists and how the stereotype can be changed through classroom intervention. Such visits from university scientists had a positive influence on the way in which children viewed scientists as a whole.

The Scientist in Residence programme was used by the University of Oregon in a local elementary (primary) school to test the perceptions that children have of scientists, and the extent to which exposure to ‘real-life’ scientists can change this. Two fifth-grade classes at the elementary school invited a scientist from the university to their classroom for an hour a week for three consecutive weeks; this was repeated with a different scientist in the second set of visits. The children were also invited to the university labs for a field trip where Room 1 had two female scientists and Room 2 had one female and one male scientist to teach the children. Perceptions were tested through the Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST) along with written feedback several weeks after the programme had finished. The children in Room 2 completed the DAST before and after the Scientist in Residence programme; the children in Room 1 completed the DAST only after the programme; and two sixth-grade classes in a different school which had not taken part in the Scientist in Residence programme, with no exposure to the university environment, also completed the DAST as a control group.

The expected drawing of a stereotypical scientist is male, wearing a lab coat and glasses in an indoors environment working with scientific equipment or technology and surrounded by books. The DAST drawings of those before the programme and those in the control classes reflected this closely. Exposure to university scientists through the Scientist in Residence programme had a definite impact on the types of drawings completed post-programme. Girls in particular were influenced by the gender of the visiting scientists and overall more female scientists were drawn in the post-programme tests. Furthermore, the written feedback from children involved in the programme was very positive: in particular, the children viewed scientists as ‘regular people’ and represented a broader group of people than previously thought by the children. Overall, the author concludes that the Science in Residence programme can be seen to have had a positive influence on changing children’s perceptions of scientists.

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