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Storytelling to boost scientific literacy

15th August 2011

Storytelling could hold the key to engaging students in science and help stem a decline in high-level study, an expert leading a new Queensland University of Technology (QUT) research project says.

Three Queensland secondary schools, Kedron State High School and St Paul's School Bald Hills, both in Brisbane, and Kirwan State High School in Townsville, will take part in the $200,000, four-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage study.

Professor Stephen Ritchie from QUT's Faculty of Education will lead the team examining how emotional learning through storytelling and other strategies designed with participating teachers could enhance scientific literacy.

Speaking during National Science Week, from August 13 to 21, he said declining interest in senior secondary science courses had a flow-on effect to universities, contributing to skills shortages and a lack of understanding about science issues in society.

"What we know is while Australian students do fairly well in most measures of scientific literacy on international tests, they become disengaged as the curriculum becomes more formal," Professor Ritchie said.

"Students lose interest in science in years 8, 9 and 10. That has a flow-on effect to their subject choices in year 11 and 12 and career choices for university.

"What we hope to do is to provide the students with opportunities to engage emotionally in science activities.

"One way we have done so in the past is through writing 'hybridised stories' where technical, scientific information is merged with everyday language on topics relevant to students."

Professor Ritchie said students would write hybridised stories about issues such as bio-security and organ transplants to fit into the Australian curriculum's Science as Human Endeavour strand.

He said the stories would be uploaded online and be open to discussion with students from the partner schools, making it more interactive than formal teaching.

Professor Ritchie said researchers would use student-submitted stories and facial recognition software to measure the effectiveness of hybridised storytelling.

"Because they've invested a lot of their effort into producing a published text, the text becomes a symbol of their emotional and cognitive engagement in the material," he said.

Professor Ritchie said it was crucial that researchers found new ways to engage students in science.

"If you really want kids to become scientifically literate and engaged meaningfully in community decisions and intelligent debate as adults, we need to teach them how to access reputable information and apply it."

QUT's National Science Week activities include the Smart phone Jurassic Trail challenge and the comedy show Maths Comedy: The Probability Drive.

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Media contact: Stephanie Harrington, QUT media officer, 3138 1150,

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