Can Storytelling Keep Kids Hooked on Science?

Researchers believe giving students an emotional connection to the subject through characters and plot twists will keep them engaged.

Could using creative storytelling keep middle and high school students from mentally checking out of science class? That's the hope of a new research project kicking off at three high schools in Queensland, Australia. The researchers hope that by infusing characters and plot twists into science, students will stay invested in the curriculum.

Stephen Ritchie, a professor at Queensland University of Technology who specializes in science and math education who will run the project, says that Australian students, like their peers in the United States, "become disengaged as the curriculum becomes more formal." This lack of connection has pretty serious consequences for economic viability: "Declining interest in senior secondary science courses has a flow-on effect to universities, contributing to skills shortages and a lack of understanding about science issues in society," Ritchie says.

On the surface, science and stories couldn't seem much further apart. However, Brigham Young professors B.R. Bickmore and D.A. Grandy, who have written extensively about the need to weave storytelling into science say that "science is not solely about discovering facts in the natural world." Instead, it's really the "modern art of creating stories that explain observations" of the phenomena we experience.

To that end, Ritchie's project will ask students to write "hybridized stories" in which scientific information on important subjects like bio-security and organ transplants are "merged with everyday language on topics relevant to students." Ritchie believes that once the students have invested their time and effort into producing the stories, they'll have a deeper, and longer-lasting connection to the subject.

"If you really want kids to become scientifically literate and engaged meaningfully in community decisions and intelligent debate as adults, we need to teach them how to access reputable information and apply it," he says.

The program is scheduled to run for four years before evaluation, so we won't know definitively whether the approach is successful. But if the researchers succeed in making science education as compelling as kids' favorite movies or comic books, it bodes well for the next generation of inventors and innovators.

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