Physicists hate math

Psychologist: Physics is a "hate subject"

Friedbert Meurer: German students move up from 18th to 13th place in the natural sciences. But subjects like physics, chemistry or math are still not really popular with many students. This is what research has shown by the psychologist Bettina Hannover from the Free University of Berlin. I would like to talk to her about what this means for schools and teaching. Good afternoon, Ms. Hannover!

Prof. Bettina Hannover: Have a nice day, Mr. Meurer!

Meurer: Perhaps first to the first results that we now have from PISA. Are the schools in the natural sciences on the right track in Germany?

Hanover: First of all, we are of course happy about these results, but one must not forget that the PISA studies have different focuses. In the 2003 PISA study, the focus was on mathematics, and now, in 2006, we have the focus on science, so we cannot directly compare the results.

Meurer: Are we better at science than at math?

Hanover: It is precisely this that is not possible for us to compare figures on an absolute scale, but we can of course hope that the discussion that was triggered by PISA has led to heightened sensitivity among all those involved, including teachers Have thought more about how they can optimize the quality of their teaching and that parents may have thought about their role and the possibilities of contributing to a good learning outcome for their own children.

Meurer: You say, Ms. Hannover, if I understand you correctly, the image of mathematics and the natural sciences plays a very decisive role. Why?

Hanover: Yes, we know that even if we can now see such good results for science at the moment, when students compare between school subjects, they typically like science the least. Physics is the prototypical subject, which is the hate subject for most girls and boys, i.e. what one likes least of all. And in our studies we have dealt with the question of why that is.

Meurer: What answer did you find?

Hanover: We found that students mainly orient themselves by what they believe, how students are when they have a certain favorite subject. You imagine what a student is like who has physics as a favorite subject. And our results show that such students are considered incompetent in the social field, that girls and boys, for example, think that a physics freak is a boy who has lots of pimples on his face, who has no friends, who looks unattractive, who does is very intelligent, but maybe also a nerd, conceited about his productivity, that is, a young person with whom most girls and boys do not want to have anything to do with.

Meurer: And you consider that to be an absolute prejudice, let's leave the pimples aside, but the ability to communicate, the social can definitely be reconciled with physics?

Hanover: Of course that's a prejudice. Such prototypes do not correspond to reality, we know that because we also asked the students who actually have excellent achievements in physics or who like this subject very much, and it turns out that it is more interesting for the girls in particular they fear that they will be particularly unpopular with the boys in their class, but that is actually not the case. In other words, we are dealing with a classic social prejudice here.

Meurer: How can you fight this social prejudice and change your image?

Hanover: We believe that something really has to change in the teaching here. Because this image that we have found has something to do with how physics is taught in schools, for example. When students are confronted with completely outdated teaching materials and experiments that have nothing to do with their everyday reality, then they also imagine someone who likes to deal with physics someone who is completely dusty and socially isolated .

Meurer: Is that also a prejudice, or is it true?

Hanover: We just know that we have done experiments where we have actually changed certain characteristics of the physics lesson, for example, let students discuss a physical theory, and what kind of experience the students have is that physics, like others School subjects too, arises in a discourse that physics does not consist of unchangeable facts that students cannot influence with their own thoughts.

Meurer: And such a theoretical discussion is more interesting than experiments?

Hanover: Yes! Our results show that students like to bring their own opinions into the classroom, they want to have the feeling that they also have an influence on the design of the learning object and they shy away from subjects that they think will be there just fed them unchangeable facts, if you will.

Meurer: In primary school and in kindergarten, a particularly large number of women teach, almost exclusively women, who perhaps neglect to make children receptive to science up to the age of ten?

Hanover: You are addressing a problem that actually exists. Many teachers who go to elementary school show a typical pattern in that they do not like math and science themselves. And of course we have reason to fear that such attitudes will be conveyed to the children, if a teacher shows that she herself may not find mathematics as exciting as another subject, then there is a risk that students will notice this and then this one Apply setting.

Meurer: The psychologist Bettina Hannover from the Free University of Berlin, there in the educational sciences department, with us this afternoon on Deutschlandfunk. Ms. Hannover, thank you very much and goodbye!