The Generalizability of Students’ Interests in Biology Across Gender, Country and Religion

Abstract

In order to bridge the existing gap between biology curricula and students’ interests in biology, a strategy for identifying students’ interest based on their questions and integrating them into the curriculum was developed. To characterize the level of generalizability of students’ science interests over 600 high school students from Portugal, Turkey, England and Israel, who chose biology as an advanced subject, their interest level was ranked in 36 questions that were originally raised by Israeli students. Results indicate that students from four different countries show interest in similar science questions. The most intriguing questions were the ones that dealt with human health and new developments in reproduction and genetics. Religious affiliation had the strongest effect on students’ interest level, followed by national affiliation and gender. The findings suggest that students’ interest in one context is relevant to the development of interest-based learning materials in a different context. However, despite these similarities, cultural and sociological differences need to be taken into account.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The important issue related to interest and acceptance of evolution had been left out of the literature review since the topics of the questions themselves did not include evolution.

  2. 2.

    Results from Israel include all three sectors unless otherwise indicated.

  3. 3.

    Based on general demographics of the country. Turkey is a democratic and secular country. The majority of Turkish citizens are Muslims (99%) (Eurydice 2010).

    Source: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/eurybase/structures/041_TR_EN.pdf

  4. 4.

    Based on general demographics of the country, the majority (87%) of Portuguese citizens are Christian (http://www.indexmundi.com/portugal/demographics_profile.html).

  5. 5.

    In the Israeli educational context Jewish students may enroll in an independent orthodox education school, religious state-run school, or a secular state-run school. All the Jewish students in this sample enrolled in secular schools. Muslim and Christian students belong to the Arab sector in Israel. The Christian students in this sample enrolled in a Church run school, while the Muslims enrolled in a state-run school. Both serve students with differing levels of religiosity.

  6. 6.

    Two questions did not locate to any of the sub-groups. Both were general questions about heredity: “Which has more influence—nature or nurture?” and “Are personality characteristics genetic?”

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Acknowledgment

Ayelet Baram-Tsabari is a Landau Fellow for Leaders in Science and Technology Program (supported by the Taub family) and an Allon Fellow for Outstanding Young Researchers. This work was enabled by the S-TEAM Project: science-teacher education advanced methods under FP7 of the EU.

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Appendix 1: The Questionnaire (English Version)

Appendix 1: The Questionnaire (English Version)

I believe that if the content of biology studies interested you more, you would learn, remember and enjoy classes more. Therefore I would be grateful if you could take a few minutes to answer this questionnaire. It will help me match the biology syllabus to students’ interests. I have chosen to focus on three subjects in biology: the intravascular system (cardiovascular, coagulation and immune systems), the reproductive system, and genetic engineering.

Thank you for participating.

A. Background information

Gender: M/F Year: 12 13

  Not at all     Totally
I am interested in topics related to biology 1 2 3 4 5
I am interested in topics related to the intravascular system (blood, heart, immunization, and clotting) 1 2 3 4 5
I am interested in topics related to the reproductive system 1 2 3 4 5
I am interested in topics related to genetic engineering 1 2 3 4 5
In my free time, I sometimes read or watch popular science 1 2 3 4 5

B. Questions that interest me

The following questions were asked by high school students. For each question, please mark the extent to which you would be interested in getting an answer to that question in biology class: 1—not interested, 5—very interested.

Question      
1. What is mutation and what causes it? 1 2 3 4 5
2. What happens if human semen inseminates the ovum of another animal? 1 2 3 4 5
3. Why is smoking unhealthy? 1 2 3 4 5
4. Which has more influence—nature or nurture? 1 2 3 4 5
5. What can be done with genetic engineering today? 1 2 3 4 5
6. Can humans be cloned and how could it be done? 1 2 3 4 5
7. How does vaccination work, and how can you make someone immune to a disease? 1 2 3 4 5
8. Is there a difference in the number of genes that the offspring receives from the mother and father? 1 2 3 4 5
9. How can a DNA sample identify a person? 1 2 3 4 5
10. Can a woman’s stock of ovum run out? 1 2 3 4 5
11. How can a heart attack be prevented? 1 2 3 4 5
12. How does cancer develop and how can it be treated? 1 2 3 4 5
13. Does my blood type say anything about me? 1 2 3 4 5
14. In the future, will we be able to choose how our baby will look? 1 2 3 4 5
15. How are infertility treatments done? 1 2 3 4 5
16. Can I know, in advance, if I am sterile? 1 2 3 4 5
17. When does life start—when the ovum and sperm meet or when the baby is born? 1 2 3 4 5
18. If my grandfather had a heart attack, does that increase the chances that I will have one too? 1 2 3 4 5
19. Is it possible to know, in advance, which traits pass from parents to their offspring and prevent them from being passed, or change those traits? 1 2 3 4 5
20. How do you treat a person whose blood does not clot? 1 2 3 4 5
21. Will we be able to create humans with perfect health in the future? 1 2 3 4 5
22. If a woman does not give birth, can she still produce milk and breastfeed? 1 2 3 4 5
23. Are personality characteristics genetic? 1 2 3 4 5
24. Are body type and height hereditary? 1 2 3 4 5
25. Are all male penises suitable for all female vaginas? 1 2 3 4 5
26. How does the body handle allergies? 1 2 3 4 5
27. How do sound and smell influence the courting process? 1 2 3 4 5
28. Are sexual preferences hereditary? 1 2 3 4 5
29. How do you clean a blood vessel that is blocked by fat? 1 2 3 4 5
30. Is athletic ability hereditary? 1 2 3 4 5
31. What is high/low blood pressure? 1 2 3 4 5
32. What is the difference between a carrier and an AIDS patient? 1 2 3 4 5
33. Is the immune system influenced by psychological factors, and to what extent? 1 2 3 4 5
34. Can organs for transplant be created using genetic engineering? 1 2 3 4 5
35. What is IVF? 1 2 3 4 5
36. If I inject myself with more red blood cells, will I be able to run faster? 1 2 3 4 5

C. Your comments

Please indicate your comments on these questions, other questions you have, and the reasons for your interest (or disinterest) in biology.

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Hagay, G., Baram-Tsabari, A., Ametller, J. et al. The Generalizability of Students’ Interests in Biology Across Gender, Country and Religion. Res Sci Educ 43, 895–919 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-012-9289-y

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Keywords

  • Interest
  • Student’s questions
  • Student’s voice
  • Cross-cultural comparison