September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Preparing for New School Year: Supporting High School Students’ Science Motivation

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Sandra Simpkins and Yangyang Liu

When science teachers prepare for a new school year, they often think about how they can teach their students science concepts and principles in an interesting way. Not only is it important to spark students’ initial interest in science, but is also key to help maintain students’ interest in science. Without that continued support, students who were once interested in science run the risk of losing that interest (Renninger & Hidi, 2016). In fact, 45% of 10th grade students interested in pursuing a STEM career (that is, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career) lost that interest by the end of high school (Aschbacher, Li, & Roth, 2010) – making high school a critical time for science. High school is often the first time when students can opt out of science coursework as most states require less than four years of science coursework to graduate. When students lose interest in science, they are less likely to take elective science courses – which hinders their college science prospects.

Science teachers are not the only ones who can support students’ science interest. Teachers can help support students’ interest by getting them connected with exciting science opportunities at their school or community, such as clubs and museums. One goal of our research has been to study the importance of family support in students’ motivation in a variety of areas including science, math, English, sports, and music. With funding from the National Science Foundation, we have spent several years studying whether family support is important for the Latino high school students’ science motivation.

The typical narrative around parent involvement in high school, particularly for ethnic minority and low-income families, is that parents are not involved. It is true that high school parents typically are less involved in their children’s schools than elementary and middle school parents. But, the focus of many of these studies is on parents’ contact with teachers and involvement in school opportunities, such as the PTA. Many parents have hectic work schedules that make meeting with teachers challenging. And, for some cultures parents believe they should defer to the school and focus their support within their home. While parents may be pulling back from being on the school campus, many parents are still doing things at home.

CCSAdBOur research suggests that parents’ home-based support of their 9th grade students in science is related to how much students believe they are good at science and their value of science in 9th grade and increases in students’ motivational beliefs from 9th to 10th grade (Simpkins, Gaskin, & Kloberdanz, 2016; Simpkins, Price, & Garcia, 2015). Parents’ support predicts students’ motivational beliefs even after we take into account students’ science course grade and whether they are in honors or basic science, which suggests this relationship is not because students who are doing well in science have strong motivational beliefs and supportive parents. So, what were parents doing at home?

In our study, we have parents and high school students report how often parents provide general positive support, engage in science-related activities and conversations, as well as support their student in their science coursework. Positive general support includes things such as telling teenagers they are good at science and helping their teenager feel better when science is hard. Parent-adolescent co-activity includes watching science TV shows, talking about science-related current events, and talking about science careers/majors. Last, support around science coursework includes behaviors like checking if their teenagers’ homework is completed and encouraging them to work with friends or other family members who are good at science. Importantly, many of these parent behaviors do not require parents to be science experts. Some parents hesitate to help their children with science-related schoolwork because they feel the subject matter is too complicated or surpasses their level of education. However, our study suggests that parents can engage in other meaningful ways that do not require mastery of science facts in textbooks and still help their teenagers’ motivation in science.

As part of one paper, we tested whether there were differences between White boys, White girls, Latino boys, and Latina girls. White students and male students received more support and had higher motivational beliefs in science than Latino students and female students. As a result, White boys often had the highest science resources whereas Latina girls had the lowest science resources. However, we found that many of ethnic differences were partially explained by family background such as parent education and parents’ language preference. In other words, Latino students may have lower parent support and science motivation than white students, in part, because Latino families often have more limited parental resources, such as education. In addition, Latina girls continued to be at a disadvantage compared to other groups. Teachers might consider providing additional resources to Latina students or students whose parents have more limited education. As part of teachers’ planning for the upcoming year, it might be helpful to think about how they can help parents support their children at home.

Sandra Simpkins and Yangyang Liu are a part of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. They can be reached at simpkins@uci.edu

References

Aschbacher, P. R., Li, E., & Roth, E. J. (2010). Is science me? High school students’ identities, participation and aspirations in science, engineering, and medicine. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47: 564–582.

Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. E. (2016). The power of interest for motivation and engagement. New York: Routledge.

Simpkins, S.D., Gaskin, E., & Kloberdanz, E. (2016, March). Does the expectancy-value models hold for Latino parents of high school science students? In J. Fredricks (chair), Individual and contextual influences on adolescents’ STEM motivation and engagement. Paper presented at the Society of Research on Adolescence Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD.

Simpkins, S. D., Price, C. & Garcia, K. (2015). Parental support and high school students’ motivation in biology, chemistry, and physics: Understanding differences among Latino and Caucasian boys and girls. Journal for Research in Science Teaching, 52, 1386-1407.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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