Science Clubs

Principal Investigator
Lydia E Carol-Ann Burke

What are the key elements of community-responsive science programming?

Funded by the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE), this two-year project involves children and youth enrolled in a community-based science club program in low-income neighborhoods of Toronto. The research is designed to develop a grass-roots model for community-responsive science education that can be used as an exemplar for developing community-based science programs in the future.

Research Setting

The research project focuses on children between the ages of 8 and 14, in low-income communities. Children from low-income communities often go on to be underrepresented in science-related careers and educational opportunities. Informal (out-of-school) science activities are invaluable opportunities that can help children to remain engaged with science learning while supporting their interest in school-based learning. Within informal learning contexts, science clubs have great potential for maintaining the active participation of children and youth in science.

“What I liked is that I was able to experience how to make ideas that will help me in the future, for college or university”

What I liked is that I was able to experience how to make ideas that will help me in the future, for college or university

Background Research

In the first phase of the study, we worked with an existing community-based science club program to identify key characteristics that support successful science programming. In addition, we explored research conducted in other locations around the world and investigated the science-related interests, opinions, and attitudes of members of a specific community within Toronto that we propose as the location for a new community-responsive science club.

Key aspects of community-based science clubs

Community-based
initiatives

Considering community identity

Valuing community experiences

Community involvment

Equitable collaboration

Co-learning and co-building

Local relevance

Science Club
experiences

Social-emotional connection

Leadership capacity

Scientific engagement

Science-related fascination

Competency belief

Scientific sense-making

Community-based initiatives

  • Considering community identity
  • Valuing community experiences
  • Community involvment
  • Equitable collaboration
  • Co-learning and co-building
  • Local relevance
  • Social-emotional connection
  • Leadership capacity
  • Scientific engagement
  • Science-related fascination
  • Competency belief
  • Scientific sense-making

Science club experience

Research Approach

We gathered perspectives from children, teachers, and club staffers by combining the following quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection: 

  • Small groups interviews
  • Individual interviews
  • Researchers observations
  • Surveys

We gathered perspectives from children, teachers, and club staffers by combining the following quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection: 

  • Small groups interviews
  • Individual interviews
  • Researchers observations
  • Surveys

Outcome and recommendations

"The good part was that some kids were actually being nice to each other ... and also giving feedback [on] what we could add to our ideas"
Sam
10 years old
"Knowing that I have friends here and uh, and that each day I come here is gonna be a really good day."

John
9 years old

"We got to go on cool trips to like the library and the Science Centre"
Jamie
9 years old
"When I was little I wanted to be a scientist ... I always made a mistake and I always made a mess but it’s fine"
Lola
8 years old

"Knowing that I have friends here and uh, and that each day I come here is gonna be a really good day."

John
9 years old
"The good part was that some kids were actually being nice to each other ... and also giving feedback [on] what we could add to our ideas"
Sam
10 years old

"We got to go on cool trips to like the library and the Science Centre"


Jamie
9 years old

"When I was little I wanted to be a scientist ... I always made a mistake and I always made a mess but it’s fine"
Lola
8 years old

Based on analysis of these multiple data sources, we identified many strengths in the ways in which clubs are made accessible to and cater for children and youth in their home neighborhoods. 

In the second phase of the study, we focused on exploring how a club that is located in a low-income community can strive for greater community-responsiveness. 

 

 

We proposed the following strategies that would serve as focal points for the design of a new club:

  • Exploring collaborations with other community organizations

  • Recognizing and working with community ‘funds of knowledge’

  • Incorporating contemporary approaches to science education

  • Exposing club leaders to primary research in science education

  • Exploring the diversity of children’s interests

  • Supporting activities within and for the local community 

  • Being explicit about the place of STEM terminology

Implementation

After examining the best practice strategies and recommendations identified during the phase of research background, we designed a new science club that would be intentional about developing a connections between school, home, and club science education.

 

We then explored the benefits and challenges presented by the implementation of such  experimental approach.

 

 
 
 
 

Research approach

During this phase of the study, we used a variety of qualitative research strategies, including:  

  • Introductory interviews with children attending the club;
  • Post- club focus groups with club attendees;
  • Individual interviews with club staffers;

  • Interviews with the principal and school teachers about the impact of the club on the school community;

  • Detailed, ongoing field notes regarding club sessions and club-related events.

Findings

"There wasn't ever a time when I heard,, you know, like: 'I don't feel like going today'. No, it never happened"

Teacher 1

"You know what I liked? I liked everything, all the activities we did"


Rose
11 years old
"I really had fun showing our parents how smart we are, 'cause I think we are underrated"

Henri
10 years old
"I really, really appreciated the fact that people that were working with [the children] represented their community"
Teacher 2
  • All parties were extremely positive about the experimental club;
  • There were a lot of new components to consider so prioritization resulted in child-centred elements being tackled first, community input elements will come later;
  • Background preparation rallied the enthusiasm of school personnel and family members to act as effective allies;
  • Teachers experienced the benefits in terms of children’s general attitudes towards science and their in-class participation;
  • Strong suggestions were made regarding the potential for complementary interaction of formal and informal spaces of science learning.

Community-Responsive Program Model

Based on our experience with the new club, we propose the following model for the implementation of future community-responsive science programs for children

Report

For further details on our study, visit the final report prepared for the Council Of Ontario Directors of Education, “Engaging Children And Youth From Low-Income Communities In Science Learning”.