Meeting fourteen (3rd July): Attitudes towards science

Jonathan Osborne, Shirley Simon & Sue Collins (2003): Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications, International Journal of Science Education, 25:9, 1049-1079 [download .pdf  234kb]


This article offers a review of the major literature about attitudes to science and its implications over the past 20 years. It argues that the continuing decline in numbers choosing to study science at the point of choice requires a research focus on students’ attitudes to science if the nature of the problem is to be understood and remediated. Starting from a consideration of what is meant by attitudes to science, it considers the problems inherent to their measurement, what is known about students’ attitudes towards science and the many factors of influence such as gender, teachers, curricula, cultural and other variables. The literature itself points to the crucial importance of gender and the quality of teaching. Given the importance of the latter we argue that there is a greater need for research to identify those aspects of science teaching that make school science engaging for pupils. In particular, a growing body of research on motivation offers important pointers to the kind of classroom environment and activities that might raise pupils’ interest in studying school science and a focus for future research.

This paper is still the most read and most cited paper from the IJSE and was in the top 10 most cited papers in Science Education Research according to Min‐Hsien Lee, Ying‐Tien Wu & Chin‐Chung Tsai, 2009 (

Key Conclusions:

  • Students are alienated by school science a subject that has an increasing significance in personal and societal life.
  • Research has identified this alienation as a problem but has little to say about a solution.
  • Research suggests that good teaching and situational interest will improve student motivation
  • Students desire opportunities for more practical work, extended investigation and discussion
  • A better understanding of what science classroom activities that enhance student motivation is needed; the paper suggests that tasks need interest, importance and utility.

Discussion Points:

  • This paper is influential but quite out of date now, how relevant are the findings and conclusions today?
  • Is there anything missing from this paper that should be examined to understand student attitudes towards science?
  • Are there any issues that we now have a better understanding of?
  • Student interest in science lessons declines when they start secondary school, how can we as teachers stop that from happening?
  • p1067 lists common aspects of teaching that are perceived to be effective, do you agree with that list? Is there anything you would add?
  • “Science is a superb and dazzling hall, but one which may be reached only by passing though a long and ghastly kitchen” How can we as teachers make the kitchen less ghastly?

Thanks to Professor Jonathan Osborne for input on these discussion points. You may also wish to read this update paper (Attitudes Toward Science (Update) Osborne,Simon & Tytler) sent to me by Professor Osborne, the major element of it has been a focus on identity to try and explain the paradox of a society which is so dependent on STEM but which fails to engage many young people.

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