STEM Education Hub

Learn about the work of Gabriela Heck. Her research addresses the inclusion of people with disabilities in STEM and how museums participate in this process.
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STEM Education Hub

Accessibility in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

by Gabriela Heck

The STEM Education Hub seeks to promote cooperation between Brazil and the United Kingdom through a network of affiliates who are interested in the participation of our activities and actions, including research, training, and innovations in the teaching, learning and dissemination of science. In the article below we present the fascinating work of Gabriela Heck, a doctoral candidate in Education from PUC-RS Brazil. Gabriela is currently on an exchange doctorate programme at Newcastle University (England). Her research addresses the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fields of STEM and how science museums can participate in this process, fostering the construction of science capital.

Gabriela Sehnem Heck is a biologist, master’s in Science and Mathematics Education and currently a PhD student in Education from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS). She is currently on a sandwich doctorate in the UK to explore how science museums can promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fields of STEM and participate in the process of building science capital.

During my master’s research, I studied issues regarding the inclusion and accessibility in science, aimed at people with disabilities, especially the community of deaf people. This project identified how three Brazilian science museums produce activities to promote science communication to this public. In my PhD, I want to expand the audience of my research to people with disabilities in general, whether physical, intellectual, or sensory disabilities (visual or auditory), including multiple disabilities. In addition, I maintained my interest in science museums as allies in the inclusion of people with disabilities, due to their capability of making scientific knowledge accessible to a greater diversity of people and abilities.

The sandwich doctorate project I’m taking part of, is being developed at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences of the Newcastle University  and the Great North Museum: Hancock (GNM). It is part of CAPES program 41/2017 and its Institutional Internationalization Project (CAPES-PrInt). The exchange period is 6 months, it started in August/22 and will end in January/2023.

I have chosen the University of Newcastle for its historic partnership with PUCRS, and the participation of my advisor, José Luís Ferraro, a partner of STEM Education HUB, in projects developed with the university and GNM. PUCRS has been a partner of British museums since it received the Institutional Skills 2015-2016 grant, organised by the British Council with support from the Newton Fund – one of the UK’s most important development agencies. In 2016, the PUCRS Museum of Science and Technology (MCT-PUCRS) and GNM created the Connecting Museums Network, along with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) at the University of Oxford.

The partnership between the institutions included teaching, research and exchange activities at the two universities, bringing academic research to a broad audience. At MCT-PUCRS, the partnership resulted in a new permanent exhibition, Marcas da Evolução, while at GNM the temporary exhibition Bones: Skeleton Secrets of the Animal World was elaborated during 2017.

Currently, at GNM, I seek to understand how people with disabilities develop their science capital (key concept of my thesis), and how science museums can help and participate in this process. The project consists of interviewing museum staff and visitors with disabilities to understand what their motivations for the visit is and how they feel about science and its opportunities, problematizing exclusion in this field.

In my research, I extensively rely on the Science Capital concept, developed in 2015 by UK researchers (initially at Kings College London and currently at University College London), to help clarify why certain social groups remain under-represented in STEM and why many young people, including many with disabilities, do not see scientific careers as being “for me”.

What is Science Capital?

Science Capital can be thought of as a backpack, divided into four pockets: what you know about science (scientific literacy), how you think science (your attitudes, values and dispositions), what you do with this knowledge (places and activities you attend) and who you know in this field (family, friends, teachers).

Thus, science capital is divided into eight dimensions: 1) Scientific literacy; 2) Attitudes, values and dispositions related to science; 3) Knowledge about the transferability of science (which correspond to cultural capital related to science); 4)  Consumption of media related to science; 5) Participation in learning activities outside the school (which correspond to behaviours and practices related to science); 6) Skills, knowledge and scientific qualifications within the student’s family; 7) Know people in science-related jobs; and 8) Talk to others about science (which correspond to forms of social capital related to science) (ARCHER et al., 2015).

In studying this concept, I realized that the materials, aimed at teachers of basic education and academic community of the United Kingdom, are a valuable resource for the Brazilian context, but that they are not accessible and used in Brazil because they are originally in English. Thus, I started a series of activities aimed at translating and adapting English materials to Portuguese, publishing in social media under the alias @sciencecapitalbrasil on Instagram, twitter and website. Within this network, I have assisted British researchers in the official translation of materials, as can be seen here and here.

In addition to translating from Portuguese, I also produce videos explaining the concepts related to science capital in a simple and relaxed way, and make these videos available with subtitles and translation into the Brazilian Sign Language (Libras) on my Instagram profile and YouTube. With this initiative, I seek to promote the inclusion of several audiences, promoting the dissemination and popularization of materials to the community of deaf Brazilian people.

How did you hear about the STEM Education Hub?

I first heard about the STEM Education HUB in an event held in 2021 about Critical Pedagogies (11/06/21), where one of the guests, Professor Spela Godec, spoke about the Science Capital Teaching approcah for equitable educational practices. Spela is one of the researchers responsible for the YESTEM project, which addresses issues of equity and social justice in STEM, and her presentation inspired my doctoral project. In 2022, I participated, together with Spela, in the translation of YESTEM texts to Portuguese. Now during my doctorate experience in the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Spela in person. In addition, I have also the opportunity to meet the entire team of the Science Capital project and the Science Museum Group, where I was able to discuss my doctoral project and explore more about the idea of  science capital in my own research.

Learn more about the STEM EDUCATION HUB and further resources on SCIENCE CAPITAL:

  • The STEM Education Hub is guided by the principles of diversity and inclusion, giving opportunities to professionals from various institutions and sociocultural and economic backgrounds, ensuring a plurality of perspectives, without partisan inclinations, in a way that respects human rights and is committed to equal, democratic, and fair development for all and all.
  • Teaching and dissemination of the sciences, and whose mission is to be precisely a safe haven for the promotion of cooperation between Brazil and the United Kingdom in the fronts of research, training and innovation aimed at promoting a quality education for all and all. Opportunities for mobility, reflection, study and collective experimentation between the two countries in the STEM areas, strengthening the culture of using research evidence for a reflexive educational action oriented to the promotion of citizenship, equity and sustainable development :

Lots of Ways to Get Involved.