Engaging kids with science helps foster long-term interest in STEM, study finds

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Engaging children with science early can have a long-term impact on their choice of GCSE and A-level subjects and improve uptake of STEM subjects, according to new research.

New research from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology suggests that extracurricular science activities, involvement in research and a child’s family interest can increase both knowledge and interest in science, leading to a greater likelihood of studying a STEM subject at an advanced level. The study was published in Research for everyone.

This study investigated the impact of Summer Scientist Week, an annual out-of-school science event for 4-11 year olds and their families, held at the University of Nottingham.

This event introduces elementary school-aged children to psychology-related studies and activities about the mind and brain. Findings from interviews conducted with children and parents at the event, as well as data from a survey of previous participants aged 14–17, show an increase in knowledge and interest in science that has been sustained over several years, influencing subject choices at A level.

Summer Scientist Week is an annual 5-day science engagement event for 4- to 11-year-olds held at the University of Nottingham, UK. More than 3,500 children have attended since the event began in 2007, with many returning to attend in subsequent years. Families attend a 3-hour session and participate in a range of different activities: Children have the opportunity to participate in a range of play-based explorations that expose them to the scientific methods used to study cognitive processes such as attention, memory, language, spatial, motor and social skills .

Children and their parents were interviewed during the event and selected previous participants were also interviewed to assess the long-term impact of participating in the event.

Children who were interviewed after participating in Summer Scientist Week research activities expressed an interest in learning more about the brain, the findings of the studies they participated in, and how researchers use these findings. Parents also commented that engaging in the Summer Scientist Week activities led to an increase in their children’s interest in science.

“We know that engaging children in STEM subjects can be challenging and they are often perceived as difficult subjects so are often not pursued by young people. By introducing children to science-based subjects outside of school at an early age, we have shown that there are clear benefits to their early engagement with these subjects. This shows how important it is to make science accessible and fun, and that if children are interested, they are more likely to continue with STEM-related subjects in their education,” says Professor Lucy Cragg, School of Psychology.

More info:
Stephanie MacDonald et al., The Impact of After-school Science Activities for Elementary School Children on Science Knowledge, Interest, and Later Academic Choice: An Evaluation Study, Research for everyone (2023). uclpress.scienceopen.com/hoste … 10.14324/RFA.07.1.20

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