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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Science outreach programs : exploring emotions, science identities, attitudes, motivations and decision making about physics in physics competitions Moll, Rachel Francesca


This dissertation is an interpretive, phenomenological study of students' affective learning experiences in two science outreach contexts: the Physics Olympics and BC's Brightest Minds physics competitions. The role of emotions in the manifestation of students' perceived science identities, and impact on attitudes, motivations and decision making about physics are explored using complexity thinking as a theoretical frame. The Physics Olympics and BC's Brightest Minds physics competitions are particularly rich sites for investigating the role of emotions in learning since students participate in teams on challenging activities where they experience success and failure, expressing strong emotions in the process. Students were interviewed before and after participating and probed for their emotions, attitudes and motivations in physics. During the events students were observed and video recorded. Lapel microphones worn by students captured conversational data as they interacted during the competitions. Data analysis involved mining the data corpus for expressed emotions and emergent themes guided by each of the three research questions. Common emotions expressed by students at the events included fun, frustration, excitement and disappointment. Expressions of emotion were characterized according to how they were evoked: context, task or novelty evoked emotions. Key findings include that experiencing strong emotions can enhance motivation and learning and characteristics of the contexts and tasks that promote meaningful learning were identified. Conditions of emergence (diversity, redundancy, neighbour interactions and decentralized organization) were employed to describe the manifestation of student perceived science identities. Three types of science identities emerged: student perceived stereotypical science identities, student perceived individual science identities, and team science identities. Shared emotions and memories allowed identities to emerge and strong team science identities emerged from decentralized systems. Most importantly, science identities were dynamic and continuously shifting throughout students' experiences. Dynamic science identities contributed to shifts in student attitudes about physics where their descriptions of physics broadened to include necessary skills such as the ability to work within a team and apply physics concepts to real world situations. This work contributes to a growing literature base in affective learning in science, informal contexts and learning through competitions and design activities. It also contributes to the study of emotions in education by recognizing the generative learning space that is created when emotions are present and the importance of paying attention to affective constructs such as raw emotions and science identity. Moreover, the results of the study contribute to improving teaching and learning of physics and suggest implementing activities both within and outside classroom contexts that are challenging and provide feedback so that emotions are evoked and expressed as students engage in them. Specific recommendations for designing competitions such as the Physics Olympics and BC's Brightest Minds are also offered.

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