Delaney, Elizabeth (2018) The Scientist in Fiction How Do Primary School Children Engage with Fictional Representations of Science and Scientists? Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Although for decades attempts have been made to persuade young people toward careers in science, there still exists a global shortage of science and engineering graduates. As there is growing evidence to suggest that young children's early childhood experiences can influence career choices, this research explores how primary school children's engagement with fictional representations of science and scientists may be shaping their perceptions of the same. In this regard, the research seeks to frame interventions, using stories, to encourage more positive impressions of a life in science.

The qualitative methodology draws upon reader response theory wherein the reader is positioned as the maker of meaning for any text; and also upon the associated theory of interpretive communities which acknowledges that the ways in which the reader comes to create/recreate meaning are drawn from the interpretive communities to which she or he belongs.

The research engaged 46 primary school children, 9-10 years of age, from two Year 5 cohorts, over two years, in a school in the North of England. By writing, reading, sharing and discussing their own and others' stories about science and scientists, the children were encouraged via two unstructured and four semi-structured group interviews to share their thoughts and ideas about their own and others' fictional scientists, and about how they felt those ideas related to real scientists in the real world. The children's words were transcribed, thematically coded and analysed, and emerging themes further explored.

The children felt that 'being a scientist' presents a lonely and unhappy landscape, devoid of friends or family, as one's life remains dedicated to the pursuit of doing good in the world at the expense of one's own happiness. They felt, too, that 'doing science' for a living is a lot of work, dangerous and can even kill you and, although the children felt that it isn't particularly intellectually difficult work, it is still something that 'other people', smarter or more maths-oriented people, do.

Primary school children do not think about putting science and scientists into stories – and they are never asked to do so. When asked, specifically, to write a story within which at least one character has to be a scientist, the aesthetic as opposed to efferent stance with which the children re/create their texts, precipitates unique de/reconstructions and re/creations of meaning with respect to not only what it might mean to do fantastic fictional science and be a fantastic fictional scientist but with respect to what it might mean to do real science and be a real scientist, too.

When asked to share their stories about science and scientists, the children, by calling into being texts re/created by others as well as themselves, re/create and re/generate – both as authors and as readers from within their own unique interpretive communities – fresh cascades of fluid meaning about both fictional and real science and scientists.

If we wish to persuade more young people toward careers in science and engineering, we could harness this phenomenon: in encouraging children to re/generate cascades of de/reconstructions and re/creations of meaning about science and scientists, the identity that is 'scientist' will come to be de/reconstructed many times, as will the identity of the child herself or himself in association with the same; and if ideas about one's life design begin in childhood, any interventions developed in order to encourage young people toward a life in science might best be employed, therefore, at primary school.

Hence, the first intervention is a reflection of the research itself, wherein, using their own unique aesthetic transactional stance, children are given the opportunity – that is, they are specifically asked – to create, share and discuss their own and others' stories about science and scientists. The children, thereby, will call into being myriad cascades of fresh, unique, fluid meaning about doing fictional and real science and about being fictional and real scientists – meaning that, otherwise, would never occur.

The second intervention – requested, in part, by the children themselves – engages both an aesthetic and an efferent transactional stance simultaneously. As long as fictional (literary) stories about science and scientists are rare, more are needed. These stories, however, besides being aesthetically pleasing should also embrace an efferent informational stance; that is, the children felt that if fictional stories about science and scientists incorporated some real science, they might be more inclined to engage with the same and might re/consider the idea of being a real scientist doing real science in the real world.

In both these interventions, because the children clearly understood the fictional evil or mad scientist to be a story trope, the Scientist in Fiction – the character that is the evil or mad scientist – should remain as she or he already is as their raisons d'être lie entirely in the making of the type of fun or funny, exciting and entertaining stories that the children are interested in reading.

FINAL THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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