Do compulsory secondary science courses change students’ attitude towards studying science?

Lærke Elisabeth Kristensen, Morten Rask Petersen

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Introduction: The future need for citizens educated within science and technology has been in focus for many years (Gago et al., 2004; Osborne & Dillon, 2008). In a Danish context - as well as in many other European countries (McLoughlin et al., 2013) - one of the initiatives towards higher recruitment to STEM education has been a compulsory course in the Gymnasium called Natural Science Subject (NSS). This is an interdisciplinary, introductory course with the intention that students shall “ … realize the importance of knowing and understanding natural science thinking” (Authors translation)(MoE, 2013). An implicit goal with this compulsory course is to have more students to choose a study line with science as major topics. We decided to investigate if this implicit goal is actually fulfilled and if a compulsory introduction course to science does have any impact on students’ attitude towards science and science careers. In this approach we ended up with the following research question: “Does a compulsory introductory sciences course have an impact on students’ attitude towards studying sciences in secondary school?” In this approach we chose to use parameters as motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2002) and perceived relevance (Stuckey et al., 2013) as indicators for attitude. Methods A questionnaire with 26 items on a 5 point Likert scale (Likert, 1932) and an open box for comments was conducted as a measure of attitude. The questionnaire was tested in a pilot study (n=30) and revised on basis of comments. The questions were analyzed with a Cronbach α test for internal consistence. To pursue our question we distributed a questionnaire to 35 high schools nationwide that agreed to further distribute the questionnaire to their students. The questionnaire was distributed just after the end of the Natural Science Subject course. The distribution included all levels (K10-K12) and all study lines. Student answers were analyzed using Mann-Whitney U-test using SPSS statistics 22 as analytical tool. Comparisons for this study were made across study lines (natural science vs. human science & social science). The questionnaire ended with an open ended comment box for further comments. Comments and remarks from here were analyzed through traditional qualitative content analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005) with open coding. Results The questionnaire was tested for internal consistence (Cronbach’s α) in the science group (n=831) and the non-science group (n=1216) focusing on 11 specific items for relevance and motivation the internal consistence. As an effect we excluded 4 items from our analysis and ended up with an internal consistence for the groups (science, α=0,747; non-science, α=0,766). Table 1 shows the results of a comparison of the groups using Mann-Whitney U-test for the 7 items. It shows that the only item that the groups agree on is item 20, where both groups answers in an equally degree of positive attitude towards having NSS before other science subjects. The open coding of the comments resulted in 6 categories of answers namely: i) Teachers, ii) Study line, iii) Course distribution, iv) Tools, v) Grades, and vi) Bin. All categories contains positive and negative answer but in the category “Teachers” there is an overweight of answers pointing out that the teachers were not good enough to plan and carry out an interdisciplinary approach to science together with their colleagues. In the other categories the overall picture is that students find it hard to understand why they need to have a basic course. The arguments is though divided where science students argue that they would rather go directly to their specialized science courses and non-science students argue that they would rather not have NSS since they already chose another direction of their study. Students’ responses to our questions seem to go in different directions. Our results show that the students find the compulsory science course relevant as an introduction to science courses (Item 20& 24). But even though it seems relevant non-science students do not find it motivating to attend the course (Item 3, 17 23 & 24). Especially the non-science students find it hard to understand why it is compulsory and it does not have an effect on their choice of study line. Discussion and Conclusion Our interpretation of the results is that the relevance is on an introductory science course in general but the present implementation of the specific course leaves it as being not relevant for the students. There are significantly different attitudes towards having a compulsory science course between science and non-science students where science students not surprisingly is more positive. As shown from the analysis of students’ comments there seems to be inconveniences in that students experience that teachers are not doing proper interdisciplinary preparation and teaching in the course. If a compulsory introductory course in science is to have an effect on recruiting more students to science study lines this might be a point where improvement can be found. The conclusion from the survey is that even though it seems relevant students do not change their attitude towards studying science. So the impact of the specific compulsory course seems to be minimal. A review study on attitudes towards science (Osborne, Simon & Collins, 2003) shows that gender is the most influent factor on attitudes towards science; boys being more positive than girls. This effect is particular present in general science courses like the one investigated here. Since around 2/3 of the answers came from girls this might also influence the general attitude towards the science course and it could be an interesting perspective to use in another look on our data. To put our results on a general level this raises the question if it is too late to make influences on students’ career choice when approaching them in upper secondary school. It might be that this is too late for “Science for all” and focus instead should be on “Science for the motivated” if recruitment is the argument. Else the argument might be turned in the direction of scientific literacy. This of course brings the recruitment problems to a lower level and points at primary school as the main facilitator for promoting science careers. With the results from our study it seems effect less in terms of recruitment to have compulsory science at upper secondary level. References Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (2002): Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. Gago, J. M., Ziman, J., Caro, P., Constantinou, C., & Davies, G. (2004). Europe needs more scientists. In Brussels: European Community Conference Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology. Hsieh, H. & Shannon, S.E (2005): Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis, Qualitative Health Research, 15, p. 1277-1288 Likert, R. (1932): A technique for the measurement of attitudes. Archives of Phychology, 140, s. 1-55. McLoughlin, E., Finlayson, O., van Kampen, P. & McCabe, D. (2013): Report on how IBSE is involved in national curricula and assessment in the participating countries, Project report from SAILS project ( located 07-01-2015) MoE (Ministry of Education) (2013): Act on the education for General Certificate of Secondary Education (in Danish) Osborne, J., & Dillon, J. (2008). Science education in Europe: Critical reflections (Vol. 13). London: The Nuffield Foundation. Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: a review of the literature and its implications. International journal of science education, 25(9), 1049-1079. Stuckey, M.; Hofstein, A.; Mamlok-Naaman, R. & Eilks, I. (2013): The meaning of ‘relevance’ in science education and its implications for the science curriculum. Studies in Science Education, 49 (1), s. 1–34.
TitelScience Education Research: Engaging learners for a sustainable future
RedaktørerJari Lavonen, Kalle Juuti, Jarkko Lampiselkä, Anna Uitto, Kaisa Hahl
Antal sider3
Publikationsdato2. sep. 2015
ISBN (Elektronisk)978-951-51-1541-6
StatusUdgivet - 2. sep. 2015
Begivenhed11th Conference of the European Science Education Research Association - Helsinki, Finland
Varighed: 31. aug. 20154. sep. 2015


Konference11th Conference of the European Science Education Research Association


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