Nudges into science: a study of science education interventions

  • Saima Salehjee (Main contact)

Impact: Education

Description of impact

This project aimed to successfully implement intervention activities along with a science teacher at a Muslim faith school in Glasgow, with an intention of embedding the elements of scientific literacy, using children stories (historical and/or contemporary cases and enquiry based learning practical approaches). The process of implementation within the timeframe of six months was appropriate.
During this time, science was taught from children’s fiction books and films. In this context, pupils were supported by their science teacher and by me to evaluate and communicate scientific practices entailed in the stories and characters. The modes of communication included reading and writing stories, science poetry, designing artefacts, keeping a research journal (scrapbook), and problem solving activities- through the lens of science. Some key details of these activities, are given in the section on activities.

Who is affected

Thirty pupils aged eight to twelve


I received approximately £2000 from the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2018, to conduct a school-based project. The project was conducted in an underprivileged and disadvantaged faith school.
This school-based Knowledge Exchange work started even before the funding was received by talking to the school and to the science teacher. It then resulted in a one-day outreach programme for the children from P5-P7 and from there, and onwards I started to support the science teacher in delivering science lessons using stories and enquiry based learning (EBL) pedagogical approaches. The implementation of stories in the science classroom emerged after informal conversations with the teacher and pupils – both the teacher and his pupils were very much interested in reading and writing stories, and storytelling sessions in the school were seen by the children as the most favourite part of school life.
The consultancy to the science teacher carried on for six months through face-face conversations, phone calls, and emails to help the teacher plan, deliver and reflect on the EBL based lessons. These lessons were accompanied by broadly 4 different themes:
1.Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
2.Wizard of Oz
3.Science behind Bread
4.Science behind super-hero(ine)
Each of the themes comprised of at least three learning intentions and the modes of communication included reading and writing stories, science poetry, designing artefacts, keeping a research journal (scrapbook), and problem-solving activities- children stories through the lens of science. I helped in planning and in the delivery of the lessons.
The outcome from these six-months of work was very positive, myself and the teacher could see improvement in pupil’s ability to use experimental, analytical and decision making skills - scientifically, they were to a greater extent able to link science with the stories and eventually to everyday life, and the confidence level of doing science was greatly improved. The teacher also enjoyed the planning process of using pupil’s favourite stories, linking it with the primary science curriculum and conducting sessions. My next step is to continue to support and follow-up with the science teacher in the future.
Some evidence of the impact are as follows:
1.Science status questionnaire
Science status questionnaire was given before the intervention and at the end of the intervention. The science status questions asked the pupil simple questions on subject choices and learning experiences before starting the project, the majority of the pupils (22 of the 30) liked non-science subjects more than science subjects. The most favourite subject was English and Physical Education (PE). After the intervention exercises, the number of pupils’ interest to learn science increased from 8 to 25. The main reason was given by the pupils of showing more interest in science after the interventions were because,
I can now talk in science with my friends
I liked searching for the history of bread on the internet
its not that difficult after all
Stories and science were great, it helped me to see science at home.
This interest in science didn’t make English (and PE) subjects less likeable, instead, I believe the link made to classic children stories acted as a bridge between English and science and improved their interest to learn science. No explicit links to PE were made in this project, future work is needed in this area.
2.Intervention evaluations
Intervention evaluations were completed at the end of each of the intervention activity. No one criticised the activity and were equally happy to do more of these activities in the future. It was also noted that the interest towards science learning using fiction books and films increased over time, which recommends that (i) pupils started to understand the principle of linking science in stories and with everyday life, and (ii) over time these sessions had a cumulative effect on pupil’s understanding of science and interest in it.
The pupils were inclined to conduct similar activities in the future, because:
It’s fun and something new
I made the dark-chocolate boat at home with my sister…. Yes, we talked about floating and sinking too… Surprisingly, there was no difference in floating and sinking using white or milky chocolate, so the colour doesn’t matter. My sister is older than me so she knew the words hmm you know- density and concentration
My mum was a bit shocked that we are doing (learning) science from a storybook …. Then she helped me in making the bread scrapbook and checked the poetry I wrote. She liked it later on.

From some of the above responses, we see that pupil’s fascination of doing certain kitchen chemistry work entered their home life, which in my opinion can have a bigger impact later in these pupil’s science lives. However, I believe that such interventions should not be one-off and should continue to have a bigger impact on pupils and hopefully in their family’s science lives.
3.Informal semi-structured conversational interviews
I have conducted seven informal interviews (4 girls and 3 boys). These interviews include questions:
(i)how do you link science with everyday life?
All the seven participants were able to answer this question- some examples they gave included, electronic appliances used at home, use of salt in food and as medicines, weather change, climate change and science behind exercising on regular basis.
(ii)how do you link science with children’s stories?
All the seven interview participants were able to answer these questions. These answers mainly involved examples from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wizard of Oz. Some examples are:
Ronald (Dahl) has used a lot of science like melting, heat energy, and suction force- some fantasy as well like Mike TV got smaller and Augustus got too much stretched like rubber. Some science in Wizard of Oz was incorrect too like Tin Man rusting although it's Iron that rusts
Science is everywhere, I found out so many words in the Charlie and the Chocolate factory book. In Dorothy’s story, I noticed the change of weather- snow, rain, hurricane so much to do with the science of weather and possibly climate change

I am inclined to disseminate the findings into publications. To start with, I am presenting some of the findings at the BERA, Early Career Researchers seminar in November 2019, which will be conducted at the University of Strathclyde.
I am hoping to publish a blurb along with some pictures on the RSC website, CASTME website.
I am very much interested to write an article in Early Childhood Development and Care. Recently, two of my paper based on stories and science is published in the same journal titled ‘Teaching science through stories: mounting scientific enquiry’ and other paper focuses on the importance of science in early years and primary titled ‘Aboard the Helicopter: From Adult Science to Early Years (and Back)’.
My future plan is also to continue supporting other Glasgow based science teachers. The next school I am aiming for is Notre Dame High School because of its uniqueness in terms of an all-girls school and because it has a high percentage of pupils who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Impact statusOpen
Impact date20182019
Category of impactEducation
Impact levelEngagement