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In Support of Science

Research shows parental attitudes about science can directly affect child’s interest

Parents influence their children in many ways — from DNA that influences physical traits to parenting techniques that influence emotional and social development. And now, new research from the University of Idaho shows that parental actions can also influence a child’s interest in science.

The data was collected as part of an interdisciplinary project that brought together researchers from the UI’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences and the University of North Dakota. The researchers examined the correlation between parental attitudes toward science and children’s interest in the subject as they progressed through the Idaho education system, specifically in the fourth, seventh and 10th grades. The study examined surveys conducted through the state over a five-year period, from 2010 to 2015.

The results of the study were published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society in January 2017. It was funded by a $1.2 million award from the Micron Foundation in 2010, which sought to identify the cultural, socioeconomic, and rural and urban barriers and opportunities that affect STEM education in Idaho.

The researchers found that while parents' attitudes toward science remained constant during their child's education, the student's pro-science attitude decreased from fourth to 10th grades. The mean rating for the statement “I like science” on a five-point scale declined from 3.49 in fourth grade to 2.76 by 10th. However, students whose parents claimed an interest in science responded more favorably to the statement “I like science” in 10th grade than those whose parents did not indicate pro-science attitudes.

The findings suggest that parents with positive attitudes toward science are able to sustain their child’s interest and sense of ability in the subject throughout their educational journey, said Dilshani Sarathchandra, assistant professor of sociology and a member of the research team.

“When you’re younger, you have a good feeling about science. You are interested in experiments and find everything cool and fun,” Sarathchandra said. “As you get older and the material gets more challenging and complicated, then students who have parents that support science tend to do better than those who don’t.”

There are multiple ways that this relationship can be used to improve a student’s interest in science.

One option is to increase the positive attitude of parents toward science. Sarathchandra suggests improvements can be made by increasing the level of trust between science teachers and parents, involving parents in science classrooms through extracurricular activities and science initiatives, and educating parents on how science can be relevant, practical and applicable.

“People become more familiar with and less threatened by scientific knowledge when they see its relevant application,” Sarathchandra said. “If parents are encouraged to be involved in their child’s science education, their attitudes may become more positive, which would benefit their child.”

Another option is to help students better understand different opinions about science in the public and the factors that shape these beliefs.

“Getting this material into the K-12 social science curriculum would be useful,” Sarathchandra said. “It would train students to identify their own orientation and their family’s orientation to science, so that they learn that struggles with science material are not necessarily intrinsic or knowledge based.”

Article by Kathy Foss, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Dilshani Sarathchandra
Assistant Professor of Sociology Dilshani Sarathchandra

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University Communications and Marketing

Phone: 208-885-6291

Fax: 208-885-5841

Email: uinews@uidaho.edu

Web: Communications and Marketing

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