Science & Community

Principal Investigator

Lydia E Carol-Ann Burke

University of Toronto Connaught Fund

How do middle school children from a high needs neighborhood relate to science?

This study, funded with a Connaught New Researcher’s Award, explored how children of middle school age from a high needs neighborhood of a city in western Canada describe their past, present, and hoped-for future experiences with science. The study explores the various opportunities for engagement in out-of-school science learning, and how young people were influenced in their decisions to participate (or not) in those opportunities.

Research Setting

In the study, the views of those who provide out-of-school educational opportunities are compared with the perspectives of middle school children, some of whom regularly participate in out-of-school science and others who do not. Our aim was to identify how individuals and opportunities in the children’s community can influence young people to participate in science education.

According to studies conducted in other contexts, life-long science education commitments are established during the middle school years so this study focuses on children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old. The adult participants in this study were after-school or summer camp community club workers as well as education workers and exhibit developers from the local science centre.

Research Approach

Participants in the study were: 32 children aged 9 to 14; 11 community club program workers employed in the high needs neighborhood; 2 science centre exhibit developers; and 3 science centre educators. 

The following quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection were used: 

  • Individual Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Statement sorting activities

The audio recordings from those activities were analysed using quantitative and qualitative methods.


"Without scientists we wouldn’t know anything or produce very much, we wouldn’t even have light bulbs!"
"Science can help the world … and solve the mysteries of the world"


"I have lots of younger cousins. So I like to do science stuff with them"
  • Overall children displayed positive feelings about science and the role of science and scientists in society;
  • Over 40 percent of the young people interviewed stated that they could imagine themselves pursuing a science-related career;
  • Children associated science learning with something that takes place in school and relies on teacher enthusiasm and children’s natural abilities;
  • Although most of the children expressed a sense of excitement about their trips to the science centre, fewer than 30 percent of the children used the free tickets they were given; 
  • Adults had a good grasp of children’s perceptions of their abilities in science but often underestimated children’s enthusiasm for science.
“I think science is hard for them just because they don’t have the resources available outside of school”

Community Worker
"A lot of the jobs that they have exposure to just don’t involve science really at all"
Community Worker

"The science centre is more like edutainment!"

Science Centre Worker

Conclusions and Recommendations

The comments and trends identified in the data from children and adults were combined with the information we gained about the city context to produce a set of recommendations that could serve as starting points for conversations between community members and science educators in the area.


  1. Identify and capitalize on children’s existing interests and self-determined activities such as sports and on-line science video clips
  2. Re-evaluate the idea of hiding the term ‘science’ from children in community club settings; they need to see the link between out of school fun science and in school science classes
  3. Increase/improve children’s exposure to science-related jobs and careers
  4. Build relationships between community activities and science centre workers to support accessibility
  5. Engage communities and/or schools in the science centre programming and exhibit development processes


For more details on the study, view the publication “Informal Science Educators and Children in a Low-Income Community Describe How Children Relate to Out-of-School Science Education”, published in the International Journal of Science Education.