Chemistry vs. Physics: A Comparison of How Biology Majors View Each Discipline

by W. K. Adams; J. Barbera; K. K. Perkins; C. E. Wieman

Jun 18, 2007
A student's beliefs about science and learning science may be more or less sophisticated depending on the specific science discipline. In this study, we used the physics and chemistry versions of the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) to measure student beliefs in the large, introductory physics and chemistry courses, respectively. We compare how biology majors -- generally required to take both of the courses -- view these two disciplines. We find that these students' beliefs are more sophisticated about physics (more like the experts in that discipline) than they are about chemistry. At the start of the term, the average % Overall Favorable score on the CLASS is 59% in physics and 53% in chemistry. The students' responses are statistically more expert-like in physics than in chemistry on 10 statements (P lesser-than-or-equal-to 0.01), indicating that these students think chemistry is more about memorizing disconnected pieces of information and sample problems, and has less to do with the real world. In addition, these students' view of chemistry degraded over the course of the term. Their favorable scores shifted -5.7% and -13.5% in 'Overall' and the 'Real World Connection' category, respectively; in the physics course, which used a variety of research-based teaching practices, these scores shifted 0.0% and +0.3%, respectively. The chemistry shifts are comparable to those previously observed in traditional introductory physics courses.
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