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Activity Matters: Understanding Student Interest in School Science

June 22, 2012
* This review was written by Amber Johnson (uploaded via Jerrid Kruse)
Reference: Swarat, S., Ortony, A. and Revelle, W. (2012), Activity matters: Understanding student interest in school science. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 49: 515–537. doi: 10.1002/tea.21010

This article discusses and researches the effects of student interest in science (content topic, activity, and learning goals) during different science lessons. Researchers search to identify sources of student interest or ways to create more interest in science.

What is known:

The most important part of a science lesson is the type of activity and content topic or learning goal causes little or no variance in student interest. The article addresses that this concept is not new, that students’ preference for engaging and hands on activities is widely recognized.

What this research adds

The article goes into further detail about why student interest is primarily directed at the activity portion of the lesson. The activities are likely to promote student interest and motivation because they allow the student to make decisions and gain a sense of autonomy and competence (Blumenfeld et al., 2006). The articles goes into detail about the lack of direction in creating activities appropriate for students and mentions that resources such as the Atlas of Science Literacy provide descriptions and concept map of what students should know and be able to do, but they do not provide information on how the material should be taught.

Implications for practice

What I took away from this was, that teachers need to be pedagogically knowledgeable and able to come up with appropriate activities on their own through repeated trial and error, experience, and collaboration with others. Although I am still a pre-service teacher, I have a hunch that I doubt many teachers would prefer to have any more scripted lessons where teacher decisions are completely eliminated and teachers are handed a curriculum with all decisions regarding content, activities and learning goals are already made.  This creates a robot of sorts and teachers are no longer teaching, they are merely a messenger relaying information to children instead of actively teaching and accounting for learner differences.

The article further reinforced to me that science lessons where students are mostly stationary and in their seats the entire time are not effective. Having students read a chapter from the book and answer review questions should not be a lesson that students do frequently. This type of lesson is not hands on or engaging for the student, which means they are likely not learning the material in a meaningful way. To teach science effectively requires thoughtful planning and preparation to create activities that will yield results and, as mentioned before, plenty of trial and error and reflection from the science teacher.

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