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Logan, MR 2007, 'Transition or lack of it? Looking at the changes in students' attitudes to, and interest in, science over the primary/secondary interface', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright MR Logan 2007


The science education literature reveals a crisis in school science in Australia, and a number of other countries (Tytler, 2007a), relating to a decrease in positive attitude in science as students move from primary school into secondary school (Braund & Driver, 2005; Ferguson & Fraser, 1998; James & Smith 1985; Jarman, 1990; Keogh & Naylor, 2004; Simpson & Oliver, 1985) and as students progress through secondary school (Baird, Gunstone, Penna, Fensham, & White, 1990; Simpson & Oliver, 1990; Yager & Yager, 1985) as well as declining numbers of students choosing science subjects in senior secondary school (Goodrum et aI., 2001) and pursuing science as a career (Metherell, 2006; Rothapfel, 2004). This is at a time when science and technology play a major role in society and people are looking towards science to address the environmental problems associated with global warming and health issues in the 21st Century.

The studies described in this thesis look at the changes in students' attitude to, and interest in, science, and the factors that affect these changes over the primary/secondary interface. The major research projects outlined in this thesis are a longitudinal case study and a cross-sectional attitudinal survey.

The case study looks at 20 students who were in year six in 2004, and year seven in 2005. It is essentially a qualitative component and the main focus ofthis research project. In order to give students a voice and to see how students perceive science, multiple sources of data were used in this case study. These included: semi-structured interviews; focus groups; classroom observations; short surveys; attitudinal questionnaires; teacher interviews; students' journals; students' work samples; parent surveys; and researcher diaries. The attitudinal survey is a quantitative component consisting of an attitudinal questionnaire (developed by Pell and Jarvis [2001]) that was administered to students in years 5 to 10 (N=264) in 2004, in the schools and classes where the case study participants attended. The findings from this attitudinal survey therefore provided contextual data for the case study and a benchmark to allow comparison of the 20 study participants with this larger sample.

In contrast to the results of the attitudinal survey, which followed the common trend of decline in science interest as students go from primary into secondary school, the majority of the participant students retained a positive attitude to, and a genuine interest in, science, over the primary/secondary interface. The results of data gained from both the quantitative and qualitative components of the study, including the commonalities and differences arising from narratives that were developed for each participant student over the primary/secondary interface, are presented.

The final chapter of this thesis outlines a project initiated by the teachers in the participant schools involved in the studies in response to being presented with the findings of the attitudinal survey which revealed a decline in students' positive attitudes towards science over the primary/secondary divide. The project was initiated to enhance innovative teaching in science and it included a bridging unit of work that was designed in the attempt to create a smooth transition for students as they moved from primary into secondary school in science. Although the studies outlined in this thesis are small and cannot be generalised, important issues have emerged that have implications for science educators.