"I don't like splashing in the water"
: Children's voices in primary science

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study considers children’s attitudes towards science and their ideas and understandings of science concepts. Attitudes and ideas and understandings were investigated with respect to several factors (age, gender, age and gender, science ability level, socioeconomic group, school and class group). Through consideration of underlying factors this study explored possible links between attitudes and ideas and understandings.

This study approximates most closely to a postpostivitist approach with elements of a constructivist perspective. The children’s attitudes and ideas and understandings of two science concepts (‘living’ and ‘daytime’) were not simply measured. They were collected with the view that they are individual to each child and based on their experiences and personal constructions. The sample comprised 647 children, ranging from 4 to 11 years old.

In general, children’s attitudes towards science and their ideas and understandings of science concepts were shown to be linked, because two factors affected both aspects (age and school). The main findings suggest that positive attitudes towards science declined with age, yet the percentage of ‘scientific’ responses about both concepts increased with age. There were two schools in stark contrast to one another. Children in one school were very positive about science and demonstrated a high level of scientific responses about both concepts and children in another school were the least positive about science and yielded the lowest percentage of ‘scientific’ responses.

This thesis demonstrates that young children can voice their likes, dislikes and concerns from a very young age and that their viewpoints should be considered and nurtured to help improve upon the current trend of a decline in positive attitudes towards science at primary level. The findings from the investigation into children’s ideas and understandings bring to light the complexity of thoughts and theories they hold about concepts. It is therefore important that children’s ideas about topics are regularly discussed and investigated (that is, not just ‘examined’ at the end of a topic).

Findings from the current study call for, in particular, an age sensitive science curriculum. However, we need to incorporate changes for boys as well as girls of different ages. There are both social and methodological implications for school effect. The school a child attends can have an impact on attitudes towards a given aspect of the curriculum and their ‘performance’ in that subject. The methodological implications are twofold: school must be considered in studies related to children and their attitudes and/or their ideas and understandings of concepts and it is advisable to collect a variety of details and observations about the schools in a sample, not just information pertaining to socioeconomic and demographic factors.
Date of AwardDec 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorColette Murphy (Supervisor) & Jim Beggs (Supervisor)

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