Using questions sent to an Ask-A-Scientist site to identify children's interests in science

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Abstract

Interest is a powerful motivator; nonetheless, science educators often lack the necessary information to make use of the power of student-specific interests in the reform process of science curricula. This study suggests a novel methodology, which might be helpful in identifying such interests—using children's self-generated questions as an indication of their scientific interests. In this research, children's interests were measured by analyzing 1555 science-related questions submitted to an international Ask-A-Scientist Internet site. The analysis indicated that the popularity of certain topics varies with age and gender. Significant differences were found between children's spontaneous (intrinsically motivated) and school-related (extrinsically motivated) interests. Surprisingly, girls contributed most of the questions to the sample; however, the number of American girls dropped upon entering senior high school. We also found significant differences between girls' and boys' interests, with girls generally preferring biological topics. The two genders kept to their stereotypic fields of interest, in both their school-related and spontaneous questions. Children's science interests, as inferred from questions to Web sites, could ultimately inform classroom science teaching. This methodology extends the context in which children's interests can be investigated. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed90:1050–1072, 2006

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