94232 - History of Narratives of Scientific Dissemination for the Young

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Moduli: William Grandi (Modulo 1) Mirella D'Ascenzo (Modulo 2)
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures (Modulo 1) Traditional lectures (Modulo 2)
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Teaching and Communication of Natural Sciences (cod. 5704)

Learning outcomes

Popular science storytelling allows younger generations to get into the vast world of biological, physics and technical knowledge emerged from the historical processes of discovery and application of knowledge. The course aims to explore the wide repertoire of informative stories both from a historical point of view and from a theoretical point of view. At the end of the course, students will therefore be able to: (a) learn about the historical evolution of science popularization for children; (b) identify the fundamental characteristics of the main types of scientific dissemination for the new generations, analyzing the relationship between text-image and scientific content exposed; (c) have an in-depth knowledge of the current editorial landscape for children and adolescents dedicated to scientific dissemination; (d) being able to identify, also by comparative means, the editorial, graphic-textual, visual and content elements that characterize quality scientific dissemination aimed at children; (e) knowing how to recognize historically and pedagogically the terms of the relationship between youth imagery and scientific curiosity both in the field of popular non-fiction and in the field of fiction (especially science fiction, fantastic and horror); (f) being able to identify the contaminations, overlaps and discontinuities between popular non-fiction and scientific fiction (documentaries, films, TV series, video games) for children; (g) know how to identify and apply the fundamental terms of effective scientific dissemination communication in the field of non-fiction type publishing for children.

Course contents

The course is divided into two modules: module 1 (Prof. W. Grandi) deals specifically with the history of popular science storytelling for children, while module 2 (Prof. M. D'Ascenzo) deals with school history, science didactics and school publishing.


The aim of MODULE 1 (prof. W. Grandi) is to offer consistent and systematic reflection on the popular science storytelling for children, teens and high school students. Nowadays, new generations meet science through various ways such as information books, television documentaries, picture books, stickers collections, websites and so on. But this is a process that has been going on for some time. Especially since the nineteenth century publishers, scientists, educators and other have been interested in producing books, pictures, toys that had as their purpose the approach of childhood to sciences. Popular science for children is therefore part of a long historical process that intersects not only the development of sciences, but also the progress of pedagogy, the dynamic changes of imagery, the history of childhood, the refinement of communication techniques and, finally, the cultural policies of the nations.

Specifically, the following contents will be probed:

  • The history of the popular science for children
  • The formal frames, narrative style and artistic features of the popular science for children: roles and intersections among culture industry, literature, information and pictures.
  • The cultural, political and scientific reasons and aims of the popular science.
  • The role of pedagogy to popular science for children.
  • The influence of imagery to popular science’s production and spread.


MODULE 2 (Prof. M. D'Ascenzo) on the history of the school provides for the study of the essential historical coordinates of the Italian school system from the nineteenth century to today in the regulatory-institutional, cultural and pedagogical-didactic aspects, with particular attention to the development of science teaching in the Italian school, especially for secondary school, and of the teacher / teacher of scientific area. The structure and evolution of the educational programs of the scientific disciplines of the different school levels will therefore be examined, identifying continuity and discontinuity.

Another part of the course will focus on the historical-critical deconstruction of the 'black box of schooling', that complex didactic device used by teachers between past and present and which is sedimented in teaching practices, often unconsciously, even today. In particular. we will discuss specific school manuals, which played an essential role of didactic mediation between academic culture and the world of school. Texts, editors, authors and moments in the history of the secondary school teaching profession will be identified as fundamental in the history of science teaching between positivism, pedagogical activism and post-World War II renewal, up to the birth and development of a more modern scientific and environmental and technological education. A specific space will be dedicated to the history of open-air schools and educational innovation promoted by them also for scientific teaching.

Further attention will be devoted to the birth and development of the didactic tools created for the development of the specific scientific school culture. Specifically, we will focus on some pioneering museums for the teaching of science in schools which arose in the second half of the nineteenth century in Italy and Europe, as well as on the scientific collections of a commercial nature present in the editorial catalogs for schools, nowadays the historical-educational heritage of the institutes/older secondary schools, on which comparative research is undertaken at an international level.


Discussions during the examination will focus on these steps:

MODULE 1 (Prof. W. Grandi)

1- the contents of an introductory report and contents on "Virtuale" platform at disposal at the beggining of the course; 

2- the contents of one academic book selected from the following proposals:

- W. Grandi, Gli ingranaggi sognati. Scienza, fantasia e tecnologia nelle narrazioni per l'infanzia e l'adolescenza, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2017

- E. Marazzi (a cura di), Letteratura e scienza nel libro per ragazzi tra XIX e XX secolo, Guerini e Associati, Milano, 2016

- E. Zanoni, Scienza, Patria, Religione. Antonio Stoppani e la cultura italiana dell'Ottocento, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2014

3- the contents and the plot of one narrative/popularizing book selected from the following proposals:

- A. Bestard, Paesaggi perduti della Terra, L'ippocampo, Milano, 2020.

- D. Dixon, After man. A Zoology of the future, Breakdown Press, London, 2021.

- G. Duprat, Il libro delle Terre immaginate, L'ippocampo, Milano, 2009.

- J. Kelly, L'evoluzione di Calpurnia, Salani, Milano, 2014.

- A. Ferrara, Eroe guasto, Settenove Edizioni, Cagli (PU), 2021.

- M. Setola, Teatro di Natura, Canicola, Bologna, 2021.

- G. Quarzo, A. Vivarelli, La danza delle rane, Editoriale Scienza, Trieste-Firenze, 2019.

- E. Accati, Fiori in famiglia. Eva Mameli Calvino si racconta, Editoriale Scienza, Trieste-Firenze, 2023.


MODULE 2 (Prof. M. D'Ascenzo)

Compulsory reading and study

- M. D’Ascenzo, R. Vignoli (a cura di M. D’Ascenzo), Scuola, didattica e musei tra Otto e Novecento. Il Museo didattico ‘Luigi Bombicci’ di Bologna, Bologna, CLUEB, 2008.

- M. D’Ascenzo, I musei didattici tra Ottocento e Novecento in Italia come fonte per la storia della scuola e patrimonio storico educativo, in A. Ascenzi, C. Covato, J. Meda (a cura di), La pratica educativa. Storia, memoria e patrimonio. Atti del 1° Congresso nazionale della Società Italiana per lo studio del Patrimonio Storico-Educativo (Palma de Mallorca, 20-23 novembre 2018), Macerata, Eum Edizioni, 2020, pp. 171-190.

- M. D’Ascenzo, Maestri, maestre e didattica nelle scuole all’aperto, quale professionalità?, in M. Ferrari, M. Morandi (a cura di), Maestri e pratiche educative dall’Ottocento a oggi. Contributi per una storia della didattica, Brescia, Morcelliana, 2020, pp.189-210.

- M. D’Ascenzo, L’innovazione pedagogica e didattica delle scuole all’aperto da scuole speciali a scuole per tutti, in A. Ascenzi, R. Sani (a cura di), L’innovazione pedagogica e didattica nel sistema formativo italiano dall’Unità al secondo dopoguerra, Roma, Studium edizioni, 202, pp. 315-332.


Teaching methods

Module 1: the course will consist of traditional lectures delivered in Italian. During each lesson the professor dedicates a part of the teaching to collective dialogue in order to process a conceptual map that will allow students to orient themselves in the contents, languages and topics discussed in the meeting.

Module 2: the module will take place through lectures, in Italian, aimed at promoting student participation. Power points, videos and text analysis will be used. If possible, based on the pandemic trend, a guided tour of museums, schools and meetings with privileged witnesses from the world of schools, protagonists of the renewal of science education, is planned.

For both modules: studentes have to had participated to three studeplace safety modules: safety modules 1 and 2 on e-learning at https://www.unibo.it/it/servizi-e-opportunita/salute-e-assistenza/salute-e-sicurezza/sicurezza-e-salute-nei-luoghi-di-studio-e-tirocinio ; see the appropriate section of your university degree course web-site to participate at module 3 

Assessment methods

For Module 1: Learning will be assessed by oral examinations with individual interviews. Interview is designed to test the knowledge of the contents, the linguistic fluency , the ability to organize information that every student is able to master at the end of the course about the topics discussed during the lessons and shown in the texts.

For Module 2: Verification of learning will take place through oral exams with individual interviews. The interview is designed to verify the knowledge of the contents, the ability to express oneself with conceptual clarity and linguistic correctness, also using the specific language of the discipline, the ability to organize the answers in a relevant, concise and exhaustive way to the questions.

For both modules:

Final score based on ../30 (18 is considered the minimum to pass the exam).

Inscription to the exam on Almaesami website.

If rejected at the exam, it is possible to have a second chance.



Teaching tools

Internet, contents on "Virtuale"platform.

Office hours

See the website of William Grandi

See the website of Mirella D'Ascenzo


Quality education

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.