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Who Wants to Learn More Science? The Role of Elementary School Science Experiences and Science Self-Perceptions


by Pamela R. Aschbacher & Marsha Ing — 2017

Background/Context: Much science education reform has been directed at middle and high school students; however, earlier experiences in elementary school may well have an important impact on young people’s future science literacy and preparation for possible STEM careers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study explores the relationships among fifth-graders’ perceived learning opportunities in school science, their perceptions of self in science, and their desire to take more science courses in middle and high school.

Research Design: To directly address concerns about the reproducibility of results of small educational studies, this study explores whether results from one sample are replicated in a second, different sample. The fifth-grade students from two different samples of public elementary students in California (Sample 1: n = 363; Sample 2: n = 327) completed surveys about students’ perceived school science experiences, sense of themselves as science learners, and aspirations to learn more science in the future. The analyses of both samples included regression analyses to explore the relationship between science self-perceptions and wanting to take future science classes, as well as whether students’ perceived opportunities to participate in science activities might influence the relationship between self-perceptions and wanting to take more science in the future.

Findings/Results: There were positive and significant relationships between both school science learning opportunities and wanting to take more science courses, and science self-perceptions and wanting to take more science courses. Analyses indicate that both factors need to be considered when predicting who is eager to learn more science. These findings were consistent across both samples and were robust even after including student-level and school-level and controlling for the nested structure of the data.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings highlight the importance of fifth-graders’ self-perceptions in understanding the effects of science learning opportunities on their desire to learn more science. Thus, school science opportunities may be necessary but not sufficient for increasing student interest in learning more science. Since teachers have influence on both learning activities and a student’s sense of self as a science learner, the results underscore the importance of preparing elementary teachers to foster student desire to learn more science in the future.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 8, 2017, p. 1-24
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21911, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 7:15:13 AM

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About the Author
  • Pamela Aschbacher
    California Institute of Technology
    E-mail Author
    PAMELA R. ASCHBACHER is the Director of Research at the Caltech Precollege Science Initiative at the California Institute of Technology. Her research interests lie primarily in assessing and supporting STEM teaching and learning. She has studied and evaluated STEM education, directed the development of K–12 performance assessments in science and other subjects, coauthored the book A Practical Guide to Alternative Assessment, and published in journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Marsha Ing
    University of California, Riverside
    E-mail Author
    MARSHA ING is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Her research on measuring STEM teaching and learning includes publications in Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice and Educational Studies in Mathematics.
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