Exploring Open Journals: An Open Access Article Showcase on the Portrayal of Scientists in Children’s Books

This post was authored by Scholarly Communication Department student assistant Regine Vincent.

Through the Office of Scholarly Publishing (OSP), a partnership between the IU Libraries and the Indiana University Press, readers everywhere have access to 30+ scholarly  journals and scholarly publications free of charge. One of these journals is The Hoosier Science Teacher.

The Hoosier Science Teacher aims to “provide science educators in Pre-K-12 classrooms, informal education, home schools, and college classrooms with ideas and resources for teaching science…[and publish] content that may help support effective teaching of science and professional development for science educators.” First published in 1975 by The Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, Inc. (HASTI), The Hoosier Science Teacher published regularly in print until 2014. In 2017, publication of the Teacher resumed electronically.  All of the journal’s content is immediately accessible, as open access is core to its mission. The journal’s Managing Editor, Matthew J. Benus, is an Assistant Professor of Science Education in the IU Northwest School of Education and a Think Tank & Strategic Consultant for Science & Learning.

Published biannually, the most recent volume of the journal Volume 40 Issue 1 (2018) contains 7 articles covering a variety of topics from lessons and demonstrations and instructional insight to curriculum and learning environments. One of the articles in the current issue is entitled “How Scientists are Portrayed in NSTA Recommends Books” and is authored by Kevin D. Finson and Cecile Arquette of Bradley University and Donna Farland-Smith of The Ohio State University. Finson, Arquette, and Smith argue that while “there was much consistency in how scientists were portrayed in the books across the three years…there were also issues with appropriate numbers of representations of minorities, women, and age of scientists.”

The authors focus on how depictions of scientists in school books affect children’s “perceptions of scientists,” as such perceptions impact students’ “understanding about where scientists work and what they do,” students’ attitudes towards science, as well as students’ success in science learning. While determining exactly how students develop their view of scientists is not easy, they find that media sources have the largest influence or impact. Stereotypes of scientists as older, white males in children’s literature has implications for children that do not identify with these portrayals. Such portrayals can affect students’ “formation of science identity,” which affects “one’s perception that he/she can be a successful investigator in science contexts and is viewed by others as being competent in science.”

Seeing as depictions of scientists in school books have major impacts on students’ interactions with and views of the field of science, tackling the issue of stereotypical depictions is a must. The authors suggest that one way to address this issue is through  “the use of science trade books and picture books in instruction…[teacher-planned] student-centered activities that give [students] opportunities to explore their world and encourage them to think of themselves as scientists.”

The Hoosier Science Teacher’s commitment to open access and immediate availability makes it an immediately accessible and useful resource for teachers. According to Education Week Teacher, educators around the United States spend more than $1 billion dollars a year out-of-pocket on school supplies and resources for their students. This is particularly troubling for schools serving lower-income neighborhoods where, according to NPR, “teachers in high-poverty schools often find themselves digging even deeper into their own pockets.” Access to publications like The Hoosier Science Teacher may help educators to alleviate some of the out-of-pocket costs that they encounter when trying to access needed resources and literature on experimental approaches for their students and their teaching. 

The IU Libraries is committed to diverse collections and perspectives, as the Libraries Diversity Strategic Plan notes that “diversity is… essential to the intellectual vitality of the university.” The Scholarly Communication department shares this commitment and aims to highlight IU’s diversity through our journal publishing program and through supporting publications like The Hoosier Science Teacher.