The research suggests that out-of-school science activities, research participation, and a child’s family interest, can increase both knowledge and interest in science, resulting in a higher likelihood of studying a STEM subject at an advanced level. The study, published in Research for All, an open-access journal published by the UCL Press, investigated the impact of Summer Scientist Week, an annual out-of-school science engagement event for 4-11-year-olds and their families at the University of Nottingham which introduces primary school age children to psychology-related research and activities about the mind and brain. Findings from interviews conducted with children and parents at the event, and survey data from previous attendees aged 14-17, indicated an increase in knowledge and interest in science that was maintained over several years, influencing ‘A’ level subject choice.
Summer Scientist Week is an annual five-day science engagement event for 4-11-year-olds held at the University of Nottingham. Over 3,500 children have attended since it began in 2007. Families attend for a three-hour session, participating in a range of different activities, with children having the opportunity to take part in a range of ‘gamified’ research studies, exposing them to the scientific methods used to study cognitive processes such as attention, memory, language, spatial, motor, and social skills. Nottingham University explains that children and their parents were interviewed at the event, and a selection of previous participants were also questioned to assess the long-term impact of taking part.
The university explained: “Children interviewed after participating in the research activities at Summer Scientist Week expressed an interest in finding out more about the brain, findings from the studies they participated in, and how researchers use these findings. Parents also reported that engagement with Summer Scientist Week activities had led to an increase in their children’s interest in science.”
Professor Lucy Cragg, of the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham, said: We know engaging children in STEM subjects can be a challenge, and that they are often seen as difficult subjects, so often aren’t pursued by young people. By introducing children to science-based subjects outside of school at a young age we have shown there are clear benefits to engaging them early with these topics. This underlines the importance of making science accessible and fun, and that if children are interested they are more likely to continue to engage with STEM subjects in their education.”