On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
Carleton College, Northfield, MN
Cutting Edge > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Martina Nieswandt
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Martina Nieswandt

Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Martina Nieswandt

What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

Role of affective domain in learning content; Interplay of students' perceptions and emotions about evolutionary theory (tension between scientific theory and general beliefs that scientific theories are "just" another belief system parallel to religious beliefs)

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

Doing research focusing on the relationship between motivation, affect (interest, attitudes, self-concept, self-efficacy) and conceptual understanding of high school science. Teaching in the preservice program (middle school and high school) with an emphasis on theory-based program integrating e.g., Nature of Science, equity, and affective dimension of learning scientific concepts.

Essay: A dialectical relationship between students' motives and interest and teaching approaches

The following case study focuses on how students' perceptions about a science course are reflected in their motivation and interest in learning and how this relates to the teacher's teaching approaches. The case study is part of a research project investigating how students' motivation and affects (interest and attitudes toward science) influences their learning of science concepts in a one-year grade 11 Science General course. The study was conducted at an independent university preparatory all boys' school, which has a strong academic reputation. The grade 11 Science General course was being offered at the school for the first time. It was intended to meet the students' need for a senior science credit while providing an alternative to the typical university preparation courses in physics, chemistry, and biology. It is not accepted as a prerequisite for studying science at university. It was also profiled as an environmental science course with an implicit and probably unintended emphasis on its lower status in contrast to the discipline-oriented science courses. Thus, the course was only chosen by students not planning to pursue a career in science.

The course used a curriculum that I developed in cooperation with the teacher. Based on the Ontario Science Curriculum it emphasized the role of science and technology in daily life and in relation to social and environmental issues. The course units included topics such as nutrition, waste management, space and micro-gravity, and technologies in everyday life. Using student-centered teaching strategies the topics were taught focusing on ethical, environmental, and economic issues that involve various societal viewpoints. I collected data using a mixed-methods approach: weekly classroom observation, individual student and teacher interviews and questionnaires administered three times throughout the school year. For this case study, I focus on students' and teacher interviews.

The analysis of the series of students' interviews reveal five major perceptions of the course, which did not change throughout the school year: "Dead-end", "just a credit", "for non-science people", "not a real science course", and "everyday knowledge accumulation". The boys used these perceptions as a justification for why they put only a minimum of effort into it; it does not count as a prerequisite for any of the subjects that they want to study at university; it "only" gets them there. This pragmatic approach is also linked to students' perception of not being able to do the real science. They stressed that if they were capable of doing science, then they would not have enrolled in this "not a real science course" or "course for non-science people"; instead they would have enrolled in any of the discipline-oriented courses. These various themes emphasize how deeply the boys internalized the school's mission of high academic standards valuing only discipline-oriented university-preparation courses positively and viewing them as the standard of imparting academic knowledge. Yet, students' perception also reflects two socioculturally determined public views: First, of science as a subject for only smart people (Bell & Lederman, 2003) and second, that an understanding of environmental or socio-scientific issues (Sadler & Zeidler, 2005) such as global climate change, land-use decisions, cloning or stem cell research as not being real science. However, it was these topics that resulted in a situational change of their interest and motivated them to develop an understanding about topics that had relevance for their future lives. This situational change did not, however, result in a change of the boys' general motivation and interest. Instead, their perception of these topics as easy and everyday, their internalized socioculturally determined view of science, and their internalized school mission were more powerful messages and were incorporated into the students' motivational structure.

The teacher, Amanda, was aware of the boys' dominant perceptions of the course. However, through highlighting the importance of the connections of science to everyday life she was able to challenge their negative feelings towards science sporadically. It was these connections that triggered situational change in students' motivation and interest and at the same time, kept up Amanda's on-going effort and motivation to find interesting activities and topics alive throughout the school year, although by the end her frustration with the course was clearly evident.

These results hint towards a dialectical interdependence of students' individual motives and interests and teacher's teaching approaches. They also suggest the importance of integrating more STS topics in our science curricula or, more radically, teaching scientific concepts through their immersion in STS topics.

Bell, R.l., & Lederman, N.G. (2003). Understanding the nature of science and decision making on science and technology based issues. Science Education, 87, 352-377.

Sadler, T.D., & Zeidler, D.L. (2005). Patterns of informal reasoning in the context of socioscientific decision making. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42 (1), 112-138.

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