Family Science: Generating Early Learning in Science

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [UOV University of Oviedo]On: 22 October 2014, At: 23:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Early Child Development and CarePublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>Family Science: Generating Early Learning in ScienceMike Watts aa Froebel Institute College , Roehampton Institute London , Roehampton Lane, London,SW15 5PJ, UKPublished online: 07 Jul 2006.</p><p>To cite this article: Mike Watts (2000) Family Science: Generating Early Learning in Science, Early Child Development andCare, 160:1, 143-154, DOI: 10.1080/0030443001600113</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use ofthe Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Early Child Development and Care, 2000, Vol. 160, pp. 145-154Reprints available directly from the publisherPhotocopying permitted by license only</p><p> 2000 OFA (Overseas Publishers Association) N.V.Published by license under</p><p>the Gordon and Breach Publishers imprint.Printed in Singapore.</p><p>Family Science: Generating Early Learningin Science</p><p>MIKE WATTS</p><p>Froebel Institute College, Roehampton Institute London,Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5PJ, UK</p><p>(Received 26 November 1999)</p><p>This paper explores a semi-formal Intervention which involves school children and theirfamily adults in project work in astronomy. Mixed generation 'family teams' attendedtwo 'family science evenings' at the children's primary schools and undertook to tackleand report on home-based projects over the intervening six week period. The projectsrequired the family teams to collaborate in their learning and the results, in terms ofenhanced interest and enjoyment of astronomy, were very positive. The evaluation ofthe research data considers outcomes at two levels: (i) general evaluative comments,and (ii) gains for the family teams involved. The research raises a number of issues,and highlights that, particularly In such a mixed context as this, precise learning gainsare difficult to assess.</p><p>Key words: Family science</p><p>With a few notable exceptions, most attempts to involve parents in children'slearning have been concerned principally with literacy and numeracy: despite itsrole as a core subject in the curriculum, science is a poor relative. The drive toinvolve parents in children's schooling is not new and, for example, many readingschemes have long had home-school activities. While homework tasks are a commonrequirement in many primary schools, even for the youngest children, parents areusually passive bystanders when it comes to science and their greatest involvementis merely to ensure that school work is completed tidily and on time.</p><p>There are many difficulties surrounding greater parental involvement, such as(i) traditional home/school demarcations and aversions; (ii) lack of parental expertisein the formalised teaching and learning methods expected of schools, (iii) lack ofschool expertise and resources to induct parents into children's learning patterns,and (iv) lack of parental knowledge and understanding of school subject matter.This fourth element is most conspicuous when the learning of science comes intothe picture. Koballa (1995), for example, notes that in general childrens'attitudes towards science appear to become less positive as they progress through</p><p>143</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>UO</p><p>V U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> of </p><p>Ovi</p><p>edo]</p><p> at 2</p><p>3:52</p><p> 22 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>144 M. WATTS</p><p>early stages of schooling, and become even less positive as young people move onto higher levels. The well known antipathy of adults to science is the far end ofthis continuum. Why this antagonism to learning science exists remains unclear.There are many reasons proffered, though there seem to be no clear andunambiguous signals as to why learners take to their heels all the faster the morescience they do. It does mean, too, that because of teachers' lack of confidenceand familiarity with science it is usually an improbable first-line candidate forhome/school parental involvement in learning.</p><p>Outside of schools the- pattern is different although, when compared to otherareas of school learning, such as language and the arts, science is still fairly sparseon the ground. There is now a small but growing literature on 'family learning'which is concerned with the informal learning contexts of science museums,interactive exhibits, science exploratoria, television programmes, books, comics,cartoons, computer use and field centres. So, for example, Allen (1997), Falk(1997), Gilbert and Priest (1997) and Stevens and Hall (1997) all consider theimpact of museum exhibits on mixed-age groups. In this same volume of papers,Sandifer (1997) points out that the 'learning agendas' of family groups are likelyto be different to 'non-family' groups, and that if the time spent observing amuseum exhibit can be taken as a measure of learning time then family groupsare more learning-centered than non-family groups. Sandifer acknowledges that thenotion of learning in this context is problematic and there are great difficulties indetermining how little or how much members of a family learn in such informalsituations.</p><p>What then might be the key issues involved in 'family learning'? First, the term'family' itself is a loose expression that covers many possible constellations ofchildren and carers. So, in the research reported here there were many variedclusters of adults and children: grandparents with grandchildren, single mothersand single fathers with children (sometimes their natural offspring, sometimes not),aunties and cousins with children, older brothers and sisters, 'family friends' andso on. Second, all the individuals in such clusters have a relationship with each otherthat transcends schools, watching and learning, or science. The social imperativeand status that lies between teacher and pupil is fully absent in a family and anynotion of family learning must therefore embrace the vagaries of the full range offamiliar relationships. Third, the nature of family learning in a home situation willdiffer markedly from school-based learning in a formalised atmosphere. So, forinstance, such informal learning cannot encompass formal uniform didactic methodswith homogeneous school groupings. Fourth, child and adult learning can, at bestbe seen to lie at opposite ends of a spectrum (Brookfield, 1986) or, at worst, areentirely separate entities (Knowles, 1984).</p><p>Given the nature of 'family science' as described in this paper, the discussionmoves back and forth between children's learning and adult learning, and betweenthat which takes place in classrooms and in everyday life, by which is meant</p><p>(i) formal learning settings (classrooms, schools, colleges, universities);(ii) informal learning situations (daily life, libraries, museums, work);</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>UO</p><p>V U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> of </p><p>Ovi</p><p>edo]</p><p> at 2</p><p>3:52</p><p> 22 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>GENERATING EARLY LEARNING IN SCIENCE</p><p>(iii) children learning science (in this instance, in primary classrooms);(iv) adults learning science (both formally and informally),</p><p>and which can be represented in the matrix in Figure 1 below:</p><p>145</p><p>Children's learning</p><p>Adults'learning</p><p>Formalsettings</p><p>Schoolscience,curriculum,lessons</p><p>college,university,night classes,professionalcourses</p><p>Informalsettings</p><p>TV, books,magazines,museums</p><p>work, experience,health, hobbies,news, internet</p><p>figure 1</p><p>Opportunities for learning in formal systems are usually overt and fixed formalcourses are constructed by curriculum specialists who shape this provision. On theother hand, informal learning generally takes place at the learner's own behest,is primarily self-organised, may occur incidentally and from a range of sources andmaterials, and can normally take place under conditions of the learner's choosing.So, for instance, learning about astronomy during a formal course on, say, astrophysicswill contrast quite sharply with that which is learned through leaflets, televisionprogrammes, magazine articles, conversations and through experience.</p><p>FAMILY SCIENCE</p><p>The Family Science Project has its basis in a series of 'family science evenings' inthree primary schools (Watts and Hollins, 1998). Unlike more passive situations,such as texts, television or museum exhibits, this project is a 'learning intervention'which seeks to bring family members together in a common purpose and to createa clear 'learning agenda'. The evenings described here have surroundingcontemporary topics in astronomy where children and adults have been drawntogether for an 'evening of fun and learning', and hence encouraged into collaborativelearning. This collaboration has taken place both within the family science evenings,within home settings and between home and school.</p><p>In outline, the Family Science Project has been developed with infant and primaryschool, within the southwest region of London. Each participant school has advertised</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>UO</p><p>V U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> of </p><p>Ovi</p><p>edo]</p><p> at 2</p><p>3:52</p><p> 22 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>146 M. WATTS</p><p>and promoted two linked family science evenings, where 'family teams' have beeninvited to participate in a range of activities, along with the Headteacher andinterested teachers from appropriate classes. The schools have commonly identifieda particular class of children usually between the ages of 7 and 10 although inone school any child could attend and the age range extended from 511. The twolinked evenings at each school have been separated by a period of some six weeks(Figure 2), during which the family teams tackle a series of practical problems andproject tasks. Among other presentations and activities, the same family teams thenreport back or exhibit their project outcomes during the second evening.</p><p>Evening 1 Evening 2</p><p>Figure 2</p><p>As has already been noted, the term 'family' has been used very loosely to includethe children within a particular class, their parents or guardians, grandparents,older brothers and sisters, relatives and family friends. In practice, 'family teams'were multi-generational and usually consisted of between one and three adults toan assemblage of three to five youngsters. The evening sessions at each school havefollowed a similar format. The ingredients of both have been:</p><p>(i) an interesting environment (in a classroom or school hall) of posters, displaysand materials relating to astronomy,</p><p>(ii) direct input a brief lecture/demonstration on aspects of astronomy;(iii) a quiz, 'fun activities', practical tasks, discussion and problem solving in astronomy.</p><p>THE FAMILY SCIENCE EVENINGS</p><p>Three primary schools (A, B and C) agreed to participate in the project, and oneschool (A) enjoyed the process so much that they invited the research team toreturn for a second cycle of work. The three schools chosen were quite large (some500 children on roll), and two were particularly proud of their good home-schoolrelationships. Each school had good multi-media capacity on site. In two schools(B and C), the first evening was preceded a week or so by a school assembly duringthe day, where the children were given a lively and exuberant talk about astronomy,and where the Family Science Nightwere advertised in order to generate enthusiasm.Invitations and leaflets were then sent home with the children and the FamilyScience Evenings were then widely advertised around the schools and in home-school literature and communications.</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>UO</p><p>V U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> of </p><p>Ovi</p><p>edo]</p><p> at 2</p><p>3:52</p><p> 22 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>GENERATING EARLY LEARNING IN SCIENCE 147</p><p>The attendance on each occasion was as follows:</p><p>School A: (1st occasion)(2nd occasion)</p><p>School B:School C:</p><p>Evening 142285422</p><p>Evening 242252715</p><p>Each family team consisted of between 4 and 7 members, and the number ofteams varied between 3 and 8. The most common grouping was one adult to threechildren, although this varied considerably with sometimes three generationsrepresented within one group. Some decline in numbers between the two sessionswas to be expected and the schools received apologies from some families indicating,for example, that they could not attend the second meeting because it was a child'sbirthday party; because the boys in the family were entered for a swimmingcompetition that night, or because there was no babysitter for the youngest childrenin the household. Moreover, the more marked decline in attendance for the secondevening at School B happened to coincide with a key international soccer matchon television that n igh t That said, School A proved to be a very interested audienceand the Headteacher wrote to the research team to congratulate them on a 0%drop-out rate.</p><p>Schools A and B can be described as city schools, although within predominatelymiddle-class catchment areas. School C is an inner city school in a socially deprivedarea. At this school, the Headteacher commented that it was an uphill struggle toattract parents into the school for any activity, let alone a science evening. In theevent, even though the attendance was low, the school was delighted to receivefamilies who attended both nights, were interested and keen to participate.</p><p>The resources provided by the project to the schools included:</p><p>(i) the Family Science Project Research Team. Two presenters shared the overallorganisation of the evenings, with the assistance of two or three 'helpers'.These helpers were paid recruits from a range of undergraduate universitycourses and were employed no...</p></li></ul>


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