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Science enthusiasm under the microscope


Steve Spinks
6 May 2013
The methods used by science teachers has a significant influence on the interest of students studying the subject, according to research from Southern Cross University.

With a crisis in school science in Australia due to declining numbers of students choosing to study the subject, these findings could influence practices in the classroom.

Dr Marianne Logan and Adjunct Professor Keith Skamp, from the University’s School of Education, have just published research in the International Journal of Science Education which chartered the interest in science of 14 students over four years from Year 7 to 10 and how their interest fluctuated. The paper is called ‘The Impact of Teachers and Their Science Teaching on Students’ Science Interest: A four-year study’.

“The presence or absence of simple, but effective, teaching practices, identified by these students, seems to suggest one way to retain or improve situational and, it would appear, in several cases, personal interest,” Dr Logan said.

“These years are a critical phase for the development of science interest. Insight is required as once students lose interest in science it can be difficult to turn around. There are declining numbers of Australian students choosing science subjects in senior secondary school and pursing science as a career. This decline will impact on the scientific literacy of the Australian community and its ability to participate effectively in decision-making related to contemporary scientific issues.”

The researchers measured ‘science interest’ of the students while concurrently seeking their voice concerning the attractiveness of the lesson content and the manner in which it was presented by the teacher.

“We found that there was a clear alignment between science learning experiences and a student’s science interest,” Dr Logan said.

“Furthermore, this was enhanced with a good relationship between the teacher and the students, particularly when humour was used to develop rapport. Not surprisingly, there was disinterest in extensive note taking but by contrast all students expressed their enjoyment of practical science and participating in experiments.

“Students also believe their teachers need to make their instructions and explanations clear as a lack of understanding of what is expected in a lesson can lead to students doubting their own capabilities and thereby losing interest. Being aware of how the students were accommodating science information was also highlighted as an important teaching quality.

“We also found that teachers need to provide an adequate level of challenge to avoid boredom in the classroom and class discussions using socio-scientific issues, issues that relate to the lives of their students, was a good way to do this. Students also appreciated the use of technology when being presented with information.

“The idea of bringing school science and the out-of-school science community together is also seen as an effective way to enhance science learning and make the subject more relevant.

“While this study can be enlightening for science educators, we also note the limitations of the study in that it was with 14 students in one school and most of the students were from the middle and upper-socio economic range and the majority of the students were in the high performing classes.”

Photo: Dr Marianne Logan with pupils from Bexhill Public School.