Students' attitudes to learning physics at school and university levels in Scotland

Skryabina, Elena (2000) Students' attitudes to learning physics at school and university levels in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The department of Physics of the University of Glasgow was concerned about losing students after the end of the level 1 Physics course. The current research project started as an attempt to find out the reasons for this, but moved to investigate attitudes towards Physics at several stages during secondary school and attitudes towards science with primary pupils. Analyses of factors, which influence students' intentions towards studying Physics, were performed against the background of the Theory of Planned Behaviour, which interprets people's behaviour by considering three factors: attitude towards behaviour (advantages or disadvantages of being involved in the behaviour, e.g. studying Physics for Honours); subjective norm (approval or disapproval of important people towards engaging in the behaviour, e.g. parents, teacher, general norms of the society); perceived behavioural control (skills, knowledge, cooperation of others, abilities, efforts required to perform the behaviour). Analysis of these factors revealed some reasons for students' withdrawal from Physics after level 1 and pointed to factors which may facilitate students' persistence in the subject. A general analysis of level 1 and level 2 students' attitudes towards different aspects of the university Physics course revealed that the level 1 students' attitudes towards their university course of lectures and course of laboratories tended to be negatively polarised. Recommendations were suggested on the basis of the gathered evidence about how to make students' experience in university Physics more satisfactory for them. The data obtained from the separate analyses of females' and males' attitudes towards university Physics course have showed that attitudes of females and males were similar. The only significant difference between level 1 females and males was found to be the perceived behavioural control factor (students' attitudes towards course difficulty, attitudes towards work load in the course), which was significantly lower for females than for males. Special attention in this work was given to the problem of university Physics laboratory practice. Possibilities to improve students' attitudes towards laboratory work were discussed. This could be done through introduction of pre-lab (aimed to consolidate students' grasp of the necessary background for performing the experiment) and post-lab (aimed to provide students with opportunity to apply the theory they have learned and skills they have obtained from doing laboratory work to solve everyday problems). Examples of pre- and post-labs that were designed for the first term of the level 1 university Physics laboratory practice are given in the Appendix T. The project was extended from the university to the school area where cross-age analyses (measurements at one time with pupils of different age) of pupils' attitudes towards Science/Physics lessons were performed. Pupils from upper Primary P6/P7 up to Higher S5/S6 were involved in the research. These analyses have shown that patterns of Scottish pupils' attitudes towards Science/Physics lessons are not linear with age: attitudes of pupils who were self-selected towards the subject were not always more positive than attitudes of lower level pupils: primary school pupils' attitudes towards science lessons were significantly more positive than attitudes of secondary S2 pupils; pupils doing Standard Grade Physics course were similar in their evaluations of Physics lessons at both S3 and S4 levels; at Higher Grade Physics pupils' attitudes towards science lessons were significantly less positive than attitudes of Standard Grade Physics pupils. Pupils' attitudes towards Science/Physics lessons can be considered as a good indicator of pupils' reactions towards existing syllabuses in Science and Physics. Special attention in this study was devoted to the so-called "problem of girls in Physics". Separate analyses of boys' and girls' interests towards Physics topics revealed that although boys and girls are equally interested in certain areas of the subject, there are areas in Physics where boys and girls interests are significantly different. No differences were found in intensity of boys' and girls' interests towards suggested Physics topics at primary P6/P7 level, S3 and S5/S6 levels. At S2 and S4 levels a significant decline of girls' interests relative to boys interests was observed. S2 and S4 stages are decision making ones when pupils have the opportunity to select courses for the future. It was also revealed that the ratio of boys to girls in Physics once established at S2 level remains unchanged through the years of Standard Grade and Higher Grade Physics courses. This may indicate that if the number of girls in Physics is an issue for concern then attention should be paid to the primary and, especially early secondary years to attract girls to Physics. School Physics courses in Scotland revealed a high retention rate of girls in Physics. Analyses of preferred activities revealed that practical work is the most enjoyable activity in Science/Physics lessons for both girls and boys at every stage of schooling and studying the theory was found to be the least enjoyable activity at school for both genders at every age. The picture was almost the reverse with university Physics students.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Norman Reid
Keywords: Science education, Physics
Date of Award: 2000
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2000-73390
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/73390

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