Science Book Clubs: A way to engage students in science?

Year: 2012

Author: Aranda, George

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Students often see science as an abstract topic that is detached from their experiences of the real world. How do we engage students with science in a non-confrontational way and get them to connect it to their everyday lives or broader, ethical, social and philosophical issues? By recontextualising science into the realm of narrative and providing the opportunity for discussion, we can make science relevant and accessible. Over the last decade, interest in book clubs has re-emerged in the general public as a way that people can discuss a common interest. Applied to a science theme, this allows participants to engage with science, bringing their own background and understanding into play with conversations with others in an informal setting. This paper focuses on a case study of a science book club being run at the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus) in Adelaide over the course of a year. These one-hour book club meetings are offered bi-monthly to the public as part of an array of science 'events' that seek to engage people with science. The books read are both fictional and non-fictional (e.g. Solar by Ian McEwan and Transit of Venus, respectively). The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate the nature of the science book club and why participants were attending. Individual interviews were conducted with 15 science book club members to ascertain their responses to the topics within the narratives and to what degree they engaged with the different topics of discussion generated. They reported positive responses to: 1) talking to other people about scientific topics and issues they might not have otherwise engaged in, and 2) to the exploration of social, philosophical and ethical issues in non-fictional and fictional narratives. A content analysis was conducted on audio recordings of the dialogue from the book club meetings to determine what topics of discussion the narratives generate. The results indicate that these narratives promote the discussion of issues that include socioscientific issues which participants regularly recontextualized to contemporary circumstances; discussion of contemporary and historical representations of scientists; and the nature of science and how it could reflect their daily lives. The case study of this science book club examines the benefits of exploring science through the prism of narrative. This informal forum encourages the discussion of socioscientific issues, integration of scientific concepts with lived experience and could potentially aid in making science relevant to the lives of students.