Participation in physics and rigorous mathematics and a consideration of educational, economic and political influences

Ridd, John Cyril (2003) Participation in physics and rigorous mathematics and a consideration of educational, economic and political influences. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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In this thesis the level of participation in Physics and the allied discipline of rigorous Mathematics at Tertiary and upper Secondary level is examined. Various possible supply side constraints are considered, in particular the condition of Maths and Physics in lower Secondary schools in Queensland. Some of the effects of weak Maths and Physics in that part of the education chain are examined indicating that there is a commonality of interest between many school students, especially males, and the disciplines per se. Participation in Physics at Tertiary level is in decline in USA, Canada and Germany as well as in Australia. There are indications from both Germany and USA that those declines are not entirely explicable by a consideration of demand side influences, supply side factors must have some influence. Because it may be possible to manipulate supply side influences, the work reported here concentrates on those issues, in particular in Queensland. Participation in Physics and especially rigorous Mathematics in the last two years of Secondary schooling has been in medium to long term decline across Australia. In Queensland that decline is mainly a decline in male participation. The student decisions not to study those subjects are made at the end of Year 10. Hence their educational experiences prior to that time are important. Clear evidence is presented from a large sample of school Principals in Queensland that there is a high degree of concern in the schools about the condition of both Mathematics and Science in Years 8,9 and 10. An inappropriate structure of relevant Statutory Authorities in Queensland has led to there having been no collection for 15 years of data vis-à-vis student outcomes up to the end of year 10. The only exception being a single but excellent study for Mathematics that showed that outcomes are highly variable and frequently weak, particularly for algebra. For physical Science there is no data but indications from textbooks are that very little numerical Science is studied. Hence there is a discontinuity at the Year10/11 interface. It is known that participation in the physical Sciences is highly dependent on previous educational experiences. The discontinuity referred to will affect participation in Physics and Maths C, the most rigorous Mathematics in Queensland at the Year11/12 levels. An analysis of effects on student Overall Position (the equivalent of ENTER) consequent to the concurrent study of Maths B, Maths C and Physics shows that students are advantaged in OP terms by that concurrent study. Hence the decision by an increasing number of capable students not to take those subjects may have a deleterious effect on their final outcomes. A survey of students from five North Queensland schools confirms that students who are taking Maths B/Maths C/Physics are comfortable with it and recognise that it has been to their advantage. Another part of that survey demonstrates a degree of ignorance about both Physics and Maths C amongst the Year 10 students at the time that they are making their subject selections. It is noteworthy that the advantage gained by taking the combination Maths B, Maths C and Physics is at least as noticeable for males as for females. Consequently it is an area of comparative advantage for males. An examination of male/female performance in rigorous Mathematics and numerical Science across the whole state demonstrates that, contrary to received wisdom, females are not performing better than males of similar general ability or have relatively improved their performance over the last decade at least. It is suggested that a major overhaul of both Mathematics and physical Sciences in lower Secondary schools in Queensland is required. Such an improvement would tend to raise participation levels in both Physics and rigorous Mathematics to the advantage of many students, particularly males and provide a larger pool of qualified students from which Tertiary physical Science and Engineering Departments could draw. The condition of both Mathematics and physical Sciences in Years 8/9/10 is at best highly variable, at worst poor, to the detriment of many thousands of students and the related disciplines Mathematics and Physics. It is suggested that Parliament, the Statutory bodies, schools and Tertiary Education Faculties need to accept that a problem exists, accept a part of the responsibility for that problem and act decisively to rectify the situation.

Item ID: 1176
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Level of participation, Physics, Rigorous mathematics, Tertiary and Secondary level, Supply side constraints, Decline in male participation, Mathematics and Science in Years 8,9 and 10, Discontinuity at the Year10/11 interface, Overall Position, OP, Concurrent study of Maths B, Maths C and Physics, Ignorance about Physics and Maths C amongst Year 10 students, Male/female performance, Queensland
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education @ 0%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130208 Mathematics and Numeracy Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 0%
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