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A sociocultural exploration of young children’s relationships with science: towards a practice theory of interest

Crompton, Zoe (2019) A sociocultural exploration of young children’s relationships with science: towards a practice theory of interest. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Much of the literature on pupils’ engagement with science is founded on an assumption that interest in science is a personal characteristic, which is ‘sparked’ by activities that hold particular fascination for the learner. In contrast, this thesis develops a practice theory of interest in science, which adopts a sociocultural view and holds that children’s interests are enacted as part of their developing identities at home and school. Building on Holland et al.’s (1998) concept of ‘identity in practice’ and González, et al.’s (2006) ‘funds of knowledge’, a practice theory of interest maintains that children’s interests cannot be studied in isolation from their fluid and constantly forming identities, and are situated in a social, cultural and historical context. Such interests and identities are positional, and are often developed and enacted in accordance with major structural divisions in society. Interests also emerge in response to discourses, in the context of the cultural worlds in which we engage. Viewing science interest in these terms has particular methodological implications, and this study utilises the Mosaic approach (Clark and Moss, 2011), a multi-methods data generation technique designed to listen to children’s perspectives on their lives, which acknowledges adults and children as co-constructors of knowledge and understanding. In a study spanning two years, I generated data with eight children in their first years at school, from ages 5 to 7. Using the lens of a practice theory of interest in order to recognise and explore the social situatedness of children’s relationship with science, this study examines the symbolic meaning of their interests and the cultural signs and tools they use to story themselves, and how they are storied by others. The findings indicate that children’s science interests are deeply embedded in family and school practices, and that children express interest in specific aspects of science, which are noticed (and encouraged) by parents, but less so by school staff. It concludes that the format of school appears to be constraining, so that certain stories cannot be told, this has implications for practice.

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