Elementary Students' Attitudes toward Social Studies, Math, and Science: An Analysis with the Emphasis on Social Studies

By Dundar, Sahin; Rapoport, Anatoli | The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Elementary Students' Attitudes toward Social Studies, Math, and Science: An Analysis with the Emphasis on Social Studies


Dundar, Sahin, Rapoport, Anatoli, The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences


Introduction

Students' attitudes toward a subject are a fairly accurate measure of their interest in that subject. Attitudes are also an important parameter of the state of education as well as a significant predictor of students' future choices. An attitude is a state of readiness that allows an individual to perceive phenomena in certain ways and to act accordingly; attitudes are also dynamic and have motivational qualities (Halloran, 1967). Since attitudes influence behavior, they play an important role in a decision-making process. If a given subject is to continue to have public support at local, state, or federal levels, attitudes toward this subject should be positive. Negative attitudes toward a subject may result in the decline of resources because all present day stakeholders were at some time students whose attitudes toward subjects can persist (Haladyna, Shaughnessy, & Olsen, 1979). Scientists have also recorded a positive correlation between attitude and achievement, and between attitude and career preferences related to subjects (Haladyna et al., 1979; Haladyna, Shaughnessy, & Redsun, 1982; Haladyna, Shaughnessy, & Shaughnessy, 1983).

For decades, studies have been conducted to record students' attitudes toward various subjects so that educators could understand which school subjects are considered more preferable, likable, difficult, or important. When it comes to attitudes towards social studies, the importance attributed to this subject in schools does not correspond with its mission; it is not deemed as important as it should be (Schug, Todd, & Beery, 1982; Wood et al., 1989). This underemphasis on the importance of social studies is one of the reasons why the subject has been often ignored compared to other core subjects such as reading, science, or mathematics (Bailey, Shaw & Hollifield, 2006; Thornton & Houser, 1996). Many researchers have noted that students in elementary and middle schools see social studies as one of the least interesting and most irrelevant subjects in the school curriculum (Chapin, 2006; Chiodo & Byford, 2004; Goodlad, 1984; Greenblatt, 1962; Haladyna & Thomas, 1979; Herman, 1963; Inskeep & Rowland, 1965; Stodolsky, Salk, & Glaessner, 1991; Wolters & Pintrich, 1998). For example, Greenblatt's (1962) study among 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders (n=282) demonstrated that elementary school students find mathematics (arithmetic) and science more enjoyable than social studies. Herman (1963) collected data from 4th, 5th, and 6th graders (n=214) and found that students liked social studies less than science and mathematics (arithmetic) and that social studies was the least liked subject. In Inskeep and Rowland's (1965) study among upper elementary students (n=550), participants ranked social studies lower than mathematics and science. As a result, upper elementary students were less interested in social studies than any other subject. Fifth grade students who were interviewed by Stodolsky et al. (1991) ranked social studies 7th among 10 subjects. This dramatic state of social studies led Chiodo and Byford (2004) to conclusion that "historically, when elementary and high school students were surveyed, the most dominant negative perception was that social studies was boring and had little relevance to their lives" (p. 16).

Researchers outline a number of reasons for students' predominantly negative attitudes toward social studies. Although all the reasons are interconnected, they can be roughly split into two categories: motivational and curricular. Many scholars and practitioners point to the lack of interest or motivation among students as the major reason for their negative attitudes toward social studies. On the one hand, motivational deficiency is explained by the perception that social studies is boring and won't provide life skills (Chiodo & Byford, 2004; Schug et al., 1982). On the other hand, social studies was "uninteresting" because the students were not active in social studies classes and they considered the classes boring and difficult (Russell & Waters, 2010, Schug, et al. …

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