טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
Ph.D Thesis
Ph.D StudentSwirski Hani
SubjectWhy Can't I Fly? Common Interests in Science Questions as a
Resource to Promote Student Voice in Science
Education
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari
Full Thesis text - in Hebrew Full thesis text - Hebrew Version


Abstract

Why can't we fly? Do jellyfish have brains? These fascinating questions are a source for books, media and for a variety of Ask-An-Expert websites. Can these questions serve as a resource for teaching while addressing one of the main problems in science education?

Over the past decade, studies have indicated that students' interest in learning science is declining and science professions are less attractive to young people. Although there is a consensus that interest has a strong influence on students' career choices, their interests are usually not considered when reforming science education.

This PhD project is based on the “shadow-curriculum” model, which identifies student interests based on their questions and suggests an applicable solution for incorporating them into the formal curriculum in a planned manner.

However, students don’t ask many questions during class. Yet, the Internet is filled with user queries. Can these questions represent student interest in science? This was examined using an online-questionnaire, which included questions about science-curriculum topics, randomly selected from science textbooks, an “Ask-An-Expert” website, and other students of the same age. A sample of 113 5th-graders were asked to rate their interest level in each question. Findings indicated that the textbook questions were ranked lowest, and questions from the “Ask-An-Expert” website were ranked higher, suggesting that these websites could be used to identify students' interests.

However, the implementation of this idea depends on the stability of students' interests over time and their generalizability across different groups of learners. These questions were examined by comparing over 700 questionnaires collected in 2007 to over 1,600 almost identical questionnaires administered in 2016. The participants were 4th-12th graders asked to rate their interest level in 32 science questions. A significantly high correlation was found in student interest in specific questions between 2007 and 2016 (r=0.93), implying interest in science remained relatively stable over a decade.

The generalizability of interest was also examined in an informal setting by analyzing 7,792 science-related questions posted by visitors at a commercial curiosity exhibition for children aged 5-12 in 2014. Stereotypical differences in science interests were confirmed, with the popularity of Biology among girls in comparison to Technology and Physics among boys. However, members of both genders submitted very often similar questions.

Finally, three teachers were interviewed about interesting questions posed as part of the curriculum they teach. They found the questions to be a valuable resource, relevant to students’ everyday life.

The national science-curriculum of Israel is based on the Science, Technology and Society approach, which emphasizes the relevance of science to students' everyday life. However, this study show that relevance is not a guarantee for interest. Thus, this suggests the incorporation of fascinating questions into science teaching, since such questions may represent the interests of many students over a long period of time. Above all, the questions present science not as a list of facts that were already answered by others, but as a developing field. This is the nature of science, and it should also be the nature of science education.