Science & Theatre

Principal Investigator
Lydia E Carol-Ann Burke

 

Co-Investigator
Anne Wessels

What can drama and theatre tell us about students' understandings of the nature of science?

This study, funded with a University of Toronto SSHRC Institutional Grant, explores how students from two very different social contexts characterize science. Despite the similarity in perspectives revealed by the two groups when using the more traditional nature of science testing format, we have shown how drama activities can uncover very different ways in which the two groups understand science.

Research Setting

Two separate groups of adolescents, aged 14 to 18, from urban locations in an east-central province of Canada, participated in the study:

35 students from a fee-paying university preparatory school, Michelangelo Preparatory School,* enrolled in non-compulsory science courses at senior high school level;

20 students attending different publicly funded schools but who all enrolled in the same community-based after-school program at Isaac Newton Community Club, located in a low-income neighborhood.

Two separate groups of adolescents, aged 14 to 18, from urban locations in an east-central province of Canada, participated in the study:

35 students from a fee-paying university preparatory school, Michelangelo Preparatory School,* enrolled in non-compulsory science courses at senior high school level;

20 students attending different publicly funded schools but who all enrolled in the same community-based after-school program at Isaac Newton Community Club, located in a low-income neighborhood.

*School/Group names are pseudonyms.

Research Approach

For each group, the study proceeded as a series of activities of three types, stretched over a period of 2 weeks:

  • Individual statement sorting exercise
  • Drama activities
  • Viewing a science-themed play

All activities were accompanied by group discussion. The audio recordings from the group discussions were then analysed using quantitative and qualitative methods.

For each group, the study proceeded as a series of activities of three types, stretched over a period of 2 weeks:

  • Individual statement sorting exercise
  • Drama activities
  • Viewing a science-themed play

All activities were accompanied by group discussion. The audio recordings from the group discussions were then analysed using quantitative and qualitative methods.

Findings

Statement sorting activity

The statement sorting activity showed that the two groups seemed to hold similar* views about the characteristics of science, demonstrating very similar patterns of agreement with the various statements.

Science is unbiased
40%
37%
There is no place for culture or beliefs in science
43%
27%
Good science relies on experiments
89%
79%
School science is a snap-shot of real science
63%
68%
Scientific rules come from direct observations
69%
74%
Everyone agrees with scientific facts
17%
5%
  • Michelangelo Preparatory School - Percentage Agreement
  • Isaac Newton Community Club - Percentage Agreement
  • * the differences observed are not statistically significant

Themes emerging from the drama activities

Although the sorting activity showed that the two groups appear to display the same views about the nature of science, the drama activities were able to illuminate quite contrasting ways of understanding science.

Michelangelo Preparatory School

Isaac Newton Community Club

  • Learning science is important for future careers
  • Science is mostly learnt in school
  • Spirituality and science should be treated separately
  • Scientists should remain objective by ecluding their religious ideas and approaches
  • Scientists follow an objective and precise method of discovery when conducting their research
  • Learning science is important for students’ everyday life
  • Science is learnt in school and in varied ways outside of school
  • Science should not exclude people’s faith, culture or history
  • Science and religion each have their own explanations and both perspectives should be accepted
  • Science can not be totally objective since responds to the social context within which scientists work

Isaac Newton Community Club

  • Learning science is important for students’ everyday life
  • Science is learnt in school and in varied ways outside of school
  • Science should not exclude people’s faith, culture or history
  • Science and religion each have their own explanations and both perspectives should be accepted
  • Science can not be totally objective since responds to the social context within which scientists work

Conclusions and implications for instruction

Our research has shown that drama and theatre methodologies were able to reveal that, although different communities might appear to hold similar views about the nature of science, they could be quite differ in the way they prioritize and utilize this knowledge.

Teachers may use drama-based approaches to identify common ideas and understandings about the nature of science that students hold. This will provide insights to design science learning opportunities that could engage students’ preferred emphases, while stretching them to think in about science from different perspectives.

Our research has shown that drama and theatre methodologies were able to reveal that, although different communities might appear to hold similar views about the nature of science, they could be quite different in the ways they prioritize and utilize this knowledge.

Teachers may use drama-based approaches to identify common ideas and understandings about the nature of science that students hold. This will provide insights to design science learning opportunities that could engage students’ preferred emphases, while stretching them to think in about science from different perspectives.

Publication

For details of the various drama activities used in this study, visit our publication “Using Theater and Drama to Expose and Expand the Epistemic Insights of Youth Regarding the Nature of Science”  has been published in  in the journal Research in Science Education