Dr Laura Colucci-Gray

Senior Lecturer in Science and Sustainability Education


I grew up in the north of Italy  - a small town named 'Alba' before moving to the UK to study and then live in Scotland. I worked as a Biology teacher in a technical institute for two years and later, my career developed in science teacher education. I studied Natural Sciences at the University of Turin and graduated in 1998 with 110/110 cum lauden. While preparing my Master's dissertation I became fascinated with education and became a member of the Research Group in Science Education led by Dr. Elena Camino, based at the University of Turin (Italy).  I have been a founding member of the InterUniversity Research Institute for Research on Sustainability (www.iris.unito.it) and held teaching and research appointments at the Universities of Turin and Aosta Valley. I moved to the UK in 2000 when I started my PhD. My research looked at the development of participatory settings - using role-plays - to deal with complex and controversial socio-environmental issues. During my PhD study I focussed on the particular case of intensive prawn farming to explore the contested links between scientific knowledge and values and the opportunity to approach issues of sustainability in food production by dialogic, inclusive and nonviolent approaches to conflict. When I moved to Scotland, I worked in Glasgow and in Aberdeen for 13 years. In Aberdeen, I held leadership responsibilities and I was Director of Postgraduate Studies and Director of Research for 3 years. I moved to Edinburgh in September 2018 to hold a teaching, research and leadership appointment in STEM and Sustainability Education. I am passionate about real-life learning; radical democracy and participatory methodologies across the arts and sciences. 

I have been President of the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) from 2014 to 2016.

I am co-editor of the journal Scottish Educational Review.

I am Associate Editor of the journal Visions for Sustainability.

I am board member of One Seed Forward.


PhD in Science Education

BSc Natural Sciences with Master's dissertation in Science Education

Responsibilities & affiliations

Coordinator of STEM and STEAM Education

Undergraduate teaching

MA4 Educational Studies Dissertations 

PGDE Curriculum Plus 3 - General Science

PGDE Primary Early and Middle years

Postgraduate teaching

MSc Transformative Learning and Teaching 

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am interested in supervising students with an interest in Learning for Sustainability; place-based education and participatory and arts-based methodologies.

I am also interested in STEAM education and interdisciplinary projects involving the arts and sciences for social justice.

Current PhD students supervised

  • (Lead supervisor) Daniel Woodah – Integrating indigenous knowledges and Western Science in learning about climate change. Funded by the Ghana Trust (Started in October 2015).
  • (Co - supervisor) Cathy Francis – The salmon project. Outdoor learning in primary education (started in October 2015).
  • (Lead supervisor) Carolyn Cooke – Teachers’ beliefs and identity in music education. A socio-material perspective (started in February 2015)
  • (Co-supervisor) Aristea Kiriacou – Designing school grounds for outdoor learning in Greece (started in October 2015)
  • (Co-supervisor) Leila Eerikaneen – Languaging for thinking in science (started in October 2016).
  • (Co-supervisor) Rebert Feller – Naturehood, gardening practices and citizens’ actions. Co-funded by Earth Watch and School of Biological Sciences - Research lead: Prof. Rene’ Van der Wal

Past PhD students supervised

  • (Lead supervisor) Semiyu Aderibigbe - An inquiry into mentoring relationships between teachers and student teachers in the classroom: a critical constructivist perspective. Graduated in July 2012.
  • (Lead supervisor) Fayadh Alanazi – Saudi pupils’ understanding of the shape of the Earth. A socio-cultural perspective. Graduated in November 2015.
  • (Lead supervisor) Kirsten Darling - Learning as participation: exploring relationships within an emergent paradigm. Graduated in November 2015.
  • (Co-supervisor) Amy Scott-Murray (ESRC scholarship) - Technology and Marine science communication (co-supervision with Dr. Dan Mayor, School of Biological Sciences), Graduated in March 2016.
  • (Lead supervisor) Mishel Moriah-Trim- Investigating school leaders’ perceptions of leadership and inclusion in the Caribbean. Graduated in June 2017
  • (Co-supervisor) Nirwan Sharma (University of Aberdeen Interdisciplinary research theme) - Developing Digital tools for Citizen Science: towards new ways of learning about the natural environment (co-supervision with Dr Renee Van der Wal, Biological Sciences and Dr Advaith Siddhartha, Computing Science).  Graduated in June 2018.

Research summary

My research focuses on the transition from science education to sustainability education. I am interested in critical discourse studies of curriculum and education policy and the ways in which educational settings can be reconfigured to bring together concepts and values; mind and body; individuals, communities  and place. 

I am interested in theorising around the theory/practice divide, and how such dychotomies can be trascended through affective modalities, embodied and enactivist practices, and phenomenological approaches, with a particular interest in aesthetics and language. 

  • The theory and practice of STEAM education;
  • Sustainability education and outdoor learning;
  • Controversial issues and dialogic, participatory inquiry;
  • Contemplative ecology;
  • Visual methods;
  • Arts and Science;
  • Citizen science.

Current research interests

I am currently involved in a project involving a team of researchers from the School of Biological Sciences at Aberdeen University (Prof. Rene' Van der Wal) and the Earthwatch Institute in Oxford (Dr. Gitte Kragh, Earthwatch Institute and Dr. Toos van Noordwijk). The project sets out to determine what factors, social and otherwise, may facilitate or hinder community level wildlife-friendly gardening and the impact this has on garden wildlife. It will do so by: 1) capturing and de-constructing the narratives surrounding management of gardens and its relationship with community or neighbourhood dimensions; 2) determine to what extent taking action for wildlife by individual gardeners is governed by knowledge about wildlife and the importance of collective (wildlife gardening) action; 3) uniquely, pseudo-experimentally capture social appreciation and neighbourhood-formation processes in response to the gradual uptake of a large-scale citizen science initiative and 4) evaluate the impact of scale on wildlife gardening success. Collectively, this will allow the identification of barriers to adopting wildlife-friendly gardening as ‘the new normal’, highlight the impact it can have for biodiversity conservation and unfold the social and ecological mechanisms involved.

Past research interests

Teacher education and specifically, mentoring in teacher education.

Knowledge exchange

I am actively involved with One Seed Forward, a community-growing initiaitve seeking to encourage communities to grow their own food. Between 2017 and 2018 we developed educational materials to develop food growing gardens in schools, an initiative seeking to improve the well-being of children in regeneration areas  alongside a focussed programme of learning and teaching activities drawing on interdisciplinary and participatory learning opportunities. 

Project activity

My research interests intersect philosophy of science, citizenship education and outdoor learning. I have a long-standing interest in the processes of production of scientific knowledge in society; drawing on the insights of post-normal science and sustainability science, I have dedicated over 15 years of research into their application to educational settings to promote inclusion and participation of young people in science and technology debates. Publications from my PhD study on role-play simulations addressing complex, socio-environmental issues have featured in some of the highest ranking journals in the science education community and continue to influence educators seeking to bring forth a sustainability agenda. The key tenet of my methodological approach is that of promoting ‘extended dialogues’ - across all forms of language communication (e.g. gestures, words and numerical signs) to generate pluralist and trans-disciplinary understanding of system complexity, explore consequences of actions at multiple levels, and collaborate to find creative solutions. As a Co-I on ‘Creativity in Science’ Project (2015-2017) funded by the British Academy International Partnerships, I worked with academic partners at the University of San Andres and the charity ‘Crear Vale la Pena’ in Buenos Aires to develop artistic approaches to support young people to learn science in poverty-stricken communities. This work led to my leadership of the prestigious Research Commission funded by the British Educational Research Association on STEAM (2018-2020). I coordinated a team of 10 senior academics from Philosophy of Education, the Arts, Anthropology of Education and Science Education tasked with critically reviewing the evidence-base on STEAM education, forge interdisciplinary collaborations and engage with diverse communities of practitioners to inform the future research agenda across the four nations in the UK. The Commission produced an innovative take on STEAM - bridging contested understanding of both Technology and the Arts across different disciplines - and produced an original synthesis adopting the lenses of embodied cognition.  Specifically, drawing on the multi-modal, sensorial inquiries facilitated by the Arts, I seek to address the tension that exists in society between the science of ‘big data’ and the subjective experiences of children in their local environments, which are mediated by technology. Currently I am exploring exploring how  Citizen Science  learning mediated by technology and the arts is amenable to educational interventions promoting sustainable behaviours. This idea was the centre focus of the ‘Oil to Soil’ project (PI - 2017-2019) funded by Aberdeen City Council, which emphasised the role of haptic and sensorial learning in pupils’ learning through food growing, and specifically how children displaying challenging behaviours experienced reduction of stress and anxiety levels, increasing both their ability to learn new concepts and their well-being. Findings from this project informed the Scottish Government funded project ‘Reconceptualising Attainment through Shared Learning Spaces which Promote Achievement, Health and Wellbeing” (PI, 2018-2020) and the currently ongoing ‘Food Activism in the Schoolyard’ (PI, 2019-2021) funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. Both projects target impact on initial teacher education and draw on the idea of ‘place-based learning’ to reconfigure the school environment as a micro-system for meeting children’s complex social, emotional and cognitive needs. My extensive involvement with the study of methods for educational reform aims to bridge the aspiration for equitable scientific research with democratic and participatory action in education.


Current project grants

- Co-Investigator. Sensory Explorations of Nature in School Environments (SENSE). EPSRC. Value: £1.000.000 (PI: Prof. Advaith Siddhartan).
- Principal Investigator. STEAM Gardens for employability and well-being. University of Edinburgh Regional Skills Programme. Value: £10.000 . Report available here: https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/steam_gardens/
- Co-Investigator and Consultant. BRIDGES. Building Reflexivity and response-ability Involving Different narratives of knowledGE and Science. Project led by the Italian National Research Council (PI: Dr. Alba l'Astorina) and funded by CARIPLO (funded period: 2021-2024). Value: 300.000 Euros
- Co-Investigator. Scottish Attainment Challenge. Sub-theme: outdoor learning in the school garden. Scottish Government (funded period: 2018-2021).  Value: £.50.000. FINAL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE: https://bit.ly/3kFJDcK
- PI. Food Activism in the Schoolyard. Project funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute (funded period: 2019-2021).  Value: £. 18.000. FINAL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE: https://www.scottishinsight.ac.uk/Programmes/UNGlobalGoals/FoodActivism....

Past project grants

• 2009. Two-year fellowship awarded by the Piedmont Regional Council in Italy for undertaking research into collaborative and interdisciplinary practices of learning and teaching in Initial Teacher Education. 50.000 Euros.
• 2012. Higher Education Academy Travel Grant to support attendance to network meetings and events in the United Kingdom. £500.
• 2013. Scholarship award for a full-time PhD scholarship. Aberdeen University Interdisciplinary research theme “Environment and Food security”. Full-time scholarship was awarded to Mr. Nirwan Sharma “Developing Digital Tools for Citizen Science: Towards New Ways of Learning about the Natural Environment” (co-supervised by Dr. R. Van der Wal and Dr. A. Siddharthan). £ 36,000
- British Academy. Co-I with Dr. Donald Gray (PI) and Dr. Melina Furman (co-I). Creativity in Science Education. British Academy Bilateral Programme in partnership with the University of San Andres (Buenos Aires). Funded period: January 2014 to January 2017.
- 2015. Ghana Trust. Scholarship awarded for a full-time, International PhD scholarship to undertake research on issues of sustainability and climate change. Awarded: £50,000.
• 2015. BERA Research Commission Award. Reviewing the potential and challenges of developing STEAM education through creative pedagogies for 21st learning. £18,000
- 2015-2018. Research team-leader. European Aid – Developing STEM education in Tanzania. Project funded by the European Commission, led by Cathy Fowler (PI). School of Engineering, Aberdeen University.
- 2017. Education Institute for Scotland (EIS), Review of pupil support for ASN in Scottish Local Authorities. £10,000
• 2017. Aberdeen City Council and One Seed Forward, Developing School Gardens in City schools and closing the attainment gap. £25,000.

Principal Investigator. Theorising arts-making for the development of ecological identity. The experience of the Natural World Course, in collaboration with Dr. Martin Barker (School of Biological Science). Research supported by internal funding. Ongoing.
Research collaborator with Dr. Elena Camino. Reviewing nonviolence as a framework for framing sustainability research in socio-environmental issues.  Research supported by the Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Sustainability (IRIS). Ongoing.

View all 87 publications on Research Explorer