What do they say they want? year 7 students' preferences in science

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<ul><li><p>193 </p><p>Research in Science Education, 1981, ii, 193-201 </p><p>WHAT DO THEY SAY THEY WANT? YEAR 7 STUDENTS' PREFERENCES IN SCIENCE </p><p>C.J. Dawson and N. Bennett </p><p>Student interest in science may be investigated at various levels of specificity from an interest in the subject as a whole, through interest in defined but broad areas of science and to interest in specific topics. Little work has been reported at this last level, yet such information can be of particular advantage to those curriculum planners and teachers who see knowledge of student interest as a source for input into curriculum making decisions. </p><p>Investigations of interest in specific science topics have often focussed on identifying the science related activities in which students engage in their free time (Foster, 1967; Cooley and Reed, 1971; Skinner and Barcinowki, 1973). An alternative approach (Clarke, 1972; Sullivan, 1979) has identified the science topics students say they would like to study. </p><p>In Sullivan's (1979) report, the results of a major U.S. study, Survey of School Attitudes, were used to illuminate the specific science interests of grade 1 - 8 students, the students being asked to indicate whether or not they would like to study some fifteen specified science topics. </p><p>In order to obtain useful information for the teacher or curriculum planner concerned with student specific interests this methodology appears to be very appropriate, however Sullivan's report shows two major limitations: (i) the minimal number of items; (2) the wording in which the specific science topics were framed. Topics such as "the sun and planets", "how the heart works" and "insects" were prefaced by introductory phrasing such as "learning about" and "working with", yet the factor analytical work of Skinner and Barcinowski (1973) makes it quite evident that the degree of anticipated practical involvement when studying a topic may influence its appeal to students. There may be quite different interest expressed in two supposedly equivalent statements such as "learning about insects" and "working with insects". Thus refinement of the Survey of School Attitudes instrument necessitated firstly an increase in the number of items and secondly a phraseology more neutral with respect to the degree of active participation inherent in the study of each topic. </p><p>Whilst knowledge of student interest in specific science topics can be of value to the planner of the curriculum, so also can a knowledge of the appeal of different teaching methodologies to the students concerned. Few reports have appeared in this area though Summner and Wilson (1972) noted that lower high school students in South Australia say they prefer group work to individual work and both boys and girls enjoy finding out about things and doing experiments and dislike being told exactly what to do by the teacher. </p><p>The focus in the discussion so far has been primarily on students' specific interests, nevertheless it is evident that such data lends itself to investigations of the grouping of interests, through factor analytical studies, and the differences in interest of different groups. And in fact previous studies have revealed important grouping of interests (Skinner and Barcinowski, 1973) and group differences relating to age, sex and geographical location (Foster, 1967; Sumner and Wilson, 1972; Clarke, 1972; Sullivan 1979). </p></li><li><p>194 </p><p>PROCEDURE </p><p>The instrument </p><p>The instrument consisted of two parts. Part I, the Science Topics inventory, asked students to indicate how much they would like to learn about seventy seven specific science topics. Students responded on a 5 point scale ranging from "I would very much like to learn about this topic" to "I would definitely not like to learn about this toDic": also included was a "I don't understand what is meant" alternative. </p><p>The items were chosen from topics included in upper primary science books and resource material produced in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. and were those con~nonly found in such texts. Topics were selected to give approximately equal weighting to the broad science areas which were emphasised in the texts and included items in areas of human biology, general biology, earth sciences/ astronomy and the physical sciences. (The approximately equal number of items in these areas over-emphasised the relative amount of human biology in the texts). In addition several items referring specifically to practical activities were included. </p><p>Following two separate trials and student and teacher comment the final format was an instrument consisting of 77 items with 19 items from the area of the physical sciences, 17 from human biology, 18 from general biology, 19 from earth science/astronomy and 4 practical items. </p><p>The associated Science Activities inventory listed seventeen methodologies which might be selected by teachers in the teaching of science. Students were asked to indicate, again on a 5 point scale, how much they would like to learn science by each method. </p><p>Following the completion of each inventory students were invited to add other science topics or activities in which they were interested. </p><p>Sample </p><p>753 students, 400 boys and 353 girls, in year 7 of South Australian government schools completed the instrument. Twenty four schools were selected randomly from sublists of metropolitan primary, country primary and country area schools. Each school so selected was approached to participate in the study and most responded in the affirmative, schools not participating were replaced by reserves. The relative number of students in the three types of school closely matched the overall distribution of year 7 students in such schools. All year 7 students present in each school completed the instrument. </p><p>Method of Scoring </p><p>Each response was scored 5-1, with "don' t understand", being separately coded. A mean value was calculated on each item for the total group and for the various subgroups boys and girls, and city and country dwellers. 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This list masks the different rank orders of various groups, in particular the very great differences between boys and girls where only 5 items appear in the" top 20" of the two lists. The "top 20" for boys and girls separately are also displayed in Table I. </p><p>Inspection of these "tops 20s" reveals that girls express more interest in the human biology topics, and 12 of their "top 20" are from this area. On the other hand boys show greater interest in topics from the earth science/astronomy (10 items) and physical science (3 items) areas, and none of their "top 20" is from human biology. The mean values on the five sub-scales and the t-test of significance shown in Table 2 illustrate the strength of these differences. </p><p>TABLE 2 - Mean scores and significant differences in sub-scales constructed from all items in science topics inventory </p><p>Physical Science Scale </p><p>(19 items Boys (Mean score) 61.98 Girls (Mean score) 53.12 </p><p>T-test of significance p </p></li><li><p>TA</p><p>BL</p><p>E </p><p>3 - </p><p>Sci</p><p>en</p><p>ce </p><p>me</p><p>tho</p><p>do</p><p>log</p><p>ies </p><p>in </p><p>ord</p><p>er </p><p>of </p><p>pre</p><p>fere</p><p>nc</p><p>e </p><p>for </p><p>all</p><p> st</p><p>ud</p><p>en</p><p>ts </p><p>Se</p><p>pa</p><p>rate</p><p> M</p><p>ea</p><p>n V</p><p>alu</p><p>es </p><p>an</p><p>d </p><p>ran</p><p>k o</p><p>rde</p><p>r o</p><p>f p</p><p>refe</p><p>ren</p><p>ce</p><p> fo</p><p>r e</p><p>ach</p><p> it</p><p>em</p><p> fo</p><p>r b</p><p>oy</p><p>s a</p><p>nd</p><p> g</p><p>irls</p><p>~T</p><p>HO</p><p>DO</p><p>LO</p><p>GY</p><p>I. G</p><p>O o</p><p>n </p><p>vis</p><p>its </p><p>to </p><p>zoo</p><p>s p</p><p>ark</p><p>s e</p><p>tc. </p><p>2. </p><p>Do</p><p> y</p><p>ou</p><p>r o</p><p>wn</p><p> e</p><p>xp</p><p>eri</p><p>me</p><p>nts</p><p>3. </p><p>Wa</p><p>tch</p><p> fi</p><p>lms </p><p>ab</p><p>ou</p><p>t sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>top</p><p>ics </p><p>4. </p><p>Ma</p><p>ke</p><p> m</p><p>od</p><p>els</p><p> a</p><p>bo</p><p>ut </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p> to</p><p>pic</p><p>s </p><p>5. </p><p>Wa</p><p>tch</p><p> sl</p><p>ide</p><p>s o</p><p>r fi</p><p>lmst</p><p>rip</p><p>s </p><p>6. </p><p>Wa</p><p>tch</p><p> T</p><p>.V. </p><p>pro</p><p>gra</p><p>mm</p><p>es </p><p>in </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p>7. </p><p>Ma</p><p>ke</p><p> co</p><p>pie</p><p>s o</p><p>f sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>pic</p><p>ture</p><p>s a</p><p>nd</p><p> p</p><p>ho</p><p>tog</p><p>rap</p><p>hs </p><p>8. </p><p>Wa</p><p>tch</p><p> th</p><p>e </p><p>tea</p><p>che</p><p>r d</p><p>oin</p><p>g </p><p>ex</p><p>pe</p><p>rim</p><p>en</p><p>ts </p><p>9. </p><p>Ma</p><p>ke</p><p> y</p><p>ou</p><p>r sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>wo</p><p>rkb</p><p>oo</p><p>k </p><p>att</p><p>ract</p><p>ive</p><p> a</p><p>nd</p><p> co</p><p>lou</p><p>rfu</p><p>l </p><p>10. </p><p>DO</p><p> a </p><p>proj</p><p>ect </p><p>ab</p><p>ou</p><p>t a </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p> to</p><p>pic</p><p>11. </p><p>Dis</p><p>cuss</p><p> sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>top</p><p>ics </p><p>wit</p><p>h </p><p>oth</p><p>er </p><p>stu</p><p>de</p><p>nts</p><p>12, </p><p>Lis</p><p>ten</p><p> to</p><p> v</p><p>isit</p><p>ors</p><p> ta</p><p>lk </p><p>ab</p><p>ou</p><p>t sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>13. </p><p>List</p><p>en</p><p> to</p><p> ra</p><p>dio</p><p> p</p><p>rog</p><p>ram</p><p>me</p><p>s a</p><p>bo</p><p>ut </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p>14. </p><p>Fin</p><p>d </p><p>ou</p><p>t a</p><p>nsw</p><p>ers</p><p> to</p><p> sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>qu</p><p>est</p><p>ion</p><p>s </p><p>15. </p><p>Re</p><p>ad</p><p> b</p><p>oo</p><p>ks </p><p>on</p><p> sc</p><p>ien</p><p>ce </p><p>16. </p><p>Co</p><p>py</p><p> n</p><p>ote</p><p>s a</p><p>bo</p><p>ut </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p> fr</p><p>om</p><p> th</p><p>e </p><p>bla</p><p>ck</p><p>bo</p><p>ard</p><p>17. </p><p>list</p><p>en</p><p> to</p><p> th</p><p>e </p><p>tea</p><p>che</p><p>r a</p><p>bo</p><p>ut </p><p>scie</p><p>nce</p><p> to</p><p>pic</p><p>s </p><p>IME</p><p>AN</p><p>.40</p><p>~.3</p><p>4 </p><p>3.9</p><p>7 </p><p>3.8</p><p>6 </p><p>3.7</p><p>9 </p><p>3.6</p><p>5 </p><p>3.5</p><p>0 </p><p>3.4</p><p>6 </p><p>3.4</p><p>3 </p><p>3.1</p><p>C </p><p>3.0</p><p>4 </p><p>2.9</p><p>~ </p><p>2.8</p><p>~ </p><p>2.7</p><p>9 </p><p>2.7</p><p>0 </p><p>2.5</p><p>5 </p><p>2.5</p><p>2 </p><p>BO</p><p>YS</p><p> M</p><p>EA</p><p>N </p><p>~A</p><p>NK</p><p> OR</p><p>DE</p><p>R </p><p>4.3</p><p>0 </p><p>2 </p><p>4.4</p><p>7 </p><p>1 </p><p>4.0</p><p>1 </p><p>4 </p><p>4.1</p><p>1 </p><p>3 </p><p>3.9</p><p>1 </p><p>5 </p><p>3.8</p><p>1 </p><p>6 </p><p>3.5</p><p>8 </p><p>7 </p><p>3.4</p><p>8 </p><p>8 </p><p>3.0</p><p>3 </p><p>12</p><p>3.0</p><p>5 </p><p>9 </p><p>2.9</p><p>8 </p><p>13</p><p>3.0</p><p>4 </p><p>10</p><p>3.0</p><p>4 </p><p>10</p><p>2.8</p><p>5 </p><p>15</p><p>2.8</p><p>9 </p><p>14 </p><p>2.3</p><p>0 </p><p>17 </p><p>2.5</p><p>8 </p><p>16</p><p>GIR</p><p>LS </p><p>ME</p><p>AN</p><p> R</p><p>AN</p><p>K O</p><p>RD</p><p>ER</p><p>4.5</p><p>1 </p><p>I </p><p>4.1</p><p>9 </p><p>2 </p><p>3,7</p><p>~ </p><p>4 </p><p>3.5</p><p>7 </p><p>6 </p><p>3.6</p><p>5 </p><p>5 </p><p>3.4</p><p>7 </p><p>7 </p><p>3.4</p><p>1 </p><p>9 </p><p>3.4</p><p>3 </p><p>8 </p><p>3.8</p><p>8 </p><p>3 </p><p>3.1</p><p>6 </p><p>11 </p><p>3.2</p><p>0 </p><p>IO </p><p>2.9</p><p>0 </p><p>12</p><p>2.7</p><p>1 </p><p>15 </p><p>2.7</p><p>2 </p><p>14 </p><p>2.5</p><p>0 </p><p>16</p><p>2.8</p><p>0 </p><p>13 </p><p>2.4</p><p>5 </p><p>17 </p><p>-4 </p></li><li><p>198 </p><p>the homogeneity of each scale. The result was four scales, each with an internal consistency greater than 0.9, but of lengths varying from 12 to 20 items. The mean scores of boys and girls, the internal consistency of each scale and the abbreviated results of the t-test of significance between boy and girl means are shown in Table 4. Analysis of variance showed that the variance accounted for by sex-group membership was 30% on the physical science scale, 22% on earth science, 8% on human biology and 5% on general biology. </p><p>TABLE 4 - Mean Scores, Significant Differences and Internal Consistencies of Scales Derived from Factor Loadings </p><p>Boys (mean scores) Girls (mean scores) T-test of Significance Internal consistency of scale ANOVA - explained variance </p><p>Physical Science (12 items 43.13 </p><p>31.78 </p><p>p </p></li><li><p>199 </p><p>Naively perhaps it was anticipated that, though there would be individual differences, the interests of year 7 students would show some pattern. Inspection of the first list in Table 1 reveals that this is not the case, and the reason is clear - the large differences between the interests of boys and girls. It is only when the boy's and girl's top 20s are separately considered (Table i) that patterns are observed and for the teacher of a mixed class, that is all teachers in South Australian state primary schools, there is little which can shed light on practice. </p><p>If catering for students inter