May 20, 2019

Can I Really Be a Scientist?


You may think of your students as ‘scientists’ and you may even refer to them as scientists.  But what do they think a scientist is?  Do they consider themselves scientists? 

Reflection on How Students View Scientists; and Themselves

Draw a Scientist

Many of you may have done or seen the ‘draw a scientist’ activity.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is an activity where students draw their idea of "a scientist doing science." The exercise surfaces students' prior understandings of the nature of science and the demographics of scientists.

Unfortunately, the results show that many students don't see themselves as scientists. According to an article written in 2018, students are still primarily drawing white males as scientists. Over the past 50 years the number of female scientists being drawn has greatly increased, but is still only 28%.   The authors of this article stated that “stereotypes of scientists not only shape ….perceptions of who is a scientist, but also influence their perception of who can be a scientist.”  The researchers also mentioned that these stereotypes go beyond gender, 79% of the scientists drawn were white.

This is a problem.  This is a especially a problem for minorities, females, foreign students, etc.

When we are teaching students who don’t match this image (who are female, darker skin colored, etc) it is even harder for them to see themselves as scientists.

Why is this important?  

This puts students one step farther away from what we are trying to teach them.  This is yet another way that they feel disconnected from school, and feel that it doesn’t apply to them.
We are teaching students science, and we want them to see themselves as part of science, and the scientific process.  However, many students don’t see science as relevant to their own lives. They science as only a subject in school that they need to pass, but they are, in fact, not part of it.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Science should be relevant to students’ lives. Science involves problem solving from everyday life, their own bodies, and the world around them.  However, this is not always what students see.

As educators, part of our role ideally is to help bring students to a place where students can see the connections to their own lives.

Your Challenge

I challenge you to try the “Draw A Scientist” lesson with your own students. It can be a quick activity that takes 10 minutes at the end of class, or a full blown lesson.  I’d love if you’d report back with the results. Are your students drawing white male scientists? Are they drawing scientists that look like them?  It would be really cool to have some discussion or reflection to go along with this.  Lastly, what if you showed some other examples of minority or female scientists and then had them draw?  Would you get different results?

If I taught elementary I would absolutely read them this book first and see if it changed my results.  Maybe I would read it to high school too?

Try it out!

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