Elementary School Students' Perceptions of the New Science and

Gömleksiz, M. N. (2012). Elementary School Students' Perceptions of the New Science and Technology Curriculum by Gender.
Educational Technology & Society, 15 (1), 116–126.
Elementary School Students’ Perceptions of the New Science and Technology
Curriculum by Gender
Mehmet Nuri Gömleksiz
Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Education, Firat University, Elazig, Turkey //
[email protected]
The purpose of this study is to explore students’ perceptions of science and technology classes by gender in a
Turkish elementary school context. Data for the study were collected through a 20-item, five-point Likert scale
from a total of 1558 sixth-grade students at 20 different elementary schools in Turkey. The independent groups’
t-test and Mann-Whitney U test were used to analyze the data. Statistically significant differences were observed
in the gender of the students. Male students considered learning science and technology more necessary and
important than female students did. They also found learning environment and teaching strategies more
sufficient and effective than females did. Findings revealed that male students were not satisfied with what the
teachers practised in science classrooms. Additionally, some useful implications are discussed based on the
research findings to construct and conduct science and technology classes effectively.
Elementary schools, gender, science teaching, science curriculum, Science education, technology education
Theoretical framework and background of study
In Turkey, curriculum development activities started with the foundation of the Modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
Reforms of many curricula have been developed and implemented at schools so far (Gozutok, 2003; Basar, 2004;
Babadogan & Olkun, 2006). Turkey has always made major reforms in the area of curriculum development at the
elementary school level to improve the quality of education, and a new elementary school curriculum, including
science and technology, has been completely changed and implemented nationwide starting with the 2005–2006
academic year. These changes included both the name and the content of the science courses, and “science
education” was changed to “science education and technology” (Turkmen, 2006).
The aim of the new science and technology curriculum is to provide a student-centered learning environment based
on a cognitive and constructivist learning approach instead of on a rigid and strict behavioral approach. The
principles of multiple intelligences and active learning based on individual differences have also been adopted with
the new science and technology curriculum. Students are expected to gain the following skills that they previously
lacked: critical and creative thinking, communication, scientific research, problem solving, using information
technologies, and entrepreneurship. Students are also expected to become science and technology literate with the
new science and technology curriculum. They are required to understand the basic concepts of science and
technology and to relate technological and scientific knowledge to each other and to the world outside the school.
The increasingly complex changes in the nature and amount of knowledge and demands in the field of science and
technology necessitate an understanding of how students perceive science and technology classes in terms of their
gender. Differences in perceptions of science and technology between boys and girls have been examined by many
scholars (Kahle, 1983; Raat & de Vries, 1985; Baker, 1987; Collis & Williams, 1987; Kurth, 1987; Piburn & Baker,
1989; Bame, Dugger, de Vries & McBee, 1993; Weinburgh, 1995; Speering & Rennie, 1996; Baker, 1998; Francis &
Greer, 1999; Udo, Ramsey, & Mallow, 2005; Ogunjuyigbe, Ojofeitimi, & Akinlo, 2006). The studies have reported
that male students have greater interest and achievement than female students in science and technology.
Specifically, Boser, Palmer, and Daugherty, (1998) reported that female students consistently perceived technology
to be less interesting than male students did. In other related studies, Jewett (1996) and Silverman and Pritchard
(1993) found that technology, mathematics, and science are still considered nontraditional areas for females and that
some societal perceptions and expectations contribute to women’s reduced interest in these fields. In fact, the most
striking difference between males and females in science is not in achievement or in opportunities to learn, but in
confidence. Even when females have similar exposure to courses and a similar achievement level, they are less
confident in their ability, feel less prepared, and lack interest in science and technology (Lundeberg, Fox, &
Puncochar, 1994; Sax, 1995; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997).The results of several studies show that the overall trend for
male students’ perceptions about the utility, necessity, and importance of science and technology is positive (Kahle
& Lakes, 1983; Erickson & Erickson, 1984; Johnson, 1987; Meyer & Koehler, 1990; Erickson & Farkas, 1991;
Greenfield, 1997; Jovanovich & King, 1998; Spall, Barrett, Stanistreet, Dickson & Boyles, 2003). This means that
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male students have positive perceptions about science and technology classes. However, there are some other studies
indicating that female students perceive the biology learning environment more favorably than male students do
(Waxman & Huang; 1998; Dawson, 2000; Jones, Howe & Rua, 2000; Prokop, Tuncer & Chuda, 2007). Popham
(1994) suggests that even affective behaviors are acceptable to undergo far more sudden transformations than
cognitive behaviors. It is also possible that if students have a tendency to act positively toward a subject, for
example, science and technology, then students will have a greater interest in those subjects (Krathwohl, Bloom, &
Bertram, 1964).
The studies have often investigated associations between student outcomes and the nature of the classroom
environment and showed that the conditions of learning environment affect students’ beliefs and success in science
and technology classes (Hofstein, Scherz, & Yager, 1986; Talton & Simpson, 1987). Educational environments
enhance students’ learning and improve academic achievement (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2006). A
well-designed learning environment aimed at providing effective instruction enriches learning experiences as well.
Students should be aware of what they really need and what they should know. Just as “learning environment” refers
to the factors that can affect a person’s learning, “social environment,” which includes family members and friends
in a wider context, affects the learner and shapes his/her learning. Therefore, students should be provided a rich and
supportive learning environment. Effective teaching requires a combination of many factors, including aspects of the
teacher’s background, and ways of interacting with others, as well as specific teaching practices. Effective teachers
care about their students and demonstrate this care in such a way that their students are aware of it. This care creates
a warm and supportive classroom environment (Stronge, 2002). Teachers have a profound effect on student learning.
They can bring the real world to students through technology and can facilitate teaching (Schroder, Scott, Tolson,
Huang, & Lee, 2007).
One of the primary reasons students fail in science is because they often have learning styles significantly different
from those emphasized by most science courses (Felder, 1993). As individuals have different preferences in giving
meanings and acquiring information, the ways in taking and processing information may vary (Yılmaz-Soylu &
Akkoyunlu, 2009). While some prefer to work with concrete information, others are more comfortable with
abstractions. Some learn better by visual presentations such as diagrams, flowcharts, and schematics; others learn
more from verbal explanations (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). If students’ learning styles match the teaching style of the
teacher, students will keep information longer and apply it more effectively (Felder, 1993).
Cooperative learning is one of the teaching strategies used effectively in science and technology classes. In previous
studies, females rated cooperative school activities more positively than did males (Shwalb, Shwalb, & Nakazawa,
1995; Ferreira, 2003). Owens and Straton (1980) found that girls prefer cooperation, open-ended, and organized
activities, while boys prefer competition and individualism. By using cooperative learning practices, learning is
maximized and both positive and productive interactions are provided between students of different backgrounds
(Cabrera, Crissman, Bernal, Nora, & Pascarella, 2002). All these studies prove the importance of designing effective
learning environments and using teaching strategies that will enhance students’ improvement in science and
technology classes. Creating a student-centered, creative, and effective learning environment allows students to
express themselves better and gives them the opportunity to understand themselves in terms of strengths and
weaknesses when they study science and technology.
In brief, the educational contexts or curricular programs in which elementary school students enroll play an
important role in their perceptions of learning science and technology. With the current study, it was aimed to
determine how sixth-grade elementary school students perceived science and technology courses and whether there
were any differences between their perceptions based on gender. This study outlines a framework to describe the
variations of the perceptions of learning science and technology, consisting of the following features: the need to see
science and technology as necessary and important, the learning environment involved, and teaching strategies
employed. How to construct and conduct science and technology courses effectively and sufficiently at the
elementary school level was also discussed.
Purpose of study
The present study was an attempt to explore sixth-grade elementary school students’ opinions about science and
technology courses implemented at 20 elementary schools in Elazig, Turkey. We aimed to see whether there were
any statistically significant differences among elementary students’ views toward importance, necessity, learning
environment of science and technology classes and teaching strategies of their science teachers in terms of the gender
Population and sampling
The population of this study comprised sixth-grade students from 20 elementary schools in Elazig, Turkey. The
stratified proportional random sampling procedure was used to select the schools. There are five education zones in
the city. The schools were stratified on the basis of education zones and their socioeconomic conditions. Then four
schools from each education zone were selected with three levels of socioeconomic status reported by the National
Education Office. The sample consisted of 1,558 (925 male and 633 female) sixth-grade students selected randomly
from those elementary schools. The simple random sampling procedure was used to select 318 students from each
elementary school. A total of 1,590 students participated in the study. However, out of these 1,590 students, 1,582
completed questionnaires. Of this total number, 24 were incomplete and were thus eliminated, leaving a sample of
1,558 students. The gender composition of the respondents is 59.4 % male and 40.6% female.
Data collection and analysis
Data was generated from a questionnaire in which a five-point Likert scale was used. Students were asked to rate
their opinions about the science and technology courses they were taking (Appendix A). The survey, administered in
the classroom, included 20 items derived from the review of the relevant literature. In some classes the researcher
administered the survey himself and in others, classroom teachers were trained to administer the survey. In all cases,
the same procedures were followed. Students were reminded that their answers would remain anonymous, and they
were asked to read the items carefully and answer honestly.
The survey, with responses of strongly agree, agree, partly agree, disagree, and strongly disagree, was first piloted on
415 students for the factor-analysis process. The pilot participants were similar to the target population in terms of
background. Factor analysis was used to examine the correlation between the items of each subscale. Factor analysis
revealed four subscales, namely: importance, necessity, learning environment, and teaching strategy.
Learning environment
Teaching strategy
Table 1.Cronbach’s alpha reliability scores for each subscale
Item No
1, 3, 7, 11, 18
2, 9, 10, 13, 14
4,5, 12, 15, 17
6, 8, 16, 19, 20
The internal reliability of the scale was calculated by using Cronbach’s alpha formula, the Spearman-Brown
reliability coefficient, and Guttmann’s split-half technique. Cronbach’s alpha for the importance subscale (α = 0.94),
necessity subscale (α = 0.94), learning-environment subscale (α = 0.93), teaching-strategy subscale (α = 0.94), and
overall scale (α = 0.98) showed satisfactory reliability because a Cronbach’s alpha scale greater than 0.70 was
considered acceptable for the internal reliability of the items associated with each proposed factor (Hair, Anderson,
Tatham, & Black, 1995). For the whole sample, the Spearman-Brown reliability coefficient for unequal lengths was
calculated to be 0.96, and Guttmann’s split-half technique revealed a reliability coefficient of 0.96. The KaiserMeyerOlkin measure of sampling adequacy of the scale was measured to be 0.97, and Bartlett’s test was calculated
to be 37,063.668 (p < 0.05). According to the results obtained from the factor-analysis process, the scale was found
to be valid and reliable. In a prior examination, when the distribution of the data was found to be non-normal, the
non-parametric statistical technique Mann-Whitney U was used for testing gender differences. When the distribution
of the data was found normal, the parametric statistical technique, the independent groups t-test, was used. Results
with p < 0.05 were considered statistically significant.
The first analysis was to determine if any significant differences between the students’ views existed on the
“importance” subscale.
Table 2. t-test results for gender on the “importance” subscale
*Significant at the 0.05 level
As shown in Table 2, statistically significant differences were found in terms of gender of the students [t(1556) = 6.029,
p < 0.05]. A higher mean rating suggested that male students were more in agreement with the importance of science
and technology courses than the female students were.
Table 3. Mann-Whitney U results for gender on the “necessity” subscale
Mean rank
Sum of ranks
*Significant at the 0.05 level; Levene: 10.802, p < 0.05
Table 3 presents the summary of analysis Mann-Whitney U comparing the mean scores of the male and female
students in terms of necessity of the science and technology classes. With regard to gender differences, it appears
from the data that there was significant gender difference on the necessity to learn science and technology (MWU =
244732.0, p < 0.05). The statistically significant difference between gender groups suggests that male students had
higher mean scores than did female students. Male participants accepted the necessity of science and technology
more than female students did.
Table 4. Mann-Whitney U results for gender on the “learning environment” subscale
Mean rank
Sum of ranks
*Significant at the 0.05 level
Levene: 4.925, p < 0.05
Mann-Whitney U results in Table 3 revealed statistically significant differences between the student groups in gender
(MWU = 242155.5, p < 0.05). The significant MWU value obtained for gender demonstrated that female students
found the learning environment in science and technology classes less sufficient and effective than did male students.
Table 5. t-test results for gender on the “teaching strategy” subscale
Teaching strategy
*Significant at the 0.05 level
As illustrated in Table 5, t-test results revealed significant differences between male and female students in terms of
teaching strategy of the science and technology teachers [t(1556) = 5.919, p < 0.05]. Female participants tended to
adopt teaching strategies used in science and technology classes less efficiently and effectively than did male
The quality of learning has always been one of the most important concerns in an educational setting. Learning is a
complex activity, and several factors such as students’ perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes; teaching resources;
teachers’ skill; curriculum; physical condition; and the design of the school facility should be taken into
consideration in an educational setting. They all play a vital role in providing effective education (Lyons, 2001). The
quality of learning experience can be understood through an investigation of how key factors of the experience are
related. Key factors associated with the quality of the learning experience are how students approach their learning
and what they think they actually learn from the experience (Ellis, 2004).
The present research evaluated and compared sixth-grade students’ perceptions of science and technology classes at
20 different elementary schools in Turkey. The results of the present study show that six graders’ perceptions of
science and technology classes differed significantly by gender. One of the most significant conclusions to be drawn
from the findings was that male students were interested in science and technology classes more than female students
were. The result derived from the findings of the current study is consistent with results from previous research
(Erickson & Erickson, 1984; Johnson & Murphy, 1984; Simpson & Oliver, 1985; Johnson, 1987; Becker, 1989;
Engstrom & Noonan, 1990; Greenfield, 1996; Lee & Burkam, 1996; Ding & Harskamp, 2006).
Statistically significant differences were found between male and female students toward the importance of science
and technology classes. It means that the data supports the significance difference between male and female students’
perceptions toward the importance of science and technology. Male students considered science and technology
classes more important and had a more positive tendency toward learning science and technology than the female
students did. Gender issues have long been a topic of discussion and research in the field of science and technology
education. Numerous studies have been conducted to explain gender differences in participation and achievement in
science and technology. Studies show that many instructors base their expectations of student performance on gender
factor as well as language proficiency, socioeconomic status, and prior achievement (Green, 1989). Leder (1989) in
particular has claimed that academic success in mathematics is associated mostly with males. The results of other
studies clearly showed that male students consistently showed a higher interest and achievement than females
(Johnson, 1987, Tobin & Garnett, 1987; Norman, 1988; Otto 1991; Meece & Holt 1993; Trumper, 2006). Taking
these results into consideration, many science education programs have recently been developed to increase girls’
participation in science (Yanowitz & Vanderpool, 2004).
There was statistically significant difference between gender groups toward the necessity of science and technology
classes. This finding indicates that male students found science and technology classes more necessary than female
students did. This result is consistent with the findings by James & Smith (1985), Eccles (1989), Linn & Hyde
(1989), Kahle & Meece (1994), and Catsambis (1995), who found that gender differences begin to appear in the
middle grades and that the gender gap in science achievement increases between ages 9 and 13. This result also
supports Yager & Yager (1985), Schibeci (1984), Greenfield (1996), Jovanovich & King (1998), and Stake & Mares
(2001), who found that students begin to show differences for science in elementary and middle school, and that girls
exhibit lower science achievement scores than boys do at the middle-school level.
Statistically significant differences were found between gender groups toward their perceptions of learning
environment in science and technology classes. Female students found the learning environment less sufficient and
effective than did male students. The quality of the learning environment is important to realize effective learning,
and a well-designed learning environment both enhances students’ learning and leads to higher learning
achievement. It not only depends on the design but also on how effectively it is delivered and used because the
learning experience is directly influenced by the way the learning resource is delivered. To do this, the learning
environment should be designed to promote relevant interaction between learner and learning resources to achieve
the stated learning outcomes and to provide timely feedback to learners regarding their progress, and should be
consistent with the most efficient and effective method to meet learning outcomes.
The findings of the present study imply that it is important to design learning environments in such a way as to
facilitate and enhance science and technology learning. These are in line with the ideas of contemporary learning
theorists such as Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989); Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobsen, and Coulson, (1991); and Bereiter
and Scardamalia (1996). They believe that one of the key goals of instruction is to provide opportunities for learners
to develop mastery in the areas they are each involved in. School facilities have also an effect on student
performance. Recent studies that evaluated the relationship between school buildings and student achievement found
higher test scores for students learning in better buildings and lower scores for students learning in substandard
buildings. A recent report evaluating school facilities showed a difference in student test scores ranging from 5 to 17
percentage points (Lyons, 2001).
A significant difference was found between the gender groups in terms of teaching strategy used in science and
technology classes. Male students found teaching strategies more effective and sufficient while female students
found them insufficient. Teaching strategy used in the classroom has a direct influence on how a teacher manages the
classroom. Teachers must design teaching and learning strategies around students’ interest to improve the quality of
the learning environment. For instance, the use of inquiry-based approaches in a science classroom leads students to
understand the way science is authentically carried out. Many studies have proved that inquiry-based science
activities have positive effects on student achievement, cognitive development, laboratory skills, and the
understanding of science content when compared with traditional approaches (Burkam, Lee, & Smerdon, 1997;
Freedman, 1997).
Effective use of teaching strategies encourages students in a positive and supportive manner and helps them
participate actively in the teaching-learning environment. Both a growing student population and student diversity
require changes in how students are taught. As Labudde, Herzog, Neuenschwander, Violi, & Gerber (2000) stressed,
strategies should include opportunities to integrate different pre-existing knowledge and the variation of teaching
methods to enhance cooperation and communication in the classroom. Because each student learns in different way
and has his/her own learning style, an approach that is appropriate for one student may be inappropriate for another.
While some students learn better in a group through interaction with both the teacher and other students, others may
find interaction difficult and use the group sessions for gathering information. They learn only when they are on their
own. Some learn by reading and listening, while others learn through the application of the knowledge gained.
Teachers should concentrate on such differences and enrich the learning environment by providing a variety of
learning activities so that students can learn in a manner appropriate to themselves (Reece & Walker, 1997).
Therefore, it is vital that teachers guide their students to actively participate in the learning environment.
Conclusion and recommendations
The findings of this study are subject to two limitations. First, the data apply only to the 1,558 sixth graders who
attended 20 different elementary schools in Turkey. Second, the findings cannot be generalized to evaluate the
overall effectiveness of the science and technology classes in elementary schools throughout Turkey. This is not
because this particular region in Turkey is extremely different from other regions. The particular research region was
chosen because the researcher works there. Because the sample was selected by stratified proportional random
sampling procedure, it represents the city that was investigated. Despite limited generalizability, this study represents
an attempt to understand student perceptions of their science and technology classes in terms of the gender variable.
The results from this study identified areas of strengths and weaknesses within elementary schools’ science and
technology classes from students’ perspectives.
Science teachers should concentrate on authentic activities. The learning subject taught in the activity must suit
students’ ages, interests, expectations, and environment. Students must be able to use what they learned in science
classes. Teachers should not be dependent on the textbooks strictly to provide a more flexible learning environment.
They should sometimes feel free to adapt textbook activities and avoid mechanical activities. To achieve this,
diversity of activities is needed. The activities should be performed in pair or group work so that the students can
build a cooperative learning environment. Research results have shown that cooperative activities facilitated more
active roles and enhanced students’ learning (Baker, 1990; Meyer, 1998; Bilgin & Geban, 2004, Açıkgöz & Güvenç,
2007). Students learn better in a group through interaction with both the teacher and other students. Grouping for
cooperative learning activities based on gender may lead students to learn better and promote positive attitudes.
Mixed-gender groups in particular show better achievement and improvement. So, the different learning and
motivational styles of males and females should be taken into consideration (Kemp, 2005). Research studies have
confirmed that females focus on completing a task correctly whereas males are often more motivated to be better
than everyone else at completing a task (Rogers et al., as cited in Kemp, 2005). Females may have a fear of making
mistake under the pressure of a difficult task and may withdraw from the activity. But performing a difficult task
may motivate males (Dai, 2000).
In determining the design of the learning environment, the importance of a variety of learning activities for students
should be taken into consideration. The teachers should implement learning strategies that will encourage female
students to engage in science and technology classes and to narrow the gap between male and female students for
participating in teaching-learning activities. Previous studies showed that psychosocial climate and physical
conditions of a learning environment have an important effect on students’ outcomes (Fraser, Williamson, & Tobin,
1987; Lawrenz, 1987; Talton & Simpson, 1987; Schibeci, Rideng & Fraser, 1987; Fraser, 1998; Panagiotopoulou,
Christoulas, Papanckolaou, & Mandroukas, 2004). The teaching-learning activities in science and technology classes
should be purposeful and meaningful. Students should be given convincing reasons for doing the activity, and they
should know what they would have achieved upon completion of the activity. Students should not only be physically
active but also mentally active in the learning process (Babadogan & Olkun, 2006).
The findings of this research reveal that science and technology teaching in Turkish elementary schools needs a
radical overhaul to attract students’ interest and increase participation in science and technology classes. The results
of the current study confirm the earlier findings that there are gender differences in science and technology
achievement. Understanding some of the concerns of elementary school students with regard to science and
technology teaching might help curriculum designers and teachers, as practitioners, modify or change existing
programs to meet the requirements of the students and of the content area. Although the results of this study provide
information about the perceptions of students on science and technology classes, additional research is needed to
better understand how the science and technology curriculum is implemented and whether it is conducted effectively
and sufficiently.
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Appendix A
Science and Technology Scale
Students were requested to respond to the following statements on a five-point Likert scale ranging from strongly
agree through to strongly disagree.
The science and technology course is important.
The knowledge I gain in science and technology class is always helpful in real life.
Science and technology affect our life very much.
I feel confident in science and technology class.
The learning environment of science and technology class encourages me to participate actively.
I find the teaching strategy used in science and technology class effective.
The science and technology course includes important knowledge that I may need in the future.
The teaching strategy used in science and technology class makes me attentive to the lesson.
I will always need the knowledge gained in science and technology class.
I need to become science and technology literate.
We need to be taught science and technology to prepare ourselves for the future.
I find the learning environment in science and technology class effective.
Science and technology is a subject that should be taken by all pupils.
Science and technology courses are necessary to help us develop our creativity.
We are encouraged to research and study in science and technology courses.
The teaching strategy of the science and technology teacher encourages me to be active during class.
The learning environment of the science and technology course is both supportive and collaborative.
Science and technology courses give us the opportunity to learn by doing.
I like my science and technology teacher’s teaching strategy (methods).
My science and technology teacher can teach clearly and comprehensibly.