Motivation of New Generation Students for Learning Physics and Mathematics

by Palmira Pečiuliauskienė (Author) Valdemaras Aleksa (Author)
©2018 Monographs 178 Pages


The aim of the research is to reveal the effects of inquiry on the motivation of new generation students for learning Physics and Mathematics. Self-Determination Theory gives a theoretical background for the research. Quantitative methods dominate in this monograph. The monograph analyses the motivation for learning science in terms of inquiry levels, as well as in terms of real and digital Physics labs. The monograph also reveals the role of significant social issues in promoting intrinsic motivation and communication of lower secondary school students. The monograph considers motivation for learning Mathematics. The research discloses students’ attitude towards the educational and social benefit of learning Mathematics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Series Information
  • 0 Introduction
  • 1 Theoretical background of new generation students’ motivation for learning
  • 1.1 Motivation for learning: the issue of self-determination theory
  • 1.2 Inquiry perspective into learning science
  • 1.3 Inquiry perspective on school students’ motivation for learning science
  • 1.4 Where motivation for learning Math comes from: the issues of inquiry and SDT
  • 2 Methodology of motivation for learning Physics and Mathematics
  • 2.1 Basic paradigms of motivation for learning
  • 2.2 Research methods and instruments of motivation for learning
  • 3 Empirical insights into the motivation of school students for learning science
  • 3.1 Motivation for learning Physics at school: the case of different generations
  • 3.1.1 Introduction
  • 3.1.2 Method of research
  • 3.1.3 Results of the research
  • Factors determining motivation of Y generation learners for learning Physics
  • Factors determining motivation of Z generation learners for learning Physics: Qualitative research results
  • 3.1.4 Conclusions
  • 3.2 Digital and hands-on labs in Physics education at school: how do they engage?
  • 3.2.1 Method of research
  • 3.2.2 Results
  • Results on digital Physics labs
  • Results on hands-on Physics labs
  • 3.2.3 Conclusions
  • 3.3 Formation of intrinsic motivation at different levels of inquiry
  • 3.3.1 Introduction
  • 3.3.2 Methodology and method of research
  • 3.3.3 Results
  • Intrinsic motivation of school students for learning Physics at structured inquiry Physics labs
  • Intrinsic motivation of school students for learning Physics at guided inquiry Physics labs
  • Comparison of school students’ intrinsic motivation at structured and guided inquiry Physics labs
  • 3.3.4 Conclusions
  • 3.4 Socio-scientific issues and communication in science education
  • 3.4.1 Method of research
  • 3.4.2 Results
  • 3.4.3 Conclusions
  • 3.5 Student motivation for participation in Physics competitions
  • 3.5.1 Introduction
  • 3.5.2 Method of research
  • 3.5.3 Results
  • 3.5.4 Discussion
  • 3.5.5 Conclusions
  • 4 Empirical insights into the motivation of school students for learning Mathematics
  • 4.1 Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation of students for learning Mathematics
  • 4.1.1 Introduction
  • 4.1.2 Method of research
  • 4.1.3 Results
  • The model of data analysis: exploratory factor analysis of the motivation of 8th grade students for learning Mathematics
  • Extrinsic motivation of students for learning Mathematics
  • Intrinsic motivation of school students for learning Mathematics
  • Links between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for learning Mathematics
  • 4.1.4 Conclusions
  • 4.2 Motivation of school students for learning Mathematics and autonomy Support
  • 4.2.1 Introduction
  • 4.2.2 Method of research
  • 4.2.3 Results
  • 4.2.4 Conclusions
  • 5 Discussion
  • 6 Conclusions
  • Acknowledgement
  • Approval
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography


Herausgegeben von Gerd-Bodo von Carlsburg, Algirdas Gaižutis und Airi Liimets


Zu Qualitätssicherung und Peer Review der vorliegenden Publikation

Notes on the quality assurance and peer review of this publication

Die Qualität der in dieser Reihe erscheinenden Arbeiten wird vor der Publikation durch die Herausgeber der Reihe geprüft.

Prior to publication,the quality of the workpublished in this series is reviewedby editors of the series.


By Palmira Pečiuliauskienė

The 21st century is famous for a fast advancement in science and technologies. Describing the modern society, Florida (2002) refers to it as ‘3T approach’. He argues that talent, technology and tolerance are essential seeking to prosper in the ‘creative age’. Technology and innovation are critical components of economic growth. Science is the basis of technology and innovation, and it is particularly important in today’s creative society. Yet in recent times fewer young people seem to be interested in science and technical subjects. Why is this? Does the problem lie in wider socio-cultural changes, and the ways in which young people in developed countries now live and wish to shape their lives? Or is it due to failings within science education itself?” (Osborne & Dillon, 2008, p. 5). Ohle et al. (2015) state that “Decreasing student interest and achievement during the transition from elementary to secondary school is an international problem, especially in science education” (p. 1211). It means that science educators encounter with challenging demands. Osborne and Dillon (2008) inquire about the motivation for learning science and claim that it is multidimensional in terms of sociological (new generation), psychological (new psychological motivation theories) and, educational issues (inquiry-based learning). In this monograph, the phenomenon of motivation is presented in the light of sociology, psychology, and education.

Motivation for learning Physics is rarely examined from the sociological perspective, which is based on the theory of generations. According to the sociological classification, persons born in 1995–2012 belong to Generation Z (McCrindle & Wolfinger, 2010; Seemiller & Grace, 2016). Currently, learners of Generation Z attend basic school. Is motivation for learning Physics of new generation exceptional? Are new generation students less interested in Physics than Generation Y learners? The problem of motivation of Generation Y learners for learning Physics is also acute: “A German learner at lower and upper secondary level regards Physics as very difficult to learn, very abstract and dominated by male learners. As a result, Physics at school continuously loses importance <…> We assume that knowing about the influence of motivation on learning Physics may lead to new insights in the design of classroom settings” (Fisher & Horstendal, 1997, p. 411). According to Fisher and Horstendal (1997), a very abstract content of Physics is one of the reasons for the reduced interest of Generation Y learners in Physics. ←9 | 10→

The new Generation Z learns using new technologies that can facilitate the absorption of the complex content. The relationship of Generation Z with technologies has been precisely defined by Cross-Bystrom (2010): “Generation Z is technology”. The statement presupposes a very close relationship with technologies since the generation itself is equalled to technologies. The learners of this generation have lived in the world closely intertwined with technologies since early childhood (Cross-Bystrom, 2010). The Californian psychologist Rosen (2012) raises a question related to what teachers know about young people, who spend entire hours at the computer in different social networks. Rosen’s question can be restated as follows: what do teachers know about the motivation of learners of Generation Z for studying science? (Peciuliauskiene, 2014).

The attractiveness of science subjects is topical for both education policy-makers (OECD 2007; Science Education in Europe, 2011) and researchers (Juuti, Lavonen, Aksela, & Meisalo, 2009; Lavonen et al., 2008; Loukomies et al., 2013). The problem of the attractiveness of science is very wide, it is analysed from different aspects: the individualisation of learning (Zacharia & Olympiou, 2010), collaborative learning (Nedic, Machotka, & Nafalski, 2003), formation of the concepts of Physics (Bajpai, 2013), as well as the motivation for learning Physics (Changeiywo et al., 2011).

Solid theoretical background is needed for understanding the phenomenon of motivation. The phenomenon of motivation explained by Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is addressed in this monograph. The main idea of SDT is that humans are active and growth-oriented, seeking for the actualisation of their potentialities and fulfilling their basic psychological needs. These needs include autonomy, competency, and social relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2002). They move the lives of learners in desired and specific directions rather than merely staying passive subjects. A person’s motivation in a particular situation is a result of the interaction between immediate social context and the individual’s need system that aims at fulfilment (Ryan & Deci, 2002; Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013).

The shift from the focus on motivation phenomenon to the focus on how to motivate students is prominent in the presented monograph. It is important to find learning activities meaningful and worthwhile, although they are not necessarily pleasurable per se for students. Claude Bernard, a famous 19th-century scientist, states that science is a “superb and dazzling hall, but one which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen” (cited in Osborne et al., 2003, p. 1074). It is our contention that inquiry is a good tool for successful “passing through a long and ghastly kitchen”.

Edelson (2001) states that “in traditional science classrooms, content and inquiry skills are taught separately through separate learning activities. In ←10 | 11→these classrooms, content is taught didactically through lecture, reading, and problem sets, whereas scientific practices are taught through structured laboratory experiments” (p. 356). This traditional approach in education emphasises memorisation of facts and leads to ‘inert knowledge’ that cannot be called upon when it is useful (Whitehead, 1929). Inquiry-based learning allows overcoming the problem of ‘inert knowledge’ by describing how learning activities can foster useful conceptual understanding.

Scholars reveal that inquiry-based learning gives opportunities for students to develop positive attitudes towards science (Gormally, Brickman, Hallar, & Armstrong, 2009). While students engage in inquiry as a means, they are also supposed to learn scientific content knowledge through inquiry (Arnold, Kremer, & Mayer, 2014). Students learn how to do science and acquire relevant skills or abilities, as well as develop understanding of scientific inquiry itself (NRC, 1996).

Students learn more positively when teachers support their autonomy rather than control and pressurise them towards a specific way of thinking, feeling, or behaving (Vansteenkiste et al., 2004 Reeve et al., 2004; Reeve & Tseng, 2009a). Student engagement is a multidimensional construct consisting of four relatively equally weighted indicators: behavioural, emotional, cognitive, and voice (Reeve & Tseng, 2009b). Inquiry allows using an autonomy-supportive style in the classroom, which promotes student engagement as it supports an internal perceived locus of causality (PLOC), and a sense of choice in students (Reeve, Nix, & Hamm, 2003). When students engage in learning activities without the support of an internal locus, their engagement lacks the motivational foundation of personal interest. An autonomy supportive approach in science possesses inner motivational resources that are fully capable of directing their activity in Physics labs in more productive ways.

Well-constructed lab activities in Physics are powerful learning tools; through guided inquiry, students gain first-person experience of scientific principles and phenomena learned in lectures, and learn to employ experimental methods to solve discrete problems (Rissing & Cogan, 2009; Hughes & Ellefson, 2013).

A well-constructed Physics lab can ensure a high level of autonomy in the classroom. Autonomy-supportive teacher behaviour can be effective in fostering intrinsic motivation in learners (Reeve & Jang, 2006). Autonomy-supportive teacher behaviour can be supported by different levels of inquiry-based learning. Banchi and Bell (2008) identify four levels of inquiry-based learning: confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open enquiry. Low autonomy is acquired by confirmation inquiry, a higher autonomy is gained by structured inquiry and guided inquiry, whereas the highest autonomy is obtained by open enquiry. It means that the level of science labs can be related to ←11 | 12→motivation for learning science. Different environments (real, remote, digital) of science labs allow using different autonomy-supportive styles in the classroom, which can influence student engagement.

Competency and social relatedness focus the lives of students in desired and specific directions rather than making them stay as mere passive subjects (Ryan & Deci, 2002). Bybee and McCrae (2011) argue that students’ interest in science topics decreases as the topic moves further away from personal experience and immediate relevance to students’ own lives. Non-formal science activity approximates to students’ personal experience and immediate relevance to their own lives. According to SDT, non-formal science activity allows fostering motivation for learning. How does this happen with students of new (Z) generation?

Students employ Mathematics to perform Physics labs. Mathematics is deeply woven into both teaching and practice of Physics (Redish, 2004; Redish & Gupta, 2010). Maths is treated as a language of Physics: “we explore Mathematics as a language and consider the language of Mathematics in Physics through the lens of cognitive linguistics” (Redish & Kuo, 2015, p. 561). According to Redish and Kuo (2015), Mathematics is deeply embedded in the practice of Physics; therefore, the Physics community continues to have mixed success of teaching students to use Mathematics effectively in Physics (Redish, 2004; Redish & Gupta, 2010; Redish & Kuo, 2015). “Other sciences, such as chemistry, biology, geology, and meteorology often use Mathematics extensively in practice, but typically rely less heavily on it than Physics does in high school and college instruction” (Redish & Kuo, 2015, p. 561). In the current monograph, the phenomenon of motivation is analysed focusing on Physics and Mathematics as ways of the deeper understanding of the phenomenon of motivation.

The discussed situation highlights the scientific problem of the present monograph, which is formulated as a question: how does inquiry-based learning affect the motivation of the new generation school students for learning Physics and Mathematics?

The object of the research is the motivation of school students for learning Physics and Mathematics.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
extrinsic motivation intrinsic motivation inquiry-based learning structured inquiry guided inquiry socio-scientific issues
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 177 pp., 7 fig. b/w, 48 tables

Biographical notes

Palmira Pečiuliauskienė (Author) Valdemaras Aleksa (Author)

Palmira Pečiuliauskiene is a Professor at the Vytautas Magnus University of Kaunas (Lithuania). The research area is Physics didactics, as well as information and communication technology in science education. Valdemaras Aleksa is an associate professor at Vilnius University. The research area is molecular spectroscopy of functional materials and biological structures, physics didactic.


Title: Motivation of New Generation Students for Learning Physics and Mathematics
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179 pages