Elementary School Students' Attitudes toward Science and Their Course of Studies in High School

By Shamai, Shmuel | Adolescence, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Elementary School Students' Attitudes toward Science and Their Course of Studies in High School


Shamai, Shmuel, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

The placement of high school students in their course of study in general and in science studies in particular is attributed to many factors. Studies which try to predict students' outcomes are usually cross-sectional rather than longitudinal and focus on the relationships among a variety of variables such as those in the "educational productivity model" (Fraser, Welch, & Welberg, 1986; Welch, Welberg, & Fraser, 1986). Among the variables in this model are ability, motivation, quality of instruction, attitudes toward teachers, quantity of instruction, class and home environment, race, and gender. The "prediction" is based on relationships among a variety of items in a specific time period. Interestingly, gender is an important predictor of students' achievement in science learning.

School subject choice (science in particular), can be thought of as an expression of gender stereotypes that exist in society at large. These stereotypes portray the male as the dominant person, the one who works outside the home in often prestigious occupations, while the female is usually portrayed as being subordinate and confined to the home (Tracy, 1987; Steitmatter, 1985). Moreover, these stereotypes reinforce the fact that females predominantly choose the humanities and domestic sciences, while males choose science- and technology-related fields (Clarricoates, 1978).

It is claimed that schools, teachers, and the school curriculum, encourage girls to adopt passive and dependent behavior, and males to adopt aggressive and independent behavior. Moreover, gender stereotypes in textbooks have been well documented (Sarrio, Jacklin, & Title, 1973; Simpson, 1974). The effect of extracurricular activities on peer group culture also leads to similar results (Eder & Parker, 1987). Further, "the activities, experiences, interests, achievements, and modes of thinking of girls have been accorded lower status and have been judged deficient" (Manicom, 1984, p. 79).

The situation in Israel is not much different from other societies (Friedler & Tamir, 1989; Clarricoates, 1981). For example, in Israel 19.1% of grade 12 males examined for matriculation major in physics, while only 5.2% of the females do so. In mathematics 26.4% of males take the 5-unit (the highest level) examination, while only 12.7% of females do so (Shprinzak & Amir, 1988, p. 40).

In other studies different attitudes toward school subjects were found; for example, in a cross-cultural study, both Canadian and Chinese students manifested gender differences in their attitudes toward computers and mathematics (Coilis & Williams, 1987). In both grades 8 and 12, boys had significantly more positive attitudes toward these subjects than did girls. However, no differences were found with regard to science among Canadian and Chinese students.

In a study in Sweden of grades 3, 4, 7, 8, & 9 in 1970 and 1983 "boys performed better than girls" in science (Engstrom & Noonan, 1990, p. 450). However, the findings indicated by students' responses to "science subjects in school are interesting" is more complicated: "In grades 3 and 4 the attitudes are almost the same for boys and girls. Then from grade 7, while boys steadily get a little bit more negative year by year, girls vary much over the years up to grade 9. In grade 9, boys and girls tend to yield the same negative attitude. The main changes in the girls' attitudes found in grade 8 are a higher proportion of I do not know answers" (p. 452).

In a study conducted of 28,000 students in Maryland, Virginia, analysis of the data "confirms findings from other surveys concerning gender differences in achievement in mathematics. Boys and girls perform evenly well through the first years of high school, but in the final years, fewer girls than boys opt for more advanced mathematics courses and male students tend to score higher than females on the mathematics sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)" (Norman, 1988, p. …

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