FOSTERING PUPILS’ INTEREST IN SCIENCE: A QUALITATIVE INQUIRY INTO INFLUENCING FACTORS
Background to the study
Science has for decades been a controversial subject (Baker, 2012; Hart & Nisbet, 2012). While some people view it as a harbinger of chaos that bedevils the world, others see it as a panacea to technological advancement. The level of technological development accounts for the categorization of the world into advanced, developed and underdeveloped world. It is a fact that the development of any nation is hinged on the level of development in science. However, it has been a matter of concern to researchers how learners perceive science and also develop interest in its learning.
Osborn (2003) reported that substantive research works had been carried out for the past 30-40 years on students’ attitude towards the studying of science and the focus now is on the dwindling interest of young people in pursuing scientific careers. His findings showed a widespread scientific ignorance among the general populace and an increasing recognition of the importance and economic utility of scientific knowledge and cultural significance. Thus the falling numbers of people choosing to pursue science has become a matter of concern.
Attitude of students towards the learning of science is a matter of concern. It is not peculiar to a section of the universe. Even advanced and developed nations are bedevilled by this malaise. Osborn (2003) stressed that in England and Wales, there was a decline in the number of students who chose the three sciences at 16 for A-level.
Could gender be an issue when choosing a career in Science? Research showed a high ratio between boys’ and girls’ enrolment in science. The disparity is high in Physics and Chemistry (3.4:1) while the pendulum swings towards the girls in Biology (1:6) (Dearing 1996; Robert 2002). Among secondary school students in Nigeria, a greater number of boys offer science subjects as opposed to girls that are mainly found in commercial and arts related courses. This is one of the factors that informed the Science and Technology Education Research Group (STERG) to embark on a research of identifying factors that foster learners’ interest in science using Lagos State University Staff School pupils as a case study.
What is meant by “attitudes towards science? Kopfer (1971) and Osborn 2003 categorized attitude as a set of affective behaviour in science education as the manifestation of favourable attitudes towards science and scientists; the acceptance of scientific enquiry as a way of thought; the adoption of ‘scientific attitudes’; the enjoyment of learning experiences; the development of interests in science and science-related activities; and the development of an interest in pursuing a career in science or science related work.
There is the need to distinguish between ‘attitudes towards science’ and ‘scientific attitudes’ as suggested by Gardener (1975). The latter shows a complex picture of quest for knowledge, understanding, a questioning approach to all statements, a search for meaning, a demand for verification , a respect for logic, a consideration of premises and a consideration of consequences (Education Policies Commission 1962). The importance of science is emphasized in the primary school curriculum of the Universal Basic Education. Learners are being encouraged to study science at a tender age. This research is timely in order to determine or gauge the interest of the youngsters in science.
One needs to consider some notable factors when conducting a research into learners’ attitude towards science since attitude is not a single constructs. These constitute stumbling blocks to the study of science. Osborn 2003 summarized them as the perception of the science teacher; anxiety towards science; the value of science; self-esteem at science; motivation towards science; enjoyment of science; attitudes of peers and friends towards science, attitudes of parents towards science; the nature of classroom environment; achievement in science; and fear of failure on course.
In conducting research on learners’ interest in science on has to also distinguish between attitude and preference. These are some of the pressing factors that demand some explanations. Behaviour rather than attitude should be the focal point in fostering learner’s interest in science.
Perception accounts for rejection and acceptance of science. Pupils have the notion that science is difficult. Thus they rule themselves out in preparing to study science. How do pupils in Lagos State University perceive science? Do they rely on the popular opinion that science is difficult? Do they have interest in studying science? What are the things that motivate them in studying science? Do teachers make the subject interesting enough for learners to motivate them in studying science?
Statement of the Problem
Science is a subject that determines the growth and development of a nation. Every nation encourages its learning and teaching in schools. Studies have shown that learners’ perception and gender, to some extent, affects the learning of science. The problem with which this paper is concerned is how to foster pupils’ interest in science.
Justification of the study
This study is of paramount importance for it provides a base for evaluating the teaching and learning of science at the grass root level, it will also be very useful in reviewing and reprogramming the science curriculum in schools, while the findings will serve as a database for documenting research in science education and provide an avenue for training young scholars in qualitative research.
- Does the pattern of interaction in science classes in LASU staff schools enhance pupils’ interest in science?
- Does the way the teacher teach, and the pupils learn science affect their interest in science?
- What are the impediments to pupils having interest in science?
- What socio-cultural factors affect the interest of pupils in science?
- Do girls’ interests in science differ from boys’?
Interest is understood as a phenomenon that emerges from an individual’s interaction with his or her environment (Hidi and Renninger, 2006; Silvia, 2006). This postulate is the starting point of an individual theory of interest (Prenzel, 1992) also called person-object theory of interest (Krapp, 2002a,b). According to this theory interest evolve out of interaction between person and object in a social and institution setting (Hidi, Renninger, and Krapp, 2004; Shiefele, 2009). Thus interest in relation to an object is characterized by certain cognitive and affective components (Hidi, et al, 2004) values and feelings (Shiefele, 2009). An interest may be primarily caused by an external factors called situational interest, it may be transitory or may provide the basis of a longer-lasting interest (Hidi and Renninger, 2006; Krapp, 2002b). Interest as a multidimensional construct can be analyzed and operationalized at different level of generality and under consideration of different structural components of interest concept (Hidi, Renninger, and Krapp, 2004, Krapp and Prenzel, 2012; schiefele,2009; Silvia, 2006). It may also be explored according to subject area or specific topics, intra-individual as well as inter-individual distinctions (Osborne, et al 2003).
Studies (e.g Britner, 2008; Britner and Pajares, 2006) show that there is negative attitudes, declining interest. Studies like that of Chavous, Rivas-drake, Smalls, Griffins and Cogburn, 2008; Steinke, 2005; Sjoberg, 2002; Rubin, Bar and Cohen, 2003; Brickhouse and Porter, 2001) show that students’ interest and attitudes related to science are significantly differentiated according to age, gender as well as to socio-economic and cultural background and classroom environment( Buck, Cook, Quigley Eastwood and Lucas, 2009; Tan, Calabrese and Barton, 2008a,b).
Gender is believed to play major role I pupils’ attitude towards science(Brotman, and Moore, 2008; Murphy and Whitelegs, 2006). Krapp (2004) also believed that it depends to a large extent on the domain of science. Boys have consistently more positive attitude towards science than girls which was confirmed by the data emerging from the Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) study(Sjoberg and Schreiner,2005). Girls turn away from hard sciences more than boys (Haeussler and Hoffmann, 2000; Jones, Howe and Rua, 2000(. The differences between what boys and girls considered to be interesting were also reported in ROSE (Osborne and Dillon, 2008; Schreiner and Sjoberg, 2004; Schreiner and Sjoberg, 2005). It has also been found that temporarily separating boys from girls in science classroom can strengthen girls’ self-concept and interest(Kessels, Rau and Hannover, 2006). However, recent researches according to Martin, et al, 2008; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2007) show that the differences between boys and girls in the area of performances and that of interest are now very thin.
Class teaching can be viewed on a continuum between the extremes of formal and informal methods incorporated that are based on a variety of pupils’ individual learning style (Margvelashvili, 2012). Krapp, (2004)espoused creation of learning environment in which student actively interact with material to reach an actualized state called situational interest and eventually developing into an enduring and more stable state called individual interest. Bybee (2011) says inquiry is the building block for science education for elementary schools. It involves getting them to ask scientifically based questions about objects, living things and their natural world. And that its main features include opportunities for students to make connections between observations and collecting evidences, evaluate their own responses and clearly communicate and support their answers with evidences. Thus pupils are able to identify assumptions, consider alternative explanations and use critical and logical thinking at their level (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), 2002).
Looking at Rye (2005)’s principles for interaction in classroom pedagogical processes can then be codified into three types of teaching and learning processes, particular in adult(teacher) and child (learner) situation as:(a) teaching model where teacher initiates games, models and mediate tools, facilitate and promotes reflection (b) cooperation models where teacher and pupils are seen as collaborators and create joint activities and (c) autonomous models when teacher organizes the environment, observes self-initiated play and supports if necessary. Klein (2001) also listed five universal categories that turn an interaction between an adult (teacher) and child (pupil) into a mediating learning experience, focusing, affecting, expanding, competence and regulation. Mercer (2002) says that the quality of children’s educational experiences is significantly affected by the extent to which their dialogue with the teacher gives what they are doing in class the continuity of meaning and a comprehensible and worthwhile purpose.
Talk lesson, collaborative reasoning, narrative activities, peer group discussion, systematic theoretical instruction are all types of communication, interaction between teacher and pupil and among pupils. Teachers use talk to guide learning and construct a shared version of educational knowledge- gradual development of new problem solving skills and new ways of using language for representing knowledge and interpreting experience(Littleton,2010; Mercer, 1995). The aim of using talk in the classroom from the teacher’s perspectives are to elicit knowledge from students, to respond to things that students say, and to describe the shared classroom experiences in a way that the educational significance of those experiences is revealed and emphasized (Margvelashvili, 2012).
Teachers’ questions can also be used to test child’s factual knowledge or understanding, to manage classroom activities, to find out about pupil’s way of thinking in concrete situations, to clarify, explain, expand or justify pupil’s responses (Littleton,2010), and that the way the teacher can engage with the pupils is to incorporate children’s contributions into the continuous teaching and learning process. In all the expected classroom interaction should include situation where pupils are given opportunities and encouragement to question, express their views and comment on issues or ideas that arise during lesson; teacher engages in discussions with students for exploring and supporting development of their understanding of content; teacher considers and uses students’ contribution in expanding the subject theme of the lesson and designing activities which enable pupils to follow their understanding on their own.
It has been found that qualities of teacher-child relationship predicted later children’s classroom participation, interest and indirectly academic achievement (Ladd, 2010). Raved and Assarat (2011) investigated the attitude towards science learning among 10th grade students using a qualitative approach. Interview was the instrument used to gather data. The result indicated that interpersonal interaction between the teacher and the students, the relevance and authenticity of topics being studied and the diversity of the teaching method affects attitudes towards science learning. Positive attitudes and increase of interest towards science can be instigated through inquiry-based class (Buck, et al, 2009; Bulunuz and Jarret, 2010)
Individual factors have also been found to influence motivation to learn science. Such factors include home life, parental influence and peer pressure (Martin, 2002, Singh et al, 2002). Rothenberg (2005) and Teweney (1989) are of the opinion that children background experienced play a positive role in their interests in science. For instance they noted that studies on experiences of notable scientists such as Albert Einstein, Robert Burnswood and Charles Darwin suggested that rich and playful early childhood experiences with science had an impact of their learning and interest in science. Their interest were playing with physical gadgets, playing with mechanical construction sets, working with electricity and enjoying experiment that included “messing around”.
Research also indicates that playful engagement with science in childhood and youth influences interest in science. Accordingly, children need to be relatively free from testing pressures in schools and have freedom to wonder, explore, and discover in order to develop interest in science. For instance Joyce and Farenga(1999) examined the science perception of high ability upper elementary students and found that they had already decided whether they liked or disliked science before the age of nine. These children believed that their early childhood sciences experience, inside and outside of schools played a key role in the development of their interest.
This study adopts a mixed-methods approach to data collection and analysis. The quantitative methods served the coded information on the pattern of interaction during the delivery of instruction.
The qualitative part was designed to facilitate exploration of a phenomenon within its context using a variety of data sources. This is done in order to explore the problem from variety of directions which allow for multiple facets of the phenomenon to be understood. Stake (1995) and Yin (2006) proposed that the topic of interest be well explored, and the essence of the phenomenon is revealed. In view of this, this study will dig deep and identify the factors that may contribute to UBE (primary 3) pupils’ interest towards learning science and provide opportunities to find out detailed information on the: pattern of interaction in the class, styles of teaching and learning, impediments to pupils having interest in science, socio-cultural factors that affect pupils interest in science, and the difference between boys and girls towards science.
The school selected for this study is a University staff school located in Lagos, South-west of Nigeria. The school was considered because it runs same curriculum with others in the same region. It is also accessible to the research team.
The school has a sizeable population of four hundred and fifty pupils-comprising of male and female pupils alike with staff strength of fifty – five personnel comprising of teaching and non- teaching staff. It is a conspicuous two storey building and some supporting bungalow structures as part of the school facilities The school environment is well demarcated and decorated with an array of flowers of aesthetic presentation, carving out a walk-way and lawn that can be found in-between the gardens and the football field. The school storey building is surrounded closely by two bungalow buildings. The first bungalow is a six classroom building for preparatory pupils while the second is a library and the pupils’ canteen. The toilet is situated on the ground floor of the two storey building within which a preparatory and basic education classes are located. The classroom where teaching and learning activities took place occupies twenty pupils with five male and fifteen female pupils. The classroom has a teacher-who directs the classroom activities and regulates the class subjects.
The basic science laboratory is also situated on the ground floor of the building and facilities and equipment such as: demonstration table with water taps, immovable tables for students, whiteboard, a cupboard in which some equipment and specimen were kept, movable stools, microscope and teachers’ table. It has a capacity for twenty pupils. There was no technical staff employed to manage the laboratory. The computer laboratory occupies one of the classrooms on the first floor and has the capacity to accommodate twenty five pupils per time. It is ill-equipped as only one partially functioning computer system was found there. The laboratory is not well kept as many of the louver window blades were broken. Illumination and ventilation conditions were poor.
The target population of this study comprises of all UBE (primary 3) pupils in both public and private schools in Lagos state, south-west, Nigeria.
Since it is impossible to reach this target population, accessible sample was determined as twenty UBE (primary 3) pupils of the University staff school which is made up of fifteen female and five male and a science classroom teacher.
The instruments for this study include an Observation Protocol, Student Interview Schedule, and Teacher Interview Schedule. These instruments were validated through triangulation which is an approach that utilizes multiple data sources in order to gather multiple perspectives so as to gain a more complete understanding of phenomenon.
In Xie (2008), (Nunan, 1992) categorized interviews are into three types- unstructured, semi structured and structured. An unstructured interviewed is directed by respondents’ responses not by the researchers’ agenda. The research does not have any control over the course of the interview. In structured interview, the researcher has total control over where the interview goes and what should come of it by raising the pre-formulated questions in a pre-fixed order. A semi-structured interview is one in which the researcher prepares some questions in advance, but the researcher is not constrained by these questions. In the course of interview, the researcher constructs further questions based on the respondents’ responses.
We chose unstructured type of interview for the pupils because of the age of the respondents as the respondents may not be competent enough to respond to the other types of interviews. That is, semi structured and structured types. But a semi-structured interview type was used for the teacher.
All interviews were recorded, with the permission of the pupils being interviewed and school management. After the interviews, the recordings will be transcribed while taking care of the confidentiality of the respondents and their place of work.
Student Interview Schedule
A random sample of six pupils made up of four female and two male were interviewed for about 30 to 40 minutes. Six interview sessions which spanned three weeks at different days and by different members of the research team were covered. The female pupils were: Sola, Seun, Favour, and Amira who were all seven years old. The male students were: Tolu and Lore who were both seven years old.
The pupils were asked to give information on their: identity, fathers, and mothers educational background, perception on their science teachers’ style, interest in science, perception of their classroom activities, choice of future carrier, and reasons why they like or don’t like science.
Teacher Interview Schedule
Before going to the research site, the research team had already obtained approval from the head of the school to carry out this study, and the teacher, Mr. Tim (not real name) had expressed his willingness to participate. When we arrived at the classroom, we first talked with the teacher in the school about our study and outlined what the teacher was to be involved in. Afterwards the interview went on. The teacher was chosen because of his discipline and experience in the teaching of primary science. The pupils were asked to give information on: how he prepares for his lessons; the strategy adopted in making his pupils talk in the class; home work for his pupils; his opinion about his pupils home or cultural factors that inhibit their ability to learn science; how he corrects misconceptions of his pupils; challenges experienced on teaching science; and his educational background.
How the teacher teaches science in LASU Staff School
Analysis of the classroom observation schedule of lessons 1, 2 and 3 showed that the teacher dominated both the questioning and discussions taking place in the class without any trace of physical activities and/ or experiment taking place. The nature of interaction taking place during the lesson was predominantly verbal.
The fourth lesson observed however showed a deviation from the previous lessons, it involved less of questioning with few physical activities and experiment introduced by the teacher.
How Pupil learn science in LASU Staff School
As explained above, and revealed by the classroom observation schedule, Pupils involvement in science classroom instruction is dominated by answering questions posed by the teacher in form of verbal communication or discussion and few times asking questions to clarify concepts and terms.
The class mapping of transaction showed that pupils’ involvement during the observed lessons was however dominated by the female pupils either answering or asking questions and questions asked by the female pupils are more of high cognitive level.
Figure 1: Shows the response of students to the teacher’s questions during one of the lessons
Pupils’ interest in science
Analysis of the attitude questionnaire administered on the 22 pupils showed that majority of them find science interesting and like the way they are being taught by their teacher. It observed (box1) that only few of the pupils claimed to like science because their parents asked them to do it.Box 1
To confirm their interest in science, about half of the pupils only think science is difficult because “people say so” while more than a quarter of the students find it difficult to understand. This category of pupils needs more attention from their teacher to make their lessons more interesting and clearer to sustain the interest they already have and use that to build their knowledge level in the subject.
Box2: Extract from the teacher interview protocol
Q: How can you describe our pupils’ interest in science classes?
A: Oh! They show high interest and are always excited to learn.
Q: What do you think is responsible for this?
A: Well, to the best of my knowledge the children are treated like our own children and I always create a friendly atmosphere each time the class is taking place.
Impediments to pupils having interest in science
A significant observation from the classroom interaction as earlier presented is the domination of transactions in the classroom by the teacher, and through verbal communication only. Figure 2 gives the graphical illustration of this scenario.
Also from the classroom interaction protocols, the teacher spent about twenty one minutes in a class meant for thirty five minutes, which implies a waste of fourteen minutes that could be used for activities and further makes the class more interesting to the learner. Also observed in the narrative of transaction in one of the classes was the “noise factor” introduced by the teacher within the lesson period (box 1)
Q: How can you describe our pupils’ interest in science classes?
A: Oh! They show high interest and are always excited to learn.
Q: What do you think is responsible for this?
A: Well, to the best of my knowledge the children are treated like our own children and I always create a friendly atmosphere each time the class is taking place.
The teacher was ready to commence teaching at once, but spent some minutes looking for the duster, wrote the topic on the board and greeted the pupils.
Teacher asked the pupils to sit down, and asked the pupils for the last topic.
Student A gave a wrong response.
Teacher asked another pupil
A male pupil responded “Plants and Animals
Today we are looking at differences between plants and animals
Another significant observation from the pupils’ interview was the teacher’s non-use of home work to further develop pupils’ interest in science. Virtually all the six pupils interviewed claimed their teacher has never given them any form of home work in science. See box 2
Interviewer Do you usually get home work when you learn science?
Pupil 1 hen
Interviewer Do you usually get science homework? Does your science teacher give you home work
Pupil 1 No Sir
Interviewer He has never given you an home work
Interviewer Are you sure
Interviewer So, all you do is come to class, learn and then go back
Interviewer They don’t give you home work at all
Pupil1 Yes Sir
Interviewer: What was your last science homework your
Science teacher gave you?
Pupil2: No science homework was given
Analysis of the pupils’ interview protocol showed that all the six pupils interviewed like science, and five of these pupils enjoyed science as being taught in the class.
Table….. Shows the pupils are from mixed ethnic and religion background, that their parents are educated and of average economic status. This socio-economic status of the pupils’ parents may be responsible for their interest in science. Majority of the pupils claimed they will study science if their culture, religion or parents do not support or limit it to certain gender.
It is important to note that while many of the pupils supported this claim with statements such as “I want to be a scientist”, “it is my right to study science”, pupil 6 with the only discerning voice, claimed she will not study science if her religion, and/or culture forbid or limit it to a particular gender because “she has to obey rules and regulations”. She however, claimed she will not dislike science if her parents dislike it.
A 51 year old parent (mother) of one of the pupils, a Christian, educated and of average socio- economic status stressed in an interview by one of the researcher that she would never influence pupils’ choice of science as a subjects based on gender, culture or religion. See box3
Box 3: Gender issue on choice of science as a career
Q: In the study of science between your boy and girl- child who do you consider important?
A: They are my children, so they are both important in whatever they intend to study.
Q: Do you suggest that your girl-child should study science?
A: Yes now. Why not? Girls have been studying science before now.
Q: Don’t you think that science will be too rigorous for her?
A: It is all the learning process. There’s nothing different about science if you are serious about studying science.
Q: Can you impose your opinion on your children when it comes to the study of science?
A: Nooo! When I am not the one in the classroom
Q: Can you because of culture or religion suggest that science should be studied by boys only?
A: No way. Religion and culture does not have any bearing with Education especially in this civilized world.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Based on the findings of this study, the following conclusions are drawn:
Quality of science instruction as depicted by the studied school is a reflection of what obtains in many primary schools without the teacher taking cognisance of the lopsidedness in terms effective implementation of the curriculum which requires the science classroom to full of activities with the pupils at the centre while the teacher becomes a facilitator.
The socio economic background of pupils is an important factor in developing and sustaining pupils’ interests in science and invariably enhances their scientific knowledge, skills and attitude. Although, cultural and religious inclination of pupils have not been reported a major influence of pupils’ choice or interest in science, when it exists and contradicts pupils’ position, obedience or compliance with the cultural and religious dictates will most likely take precedence.
Gender is not in a way an inhibiting factor in pupils’ building interest and participation in science, both parents and the school settings give equal opportunity to both sexes to participate and achieve optimally in science.
It is therefore recommended as follows:
Science teachers should ensure their classes are planned with activities for the learner and introduce varieties into their presentation strategies to develop and sustain pupils’ interest in science and as well enhance their participation and achievement in science. They should also ensure that activities planned provide links between knowledge acquired in the classroom and its relevance to their day to day activities at home and in the larger society. This should reflect in the types of assignments or projects planned for the pupils.
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