5.1 How young students perceive time in the pandemic era
The first result concerns the emergence of an articulated and stratified picture of students' perceptions of time. From the profiles, three main conceptions of time can be recognised: i) time as an opportunity to immerse yourself in experiences (4 students); ii) time as agenda (1 student);
iii) time as an empty container to fill (1 student).
We use this macro-structure to present the students and sum up the core idea that they expressed in their interviews.
In order to protect anonymity, students are identified by pseudonyms, but gender distinction is maintained.
Returned time as an opportunity to immerse yourself in experiences (Chiara, Alessandro, Gabriele, Laura)
Four of the six students in question see the current time as an opportunity to immerse themselves in their experiences.
Let us start with Chiara. The core idea of time that emerged from her interview is:
“In the motionless and suspended time created by the pandemic, one can find ways to manage the oppression of the present with new activities to control time and by escaping with the imagination toward fantasy scenarios”.
All of Chiara’s interview revolves around her perception of “velocity” of time. Before the coronavirus crisis, she was “really full of things to do, time passed very fast”. Now the time has slowed down and “it is much slower, actually, it is also more difficult to face [...]” she feels that “time is a little suspended” she “never really feels it moving”. The stillness of the present is coupled with a sense of anxiety caused by everyone around her talking about the pandemic: “I feel very surrounded by all this. The news every day, my mom, my dad, my friends who talk about it”. This perception of time regards her experience of the present. Indeed, she recognises differences between her time and the time of society from which she feels detached: “they all move super-fast, actually, they all seem much more on it [...] everything outside happens very fast”.
Chiara has found two main ways to manage the motionless and oppressive present. Firstly, she enriches her daily routine with a lot of new activities (cooking, playing the piano, training, video- calling friends). From the interview, it is clear that these activities are not only new rhythms with which she fills the empty container of her time, but new distractions to control time. The other way she has found to manage the oppression of the contingency is mental escape, which makes the present lighter and more livable. She often loses herself in a fictional world in which she is not surrounded by reality, and this is not only something she likes but something that really helps her: “Also watching movies... in this moment it's nice to see the dystopian ones or science fiction [...] it helped me a lot to have read, to have seen some apocalyptic films”.
As well as Chiara, Alessandro expressed in his interview the idea that the pandemic has allowed him to recover time which, free from external commitments, is a "time given back". For Alessandro, this time is a great opportunity to immerse himself in personal intellectual experiences. Moreover, it is also a good opportunity to look for new ideas for reflection on social issues with two goals: to acquire new knowledge, but also, and mainly, to broaden his own "points of view". Alessandro is deeply aware that building thinking tools is not an immediate and easy process. It takes time.
The organisation of the day must certainly take into account school commitments, relaxing activities, social conversations with friends, but above all there is room for "that free time", which is no longer a "counted time". There is the possibility to choose how to use these "slices" of one's time, and for Alessandro it means having the possibility to immerse himself in personal intellectual experiences: latent intellectual interests, such as an interest in philosophical thought, could re- emerge and be developed. The "returned" time is therefore not the counted time of the clock, but a mental time, the time necessary to cultivate "that thought" - free from other thoughts - .
"It re-emerged in this period [the interest in philosophical thought], I already had it, I just didn't have “slices” of free time, and [...] now it's coming out quite disruptively, [...] I'm glad because there are all the conditions necessary to bring out the interest. […] Now I can “slice” me up some time and dedicate myself only to that and I like it even more because I can immerse myself in it ...".
“Returned/liberated time" is that time "to stop and rethink oneself" both as regards the personal dimension linked to one's own interests, dreams and expectations for the future, but also as regards the social and political sphere.
The third student, Gabriele, also took this moment as an opportunity to immerse himself in his thoughts. In the interview, he expresses the idea that the “right way” to spend his restored time is looking for the essence and the truth of what is happening, looking at history as a source of knowledge about “mankind”, the “invariant”, “what does not change”, in order to pursue progress and improve the human condition. He refers to two kinds of time: internal (personal) time, to be filled in the right way (“you have to find the right way to occupy time”) with passions, reflections and trying to find the “right non-routine routine”, and external time, the “time of mankind”, which is linear, deterministic, concerning “what lasts”, “what does not change” (“... man is always the same, man always does the same things ... technology changes, changes ... there is incredible progress but in the end it is always man, it is always him ...”).
From what he perceives as a privileged position, Gabriele observes that this pandemic period tears/removes the veil of Maya, obliging people to become aware of all the critical issues and difficulties that have always existed:
“the virus simply showed [the problems we are observing on a social level], but we were already in a relative moment of crisis ... [...] But it has always been like that ... that is, there have always been... simply that before they were directed toward different topics, [...] the virus brought nothing new except this state of quarantine”.
It does not create any sense of upset in Gabriele, since he experiences the crisis as something “outside of him” (“really the concept of quarantine itself, of this ... of this virus ... I don't feel it ... it's not inside me ...”). The right way to spend time is, therefore, exploring the surrounding world by searching for the essential, by finding invariants that are not scratched by time.
Then we have Laura. Like Alessandro, Laura describes time as a personal non-routine construction, which has to be invented and re-invented by fitting together as many activities as possible: “the better I can fit things together, the better I can manage them.”
The pandemic caused a “drastic change” in her daily life organisation: from rhythmic days organised around extra-school and outside-home commitments, to the problem of finding other activities to fill the time.
The quick change imposed by the pandemic led her to lose, at the beginning, any sense and conception of time: “I'm mostly losing the concept of time, completely ... that is, not what day it is today ... for example, I don't have the perception of when it was a week ago ...”
After an initial moment of great bewilderment, the awareness that it was necessary to react emerged. At first it seemed like resignation, then she found a way to rearrange her time by allowing old passions to re-emerge, like playing music, reading novels, and mastery of astronomical topics. The implications of the drastic change that she complains most about regards the fact that many out-of-school commitments, like a course on particle physics at CERN planned for the immediate future, have been cancelled. They represented “certain moments”, sort of milestones, in her path toward the choice of university. The solution she found to replace these activities is to read and study the syllabus of university curricula and try to imagine herself, in the future, attending those courses: I think yes, it gave me confidence and certainly comfort to see what I could do, I have to say that looking at the degree courses or things like that is making me excited, so ...
All these aspects show that time, for Laura, is neither something awarded by external or social constraints, nor an empty container to fill, but a personal construction built by fitting and cultivating personal interests and passions.
Time as agenda (Giorgia)
One student, Giorgia, describes her way of grappling with time, which is rather different from the students we have discussed so far. Giorgia’s interview revolves around the following core idea on time: “I have to try to understand how to manage time better and try to take advantage of this time that now I have”.
Time, for Giorgia, emerges as a personal agenda that she creates in accordance with external commitments so as to optimise her personal path and pursue her goals. Lockdown is seen as an opportunity to have empty slots that have to be capitalised upon.
She feels as though she is in a crucial moment of her life where she has to choose the university degree course and she feels the pressure of this choice: “especially in this period I have to think about my university choice and it's not easy because, anyway, maybe I choose the wrong option; that is, it seems that if I make this [wrong] choice, this will be my future.”;
Giorgia is very focused on adhering to her daily routines, whilst she does not follow any political, sanitary, or public debate. School and homework, Instagram, Youtube and apps to chat with friends help her to routinize very concrete activities (including, for example, learning to edit videos). Youtubers and influencers also help her to “accept also empty times”: “[There is] a woman, a Youtuber, who has [been] a kind of comfort because [...] She said that it is normal that in this situation there are moments when, in fact, you would not feel like doing anything.”
The core idea appears strictly related to her self-confidence and trust that, if she focuses on her training and if she works hard, she will be able to reach her goal to achieve a leadership position: “I always imagined myself, I don't know in what area, I don't know how, I don't know where, but that I was able to reach a high level in what I was doing. [...] I have always seen myself, since I was a child, perhaps very probably also very influenced by the films I saw and various things, just "I who enter my office as a boss, manager of what I'm doing". So my job, my great goal is to be able to reach that level... ”
A similar position is expressed by Caterina and Dario, two of the three students we interviewed without outlining the profiles. Caterina and Dario are also very focused on their education and, in addition to capitalising on the extra-slots to improve their calculus skills in order to become researchers in physics, they are also taking the opportunity to learn to strengthen their “resilience” (Caterina) or concentration (Dario) skills.
Time as container (Stefano)
Only one student, Stefano, expressed the implicit idea that time is a container that has to be managed by filling it with engaging and enjoyable activities. Daily time is perceived as an ordered, rhythmic organisation of school commitments and social activities with friends. Stefano is particularly interested in scientific subjects (physics and mathematics) and his identity is strongly related to his being a very good student, extremely talented in physics.
Because of this time perception, the COVID-19 crisis did not create a deep sense of disturbance: his world and his temporal organization are still, as before the crisis, populated by rites of daily life that involve (above all) his school commitments, the study of physics and video-chatting with friends – this activity is aimed both at sharing leisure time and helping each other in scientific disciplines and any technological issues related to distance learning.
The main change in his time management produced by the COVID-19 crisis concerns a sense of emptiness and a sense of urgency. In particular, regarding the sense of urgency, he stresses that the crisis showed that time should not be wasted and priorities can be changed:
The priority of things has changed; if before I did A, B and C now I have realized that C is more important and therefore I dedicate more time and, above all, more energy. Before I would say ‘okay, I’ll do it tomorrow’ - now it's not tomorrow, I have to do it now.
The rituals and hobbies allow him to feel protected from the external world and external suffering. He does not follow any social debate since he finds them painful and he and his friends prefer to take the situation more lightly:
We take the situation as a game, but not a game intended as fun; also because according to Instagram there are many jokes, a lot of jokes about this situation that is happening, probably I also didn't really understand what it is and therefore we don’t feel this great need to say "oh my God, this is happening", [...] so we don't feel this great need to remember it even when we are together [with friends], when we are together it should be a moment of relaxation …
Comparison of profiles
The three-pronged picture of time perceptions that emerged from the profile (time as container, time as agenda, time as personal time of immersion in the experiences) mirrors the debate between substantivalism and relationalism that can be traced back in the history and philosophy of physics. The distinction of space-time as containers or as relations, indeed, seems to capture the two more general ways that people use to think of and to talk about time. In students’ conceptions, we can recognise, in the words of Stefano, the echo of the Newtonian conception of time as an objective container that “Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration” (Newton, 1687). All the other students appear to be agents of their time and their words echo the view of space and time as a set of relations: a social or personal construction, elaborated to organise experiences and provide them with “an order of succession” (Leibniz, 1715-16 in Alexander, 1956, Third Paper, paragraph 4; G VII.363/Alexander 25–26). From our bottom-up analysis we found two different ways to conceive the relations that create the sense of time: “an order of succession” to be ascribed to activities and organise daily time according to that agenda; a time generated by immersive experiences in personal thoughts. The first is the case of Giorgia, whose time is created by planning her activities so as to capitalise on experiences and select the most relevant for her future. For the other four students (Chiara, Alessandro, Gabriele and Laura), the sense of time is created by immersion into personal reflections that can involve different plans: imaginative (Chiara), socio-political (Alessandro and Gabriele), intellectual (Alessandro and Laura).
This last remark highlights the fact that the overall picture emerging from students’ profiles is definitively more nuanced than the three-pronged macro-structure we fleshed out through the philosophical-physical lens. Such richness needs a different lens in order to be captured.
As we stressed in our theoretical framework, time is used in sociology as a perspective to build a map of social transformations and find a code to interpret them (Leccardi, 2009). Also identity, a complex construct situated in the nexus between the individual and the collective dimensions, can be shaped in terms of time structures. Identity incorporates the irreducible tension between idiosyncratic and distinctive traits - the need to feel different from all the others (the Latin sense of “ipse”) - and social and inter-subjective aspects - the need to be recognised as part of a community and belong to a group (the Latin sense of “idem”). diSessa distinguishes between intrinsic identity and managed identity (diSessa, 2018). The first “concerns patterns inherent in our varied and distinctive ways of interacting with the world, including the social world.” The second refers to actions we all “take to present ourselves to others in felicitous ways (including, but not limited to, “as we see ourselves”)” (diSessa, 2018). Within moments of deep change, the identity tension includes dealing with the need to realign our self-perception as agent or receptors of change, producers of sense-making, as well as the need to refine our norms and criteria to manage ourselves with respect to others. All these identity practices have a time structure, since they are, more or less implicitly, regulated by rituals and routines that shape our “reflective project” made up of selective processes, exploration of options, decision-making processes.
If we observe students’ interviews and analyse the time structures with the lens of “identity” and of the relationship between individual and social dimension, we discover an impressive richness. First of all, we can see that all the students try to organise their time management to maintain an unchanged sense of self (their intrinsic identity). Stefano, Giorgia and Gabriele were very keen on sustaining that the crisis did not really change their intrinsic identity: this emerged in their way of considering lockdown as an opportunity to strengthen those routines or thoughts that they feel most “essential” (learning physics, training, observing “mankind”), and to legitimise them even further, for example by awarding these rituals more time and more centrality in their daily life. Chiara, Alessandro and Laura perceived the change in a more significant way and had to change their rituals to preserve their inner sense of the self. Chiara had to invent new ways to control time and the new sense of oppression that she felt. Alessandro took the opportunity to widen his views and discover new perspectives from which society could be observed. Finally Laura had to change profoundly the activities that generate her sense of time and, mainly, her sense of self.
A second aspect that the sociological lens allows us to recognise in students' profiles regards the time structures used to describe either their personal or social dimensions. This focus illuminates interesting similarities among the students but also strong differences.
In general, it seems that all the students perceive a significant misalignment between personal time and social time. This is very evident in Chiara and Gabriele. Chiara feels the oppression of the difference between the stillness of “suspended time” of her present and the speed of society that “moves super fast”. Gabriele recognises a different time structure of the personal and social time: the internal (personal) time is seen as made of “right non-routine routines”, whilst the external time, the “time of mankind”, is linear, deterministic and, he thinks, shows a sort of human inertia oriented towards avoiding any change.
In Stefano and Giorgia the personal time creates a sort of “present bubble” that protects them from the external ‘storm’.
Only Laura and Alessandro seem to perceive the need to maintain the nexus between the personal time of their experiences and social time. The realignment of their daily routines implies a dialogue with social changes and engagement with societal transformations. Alessandro, in particular, said: “I hope that [this present time] has made us understand the fragility of our whole system
and of our way of life [...]. One of the reasons why we sometimes think that everything can't change, is stable, destined to last, looking at it from a single point of view, is because, maybe, there has never been a moment like this in which the whole system has broken down; and so I hope that we can all become aware [...] of the fact that it doesn't necessarily have to go on as we have done until now; in my opinion we won't come out [from this moment] with the answers but already changing the point of view of millions of people is a big step.”
Both Laura and Alessandro are very interested in social debate and, unlike Gabriele, they reveal a pro-active mood towards the possibility of acting on society and taking some agency in societal transformations. This pro-active mood was slightly more evident in Aldo’s interview (one of the three students that we interviewed first and that we did not consider for the profiles). Aldo was the only student who explicitly mentioned the concept of “responsible citizen” as the nexus between personal and social realms and the way individuals can take agency to contribute to a better world.
However, despite the references to society by Alessandro, Laura, Gabriele and Aldo, the students’ profiles highlight that the personal dimension is, as we might expect, the most relevant aspect in the period of isolation. Lockdown gave students the opportunity to re-discover and cultivate interests that had been neglected due to lack of time, and to strengthen friendships and relations within the family. Furthermore, it also emerged that, for this group of talented students, ambition and trust in personal abilities were important ingredients in managing the crisis and exploiting the restored time. In our interviews we saw only a few signals about the need to reflect on the role of individuals as responsible citizens and active agents in this global, fragile and complex society. In accordance with the literature on future, dreams and hopes refer more to personal success than to a significant improvement of society as a whole. Even when society represents an important focus of attention, the perception that it can be changed and that each of us can be an agent of such changes seems, in general, faint. This is an important aspect where science education can insist and play a fundamental role.
5.2 Appropriation and this contribution to the definition of present shock
After the analysis of the time structures, we can now focus on the appropriation profiles that emerged from the application of appropriation markers as lenses to read the transcripts.
The most important result is that the application of markers resulted in five complete profiles of appropriation and one incomplete profile: all the markers were satisfied for five students out of six. Indeed only Stefano, the student who had the picture of time as a container, did not appear as an aware agent of his time and encountered a little difficulty in the metacognitive or reflective questions. His interview indeed looks like a collection/description of small activities or examples referring to his private life. He never answers a question at a level of meta-reflection and never refers to abstract concepts to reflect on time and the effects of this crisis. Instead, in his answers, he always refers to examples or small contingent cases related to his families and friends. For example, when he is asked to answer this question: are you currently feeling pressure or are you experiencing accelerated times coming from outside?, he answers as follows: then the most important thing concerns perhaps the work of my parents who, however, since ... [said slowly] that is, the work of my parents ... the work in general.
Stefano is also the student who least perceived any change. His daily rituals create a bubble that protects him from the external world and, in this bubble, there is neither directionality, nor any relationship with the accelerated time of social institutions that are running after the virus and trying to control it. The latter dimension is perceived as belonging to the adult realm.
In all the other cases, students appear not only able to express their core idea of time but they were also conscious that they were experiencing a special moment “that will be written in the history books” (Chiara) and that could be turned into something important for them. For example, Giorgia said:
“In this moment of suspension, the desire to be able to achieve something of personal success is even higher than before, so maybe it also gives that sense, that is, I self-influence my future.”
“I was struck by the fact that in a very short time the pandemic has completely changed the cards a little bit in general... [...] my perception of “long time” has been a bit modified... in perceiving how an event [...] can also quickly enter and rewrite a page of history…”.
The five complete appropriation profiles show that the conception of time outlined in the interview was the result of an articulated cognitive process. This process involved idiosyncratic and deep identity aspects (markers a and d), a special role ascribed to knowledge (marker b), awareness (marker c) and a special positioning within a social network (marker e).
As we reported in the introduction, within the future shock induced by the society of acceleration, alienation from time is argued by Rosa to be strictly interrelated with alienation from others and alienation from self. The co-presence of the five markers in most of the students' profiles shows that also the process of appropriation, the contrary of alienation, indicates deep connections between the appropriation of time (marker a), of self (markers c and d) and the relations with others (marker e). In our case, also the role of disciplinary knowledge (marker b) is stressed as a fundamental component of this complex process that relates time appropriation with identity formation (appropriation of self and of others).
As sociology literature led us to expect, the process of time re-appropriation can be seen as an effect of the present shock. In fact, the interviews highlight that re-appropriation starts from personal daily-life rituals. Students feel a revived need to stay in the present of their daily experiences and to become agents of their personal daily life time. Before the pandemic, sociological studies stressed that social acceleration had diminished the time of everyday life to trivial and repetitive rituals that slowly disappeared from the attention of our societies. From our students’ comments, it appears we are instead rediscovering daily time and its value. This concept of time is a form of defence against the virus, but it is also a way to save social cohesion and, for some students, to act as conscious witnesses of an important historical moment.
Moreover, all the students except Stefano, are exploiting their daily rituals to re-appropriate a deep sense of directionality that was lost in the era of future shock.
Giorgia is aware that, before the pandemic, we were in a moment of frenetic standstill, where change was somehow apparent. She feels the need to distinguish between “frenzy” and real development:
“Actually, I hope we understand the fact that this busy life didn't lead to so many developments in the end. [...] in this state, at least I have always felt it like this, everything was always the same, always constant over the years ... this situation and this block could give the opportunity for a change... ”
For Giorgia, time has to be directional and change has to be real: the past has to provide hints, the present has to be exploited in order to become agent of one’s own future. Lockdown was an opportunity to re-discover and strengthen the directionality of time and make effective plans for the future.
Also for Laura, the student who most perceived the present shock, lockdown pushed her to search for a new sense of directionality. Her personal organisation collapsed and important events that she perceived as milestones for her future were cancelled. Thus, she had to reinvent her daily routines simply to re-appropriate a sense of directionality. Directionality became, for Laura, a process of cultivating her passions and exploring society to recognise how and where she can nurture her interests, now and in the future.
Alessandro has consciously recognised the frantic arrest as a change, but not as a problem: an opportunity to seek a new sense of directionality given by immersing in one's own intellectual interests. Directionality for Alessandro, as for Laura, is offered by authentic intellectual thoughts or passions and by the sense they produce. For them both, directionality becomes lost in routines and experiences aimed solely at developing mere techniques. On the contrary, passions and sense- making give directionality, turning experiences into Erfarunghen. Laura uses her passions also to project herself into the future.
Gabriele is also looking for a non-routine routine. In his case, the search revolves around trying to "fill" time in the “right way”. Unlike Alessandro and Laura, Gabriele is not experiencing any sense of deep change, and he is filling the day with the same interests, activities and reflections. He lives in a sort of bubble that is in continuous interaction with the outside world and from which he observes society that, at this specific moment, has become aware of critical issues that have in fact always existed but which are now impossible to ignore. The pandemic confirmed to Gabriele his idea about the dynamics that propel society: people are capable of looking only at their own interests, at what is important in that moment, neglecting, most of the time, the true sense of things. However he recognises that, for the world, the pandemic is a tragedy and, hence, he retains that “people” have to learn and find a sense of directionality: by looking at the past, people can extrapolate many teachings in order to achieve progress, better action in the future than in the present.
Chiara also perceives a sense of directionality in society but not in her private life. She manages the slowness and stillness of the present by immersing herself in bubbles of entertainment and imagination, but perceives the directionality of the historic moment, where people are working hard to obtain a cure for the virus and, in general, to manage the crisis. As we already stressed above, Chiara feels as though her daily life is totally detached from the directionality of society and, for her personal life, the only thing she can do is escape within fictional scenarios. This is the dimension of present shock that Chiara is experiencing: a clear separation between the velocity, priorities and actions of the world outside, and those of her daily life.
To sum up, the “appropriation” analysis of the interviews confirms some intuitions we had about the benefits of reading the present as a moment where people feel deeply the need to re-appropriate their time. Here we took the markers we identified for describing the appropriation of a physical concept like temperature, and extended their application to a more elusive concept like time. In the original approach the construct of appropriation allowed us to unpack how science learning could lead to a broader sense of learning and contribute to developing identity. Here, the application of our markers to time allowed us to recognise the time structures and rituals that underlie identity and that science learning should contribute to sustaining (for example, the ritual of sense making or rituals of skills development). Furthermore, the analysis contributed to outlining present shock in terms of revitalised importance ascribed to daily life rituals and in terms of discovery of a multifaceted sense of directionality: personal directionality given by a plan or by the search for sense, the collective directionality that society can find when huge events happen to upset the status quo.
5.3 The role of science education
The third axis we consider in comparing the profiles regards the role of science education. The data come from those parts of the profiles designed to answer the following questions of the analytic grid: Does the student use disciplinary/school knowledge (particularly, scientific knowledge) to manage their time (grounded in the disciplines)? What contribution does the interview provide to build an argument about the roles of science education and disciplinary knowledge in equippng the students with knowledge and competences to manage fast-changing space and time structures?
Firstly, the six students’ profiles highlighted a polarised attitude toward the scientific knowledge acquired along their personal school path (school science). For three students out of six (Stefano, Chiara and Giorgia), school science represents a bubble in which they can feel at ease and that protects them from the toughness of the reality. For example, for Stefano, who is a very good student, studying science and math and solving scientific problems are sources of intellectual pleasure. Also, scientific disciplines in their application are a source of escape: they help him to manage internal times to eliminate anxiety by distracting from the external problems. Stefano does not use science as a key to read and interpret reality and the contingency. It creates “isolated bubbles” that, like a game, provide pleasure, enjoyment and social relationships. Also Chiara found in science a way to make sense of the present reality. In particular, the analysis of the epidemic curve from a mathematical perspective reassured and helped her to rationally manage the present. However, Chiara is aware that, in this moment, understanding the science behind the epidemic is important, but even more important is the need to personally manage the anxiety of the moment by escaping with her imagination. Even Giorgia finds a refuge in school science. Mathematics and physics are the subject matters that she prefers and their being, in her mind, a-historical and “certain” knowledge allows mathematics and physics school classes to restore a sense of “normality”. Classes continue just like before the pandemic and the teacher does her best to “maintain normality” and do her classes as she did before lockdown. Giorgia thinks that this is possible because of the inner character of mathematics and physics as unchangeable, invariant, a- historical and certain disciplines. Thanks to these aspects, mathematics and physics school classes give Giorgia a sense of peacefulness, even in such a strong moment of crisis.
Despite the interest of those students toward science, their engagement with the discipline is not a key for interpreting the current debates.
For the other three students (Gabriele, Alessandro and Laura), school science represents a baseline knowledge to be refined with hints and reflections coming from other sources and/or to be enriched with extra-curricular activities. School science can set out, somehow, an initial mindset concerning the kind of methods and discourses that belong to science.
For example, Gabriele holds scientific disciplines in high regard because they provide the basic knowledge that allows him to distinguish the person who holds the knowledge from the person who speaks to gain visibility or simply for the sake of speaking. School science allows him to decide who can be trusted or not, because it helps him to recognise when a discourse is well constructed and grounded.
Again, Alessandro recognises the importance of scientific thought in this time of emergency, and the role of scientific experts. However, he stressed that the study of scientific disciplines should provide not only knowledge - which may not be sufficient to enter into the merits of technical issues - but also the tools of scientific thought that allow him to move between the plurality of data and information and can act as a filter. Lastly, for Laura, physics and astrophysics are a deep passion on which she consciously builds her sense of time, by allowing her to project her imagination toward the future. Indeed, scientific methods and the science mindset are, for her, a way to rationally manage the present contingency and follow scientific controversies. However, this level of scientific awareness does not come from school science, which is completely removed from her mind, but from extra-curricular experiences.
We remind that the students selected for this study represent a sample of students chosen for bootstrapping the best information available about science education at school. All of them were highly motivated students, with a strong interest and passion for science, so much so that they had decided to attend a demanding extra-curricular course at the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Also because of the choice of sample for the study, the results have clearly revealed how much school science is missing an important educational opportunity in the pandemic era. Indeed, the patterns highlighted above, related to these two roles played by school science, can be seen as an expression of misalignment between the science taught at school and the science needed to deal with a “risk society” (Beck, 2000).
For these students, school science is completely detached from society. Science they are taught remains isolated in a school context: at best, it influences their ways of thinking about their personal career or creates a space for enjoyment and self-accomplishment. Their ideas of science do not provide them with effective lenses to interpret social dynamics triggered by the pandemic crisis. Even in the cases of students who refer to society and pose problems with a mindset that could be interpreted as scientific, they do not recognise them explicitly as skills developed at school.
Another idea that emerges from students’ discourses is an epistemological belief that science heralds certain facts and indisputable truths that reassure and help them to make sense of the world. This could be ascribed to the almost-univocal focus of science curricula on Newtonian paradigm, where determinism, linearity and prediction are the keywords. The whole language of classical physics constructs an epistemological scaffolding to imagine the history and the future deterministically, as a linear progress toward an increasingly better world. Nevertheless, at the basis of the risk society there is a very different paradigm, i.e. the complexity paradigm, where different temporal patterns and models of causal explanation are conceptualised. As we already mentioned when we presented the project I SEE in the background, the science of complex systems could be a very rich source of concepts like scenarios, feedback, deterministic chaos, and agent, which could play crucial roles to open up new ways to conceive the scientific enterprise and its relationship with socially relevant themes like a pandemic. The concept of uncertainty could also be revalued in science education: not as something negative (lack-of-certainty) but as a concept that opens up a variety of possibilities for everyone’s imagination. Another important concept that complexity has at its core and that could be valued through education is the idea of system. Indeed, the recognition of the multiple levels that constitute a system allow the students to make explicit these levels and their relationships also about real-life contexts (e.g. individual, familiar, local, national, global levels). A system can be investigated not only for its levels but also for the dimensions it covers and impacts (e.g. scientific, economic, societal, personal, environmental, health). Developing rich discussions in the classrooms about these aspects could be important to foster competences for analysis of complex issues. A STEM curriculum should include all these themes if we want to value science education as a way to prepare the young for this fast-changing society that appears more and more fragile and at risk.