Student Ideas about Scientists

By Karly Barada

Twenty-one sets of bright, eager eyes flashed with excitement as I told the Bubble Buddies Science club that they would get to meet real scientists in just a few short weeks. It was the first day of our science club at the Community Learning Center stationed in Riley Elementary School and us teachers were eager to give the students an unique science opportunity. We gave the group a short overview of the general plan of the unit: each week a new teacher would be here with a teaching assistant who would lead an activity where the students would explore and learn about the characteristics of bubbles while making connections between bubbles and living cells. Then scientists would be coming at the end to talk more about living cells and see what the students had learned while they were being Bubble Scientists! The excitement in the room was evident as the students couldn’t wait to get started on that days activities.

Fast-forward a few weeks and the day was finally here, the BSEN Scientists had arrived and the students were  thrilled to hear they were going to be interacting with them. Being a pre-service teacher and recognizing the students’ excitement and seeing the BSEN student’s slight uneasiness (many of them, this was the first time working with children in this setting), I was interested to see how this interaction was going to play out. I helped the BSEN group get the classroom set up while the students were eating a snack. While we were getting everything set up for the Science Club, inspiration struck for a perfect learning moment for both the BSEN students, the 2nd and 3rd graders in the club, and myself. One BSEN student turned to me and made a joke that the BSEN Students should have dressed up as scientists. The students would have been entertained and excited to see the BSEN students dressed up, but what does that do for the misconceptions that many students have about what it means to be a scientist?

In Bodzin’s article, “Breaking Science Stereotypes” students in several classrooms were asked to draw what they thought a scientist looked like. Many students drew a white male with a lab coal, eyeglasses, facial hair, typically working in a lab. In the Bodzin study, students then interacted with a scientist in the classroom, and as Bodzin remarks, “After a visit with the scientists, the drawings showed a decrease in stereotypic features and an increase in female images.” (Bodzin 39). I became curious about what the misconceptions that the students in the Bubble Club had about what scientists look like, so I mimicked Bodzin and set up an interaction that could show this. I explained to the BSEN student that students often have misconceptions about who scientists are and what they look like, but in all actuality, we want students to see normal people, including themselves as scientists. I encouraged this BSEN student to ask the students what they thought the scientists were going to look like and then provide a learning moment for the students that could help them break the science stereotype and change their misconception.

After the conversation in the classroom, the group of us went and grabbed the students from the snack area to bring them to the classroom. While walking, I heard one student say to another one, “Are those the scientists? They don’t look like it.” I was looking forward to seeing more of the interaction between the scientists and the students. Once in the classroom, the group got started and the students were able to ask all sorts of questions to the BSEN students. Then it happened. The BSEN scientist asked the students, “What did you think we were going to look like?” The misconceptions and the stereotypes flew out, just like in Bodzin’s study. Things mentioned included white coats, white shoes, glasses, etc. These students had misconceptions just like many other students. The BSEN scientists then did a great job explaining that anyone can be a scientist and that scientists are normal people just like them. The learning moment was exciting, and I was pretty proud to see this interaction happen.

As a pre-service teacher, I can take many things away from this situation that can help me as a science educator. First off, it is so important that I am aware of possible misconceptions that students may possibly have and that I stay informed. The Bodzin article provided me with enough background information to be able to set up this learning moment and have knowledge that my students will have this common misconception. Secondly, it is vital to give students opportunities to interact with people working in the science field. Students were excited, engaged, and the experience was memorable. Both male and female students were exposed to male and female scientists who can work in a role model sense for these young children. Finally, throughout this whole experience, I learned just how much students enjoy learning and doing science. These children are not exposed to science education very often, if at all, in their normal school day. It was very rewarding for both the students and myself to offer this unique science experience and provide a learning moment that can help change a misconception that could potentially have an impact on the life of a future scientist.

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