Seeding science success: Ascertaining the barriers and relations between students' self-concepts, motivation, aspirations, and achievement in high school science

Year: 2012

Author: Chandrasena, Wanasinghe, Craven, Rhonda, Tracey, Danielle, Dillon, Anthony

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Science is a vital area as it focuses on meeting basic human needs in diverse fields. Hence, science understanding is an increasingly precious resource throughout the world. There has been a steady decline in the number of students studying science over the past decades. Researchers from many different disciplines have been trying to identify the factors that contribute to students' reluctance to enter the science field. Research has shown that there is a positive relation between students' self-concepts, motivation, aspirations, and achievement. However, little is known about the nature of these relations in key scientific domains. As such, the aims of this study are to: (1) develop a psychometrically sound tool to measure secondary students' science self-concepts, motivation and aspirations in biology, chemistry, earth & environmental science, and physics; (2) test the relation of multi-dimensional facets of secondary students' science self-concepts, motivation, aspirations, and achievement across gender and age levels; and (3) identify the barriers to undertaking science for secondary students.

This is a mixed methods study comprising student surveys, student focus groups, and teacher interviews. Surveys were conducted in three high schools with 395 students across three different age levels using a researcher devised instrument. Twelve student focus groups and ten teacher interviews were conducted in two schools. The survey data will be analysed through descriptive analytical methods followed by reliability tests, confirmatory factor analysis, and structural equation modeling and the interview data will be analysed using content and thematic analytical methods.

The first phase of results shows a variety of associations between varying levels of students' self-concepts, motivation, aspirations, and achievement in high school science disciplines. Qualitatively speaking a number of perceived barriers were raised surrounding issues of the difficulty of the subject matter, quality teaching, and the limited perceived career opportunities available in science. In combination, both the quantitative and qualitative results elucidate what may be important characteristics for the fostering future of successful science students.

Conclusion and significance
Preliminary results suggest that students' self-concepts, motivation, and aspirations are related with their engagement in high school science. It is also clear that students do have very definite opinion about science. The findings of this study will be utilised to inform theory, research, and practice on seeding success in science.